Hello from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More.
Today, my guest is Amanda Milligan. Amanda is Marketing Director at Fractl, a marketing agency that helps brands build high-quality backlinks and brand authority through content marketing. Amanda is also a host of Fractl’s Cashing in on Content Marketing podcast, and Head of Marketing at Stacker.
Today we talk about content marketing and brand authority through earned media coverage.
In this episode:
- What is earned media, and why should B2B brands care about earned media coverage?
- What makes publishers care about non paid content, and what makes them pick up the specific article and give it earned media coverage?
- How can B2B brands approach writers and pitch the idea of the content that could be beneficial for both sides?
- What is Tangential content, and what makes it different from usual content?
- What is the role of data focus on decision making and creating the perfect pitch?
- Fund Rocket Case Study: The complete process
- What are the benefits of earned media coverage?
- How to utilize visual assets to boost results?
- What are the best practices in pitching and promoting content for earner media efforts?
- What is the role of personalization and automation for a successful earned media coverage?
- How can small businesses utilize earned media efforts and stay on the budget?
Quotes from the episode:
“There are a lot of tools you can use to find writers. You can use tools to help you, and some will give you templates. But we are all about personalization. Even if you’re sending the same project to multiple people, you’re leading into it differently based on who they are.”
“Subscribe to everything that writer does, follow them on social, get a sense of their beat, and ask yourself how you can contribute to that. How can you contribute to those conversations? Offer something different and have those writers in mind that you’re going to customize something for.”
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Hey, a big hello from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. I have a very special guest today. Amanda Milligan. Amanda is Marketing Director at Fractl, a prominent, growing marketing agency that helps brands build high-quality backlinks – ooh, that’s what I need – the brand authority through content marketing. That’s my favorite, favorite topic. She hosts Fractl’s Cashing in on Content Marketing podcast. Fantastic. You should give a listen. She has spoken to many different conferences. Welcome Amanda!
Amanda Milligan: Thank you so much, Pam. That was the most energetic intro I’ve ever had. I’m so glad to be on your show and talk about B2B content. Uh, yeah, I’m, I’m pumped.
Pam Didner: We will talk about content marketing and, uh, obviously brand authority through earned media coverage. So talk to us about a couple of things. First of all, what is earned media from your perspective? And the second thing is why brands should care about that?
Amanda Milligan: Great starting question, earned media. So this is not content that is built only for your site. It’s you’re trying to get attention from other outlets. So you’re earning it. So that’s why it’s called earned. You’re trying to create something worthy of other people to talk about it.
Pam Didner: So this is not a paid effort, right?
Amanda Milligan: No. I mean, the only money you’re putting into this is the money it takes to create great content, but you are not. This is not sponsored content.
You’re not paying anybody to post it. You’re earning the rights. You’re saying you want the person on the other end to say, “this is so good. I just want to talk about it. I’m not going to ask for payment or feel like this is an advertisement. This is just great.”
Pam Didner: So why should brands care about earned media coverage?
Amanda Milligan: Earned media has a lot of different benefits. And actually, one of the things I recommend to people is to hone in on which one they want to focus on because from an SEO perspective, a lot of people are interested in it is. You can get some of the best backlinks doing this type of work. And I can get into more of what that looks like. But when we were talking about digital PR specifically, and we’re talking about media coverage, those types of links are authoritative news sites that are difficult to get otherwise unless you’re creating this fantastic content. And we know that having high authority, backlinks to your site helps build its authority in the eyes of Google. Right? So just from the SEO perspective, that’s a major benefit.
But then it’s also your brand being mentioned on a news site as the source of an entire article they’re writing. That’s not the same thing, at least in my eyes, as having something that’s sponsored, right. It sends a different signal. It’s like they created this report that’s being covered by a news source that I trust. The authority signals there are huge. So if we’re talking about, like you mentioned, we want to build authority for our brand. This is an excellent way to dive into that.
Pam Didner: So can I ask one question quickly? I mean, publishers, they want to make money. They want to do sponsored content. They want to do paid content. Why do they care to pick up your article or content and give you that earned media coverage?
Amanda Milligan: I love the way that you just phrase that I’ve never heard anybody ask me this question this way. The thing about digital PR is not thinking about it from a publisher level but a writer level. So you’re pitching writers who have to write a certain number of things per day. Right? So they’re not as concerned about the paid side. They’re like, “I have to fill out my editorial calendar with interesting stuff.” If you’re pitching them appropriately, your content is relevant to them. It is interesting to their audience. You’re doing them a favor by helping them come up with stories and saying, “oh, that is a cool piece of research that you did, or really good study that she did, and it is very relevant to my audience. I’m gonna write about it.”
But you’re right; if you think about it from a publisher standpoint, the managing editor might be like, yeah, let’s just never have unsponsored content. Still, if you’re targeting writers, which you are, you’re ultimately emailing one writer at a publication. They have their agenda. And their agenda is “I need to write stories. I need to get traffic.” That’s probably, what’s going to look good for them internally. Right. So if you’re giving them stuff that’s interesting to their audience and they cover it, it’s a win-win.
Pam Didner: So you hit the core. So you’re trying to find out what writers would like to write. They don’t have all the time to write every piece of content they want to write, and you kind of help them find probably the right angle in terms of the story they can tell. How can you go about creating that type of content for the writers?
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. So this is one of the bigger questions. It depends. Okay. I’m going to start with the classic answer of it depends on the goal. The reason I say that is if you have an SEO link-building goal, there’s one specific thing we recommend for B2B companies, especially which is you don’t want to sound like you’re doing an advertisement. You don’t want to be super on-brand because then the writer’s going to be like, “I don’t want to just talk about your product or service offering” (laughs).
Pam Didner: Or your logo or whatever.
Amanda Milligan: Right. So we call it tangential content. So, we zoom out from the core offering and think about different topics, questions, anything in your general industry. And the reason we say that is because not only is it kind of pulling away from the on-brand stuff– which can work sometimes, don’t get me wrong, it can work. But at scale, over many months, you probably can’t come up with enough ideas that are that appealing to people. This allows you to appeal to a wider audience. And this is probably more relevant to many writers who cover general beats or want to reach, you know, when we were just talking about, they want traffic numbers for these especially national publications, they want to reach a large number of people. So that tangential angle is something we recommend when coming up with these types of ideas.
The other thing is data-driven. And data-driven, when you hear in content, is usually about making decisions. You make decisions based on the data that you have. So I should just call it data focus. What we mean is we shouldn’t just be kind of pitching blog posts because that’s usually what people are used to seeing that on our sites anyway. We’re talking about newsworthy stuff. People want new data; they want new information, and the easiest way, honestly, even though it is still hard to do that for brands, is to come up with their reports, surveys, studies.
If you’re new to this, start with your internal data and see if anything is interesting to people who have worked for many different brands. Uh, big brands do it all the time. You can see, you know, B2C brands do it all the time.
Pam Didner: Yeah, their original surveys. And they do a survey. They publish a report and write long-form content about it. And, of course, that can also be paired down to different formats.
Amanda Milligan: Exactly.
Pam Didner: Um, so with that being said, can you give me a specific case study or an example that you do for, say, one of the specific brands in terms of how you pitch it? What the whole process from the beginning and in terms of a specific topic that you pitch and the results of that.
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. I have a couple pulled up so I can talk about the tangential side first. And then, uh, an example that isn’t as tangential, which is actually, it’s a little meta. I market Fractl the agency. I used to do work for our clients. So I want to talk about some of the work we’ve done for our clients, but then the way we market ourselves as the same way, and we’ve done some things that are more specific to our brand relevance that has worked well. So I’ll give you both the whole breadth of perspectives here.
So a couple of like tangential ideas. So we had clients, uh, one of our clients was called Fund Rocket, so they kind of help businesses get funding. For them, you know, you can talk about the finances of starting a business, right? You certainly can, but we didn’t just talk about that. We did a project that was about the pride of your work. So we surveyed people, asking them, do they feel pride in their job? Like how do you feel about your day today? How do you feel about the way you contribute to the world? And it, it struck a chord, I think, with a lot of people. It was a very interesting survey. This touches on something I haven’t mentioned, which is emotion. Every time you come up with content ideas, you should be identifying what emotions you’re tapping into because that’s going to be what’s appealing on the other end nine times out of 10.
So this project was super interesting. And when we had the results, this is an important step, when you get the results of that survey. In this case, it was a survey, right? You have to look at it and say, what are the most interesting points of this? And you’re designing visual assets that show the results. So the graphs, charts, whatever it is.
Pam Didner: Infographic? or not necessarily, it is always kind of like an ebook format. You create a different, um, kind of graph to show the results of the survey.
Amanda Milligan: Yeah, we build like one web page for it.
Pam Didner: Okay. Is it one kind of landing page?
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. Exactly. And you could call them infographics, but they’re not the infographics of old where they’re like an entire page.
Pam Didner: It’s a landing page, but it’s very visually appealing.
Amanda Milligan: Exactly. Yes. 100%. So then we create those visuals. And then, we create a write-up that goes along with it but going into a little more detail. We explain the methodology, like how you make sure you see authoritative include the methodology on this page to show exactly how you did it. Uh, so you put all that together. This is the heavy lifting, and then you ask yourself, “okay, who are these writers?”
Pam Didner: that will be interested in the data, insights?
Amanda Milligan: Exactly. So then you go about pitching, and that’s another topic we can dive into.
Pam Didner: That’s the heavy lifting (laughs)
Amanda Milligan: It’s all heavy lifting. Let’s be honest. It’s like the production alone, just creating it takes a lot of time, you know? For us, it’s like four to six weeks to create it. And then another four to six weeks to pitch it.
Pam Didner: I’m very happy you shared that information. And I know a lot of people feel that oh yeah. You know, earned media. We’re just going to write some content. We’re going to pitch it. It’s going to be easy.” But the way you talk about it to be very effective, you need to be very strategic. So it does take time and effort to create good content and put it in the very, uh, nice format to showcase that simultaneously. Once that’s done, another part of it, which is equally heavy lifting, is you have to pitch it and promote it. And that’s an equal amount of work or even more.
Amanda Milligan: If you’re somebody who has pitched something and didn’t get a response. And you’re like, “I give up; this doesn’t work.” It is not that easy. You don’t just pitch like three people and call it a day. It’s way harder than that.
Pam Didner: No, 100% agree. I mean, people pitch to me all the time in terms of getting into the podcast or like to be on my website and guest blogging and whatnot. Yes. I got the pitches all the time, but most of the time, I, I say, no. I do my research. And I determine if that’s relevant for my audience or in line with my brand or what I want to focus on.
So I understand, it’s a lot of work and the most of time pitching. It’s not. You’re not rejected all the time, you know, it’s just part of them, it’s a part of the deal.
Amanda Milligan: It is. And a lot of people are like you where they’re getting kind of like garbage pitches. I mean, I can get them to where it’s like, “we want to be on your site.” And I’m like, “okay, who are you?” Yeah.
Pam Didner: You know, I was like, “can you just give me a backlink? Or like, “okay, let’s ignore the email” (both laugh).
Amanda Milligan: But you know, the good news is, and we’ve done actually, I’m going to get to this example cause it even speaks to what we’re talking about right now. Um, but we did a survey of writers at publications.
Um, so the one that I was just talking to, I was talking about for Fund Rocket, like we pitched that and it got published on like the Motley Fool, which then syndicated to a bunch of other news sites and did well because of just the concept of work and jobs. I mean, that’s almost, you know, many people have feelings about that, and they will get, they kind of want to see themselves reflected in the data.
If we now pivot to an example, that’s more niche. What are the ways that we marketed Fractl was? We asked ourselves, “what are we interested in knowing?” And we were issued in knowing what writers thought about the way they were pitched. Cause we do it, and a lot of other people do it. So we surveyed–my colleague Dominica surveyed–500 writers at different publications back in 2019 and asked them like, “what is it like in your inbox? What are your biggest pet peeves with this?” And that project has been mentioned in I can’t even, I can’t even tell you how many marketing publications have included that, or we’ve pitched a guest post to them. They’ve all found it interesting because it’s so relevant to so many of us and helps the writers. Right.
But the bad news is that yes, a lot of these inboxes are full they’re dead. People are getting pitched a lot. But so many of them, the biggest pet peeve that writers had was that they’re not relevant to them. These pitches are not relevant. Like you’re just saying, some people are just kind of mass pitching us. They don’t know what we’re even talking about. They’re just asking us for stuff.
So if you send a really good pitch that’s personalized to that person, that is helpful to that person. This tactic still works. You just can’t put in half the effort. You have to sit there and do the work.
Pam Didner: It’s not something that you can send a mass email. I think that’s what a lot of people try to do. And because it’s so much work to personalize and segment your writers and takes a lot of time to follow up, those are manual work. So speaking of that, do you automate that processor is nearly much manual the whole time.
Amanda Milligan: A decent amount of it is manual. You can use tools certainly to help you keep tabs with the writers that make sense for your niche. Especially, so we’re an agency, so we’ve worked at all different kinds of industries, right? If you’re just doing for your brand, it’s a little easier where I’m sure you’re going to have a handful of people where you’re like, I want my end goal is that this person talks about us. Right? And you just respect them as a writer.
There are a lot of tools you can use to find writers. You can use tools to help you. , some will give you templates and such. But we are all about personalization. So even if you’re sending the same project to multiple people, you’re leading into it differently based on who they are. You might be calling out different insights that are more appealing to somebody than another person because they have different audiences on their publication. So you can have a sense of the structure of our pitches, but we’re not sending the same pitch. It’s just that’s where you lose the customization that works.
Pam Didner: I hear you. So you talk about, uh, Fund Rocket and, uh, doing the survey about, you know, if the employees are taking pride in their work, which generated many discussions. So, how do you weave Fund Rocket into the overall content in your pitch or in the content you share with the writers?
Amanda Milligan: Because we’re an agency, we’re pitching on their behalf. So we’re saying we’d like, we’re not saying we did it. We’re saying Fund Rocket did it; we did it on their behalf. And the page that exists lives on the Fund Rocket website. So this goes back to like the SEO benefit and the authority benefit. Cause you’re saying they created this survey, so we don’t have to explicitly, you know, we’ll just say in the pitch, like, you know, “our team at Fund Rocket created this survey of however many people about whatever topic.” Then by the time the story comes out, usually–this isn’t always the case–but if they’re building a whole story around that, it’ll say, “the team at Fund Rocket that does X, Y, Z did this survey.”
Pam Didner: I understand. And the, so the benefit is the indirect benefit of driving the traffic to that specific site.
Amanda Milligan: That too. Yeah, that’s
Pam Didner: That’s probably the biggest benefit and biggest, uh, gain, if you will, for brands is driving traffic to that site. In terms of the overall mention on the content is, you know, this company did this research, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then what’s the finding of it, but it’s not necessarily pitching, always, not necessarily talking about the brand’s products or services.
Amanda Milligan: Exactly. It’s an awareness play. It’s a general authority play,
Pam Didner: Yeah, top of the funnel.
Amanda Milligan: Yes. And it’s an SEO play. So it has that kind of different tier, but this will not be a conversion play.
Pam Didner: No. Amanda, you brought a very good point. That’s something I just want to call out because even the B2B marketing world and a lot of marketers that have the pressure to drive conversions, right. They have to get leads. Right. So what you are talking about is more kind of like build that brand awareness, get your brand out there and make sure more people are aware of it, right? It’s like cast a wider net, but if you are doing a conversion, this is not necessarily a tactic that you need to follow. I love when you call that out.
Thank you so much. Amanda.
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. And it’s, it’s tough because we all know how hard it is to get buy-in for things. Sometimes if it’s not immediately tied to money. Right. And it’s,
Pam Didner: Oh my God, you know, you don’t know how many B2B marketers call me on that is like, ah, “you know, we tried this one, but my management was like, ‘okay, at the end of the day, how does that convert?'” And it’s very hard to quantify that, if you will. I 100% agree. That doesn’t mean the one you said it’s not valid. And that, from my perspective, for the longest time, I’m always the type of person to say, you know what? like, “I have to go after the conversion!” I feel like I’m a horse, you know, I have to run all the time.
But at the end of the day, I come to realize that sometimes–like, especially for a startup or a company that’s not well-known–you need to build that brand awareness. You want to make sure that the mainstream publisher houses are aware of who you are and what you do. And I think that type of play is more kind of like a PR side, but it’s a digital PR just like you said, but it’s more strategic, and it does drive traffic to your website.
Amanda Milligan: A hundred per cent. Yes. And that’s the tricky part. If you are in a situation where it’s hard to get the buy-in, you have to draw and illustrate these connections to everything else for the people at your company. For example, the fact that somebody goes to your page and now recognizes your brand will probably make it more likely that if they see your results for something, your onsite content in the search engine result pages, they’ll recognize. Like I’ve seen this brand talk about authoritative stuff before.” Or even if they don’t, Dan Shure made this point on my podcasts that I think is a great point: Google’s customized to you and your searches, right? Like we forget that not everybody sees the same results. So somebody has been on your website. Your results may start outranking other results where that person has not been on their website. All of this stuff ties together to start building your brand’s impact in somebody’s mind.
And then you have the link building side where Google is recognizing, “oh, your domain does seem to know what it’s talking about because you know, CNN wrote about the, you know, a couple of weeks ago”, and that bolsters all this stuff on your side as well. So there’s, but not, everybody’s going to know that you’re going to have this like SEO side where your marketing director or VP of marketing, they might not be involved with the nitty-gritty of SEO. And you have to make these ties and illustrate how this all fits together.
Pam Didner: Yeah. You mentioned one thing I think, including myself from time to time, is very hard to actually mention the multiple different benefits or layers of the benefit and explain them very clearly for the management to understand. Even if we explained it very, very well, sometimes they just want to, they still want to hear, okay, where’s the money?” (laughs)
Do you know what I’m saying? You say, “Okay, this is all the benefit.” And it was like, okay, where’s the money?
So at the end of the day, um, I agree with you; it’s that the ability to articulate the value and also need to able to explain how that will ultimately quantify to the conversion. I think that will need to play into it, but it depends on how you want to pitch it, why you want to say it, and what kind of data you can draw from – in terms of the overall value proposition you want to share with your management.
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. You know, it’s. I’m glad you mentioned this because we recognized this type of work we’ve been doing since the agency started in 2012. Only in the last couple of years have we started offering onsite content because what we recognized was if somebody’s website was not set up well to receive these links and this and this awareness and traffic, it didn’t do enough. They were missing out on benefits.
Pam Didner: If you have one landing page is great, but your product page sucks, and your value is unclear. And your site upload is very slow. It’s not going to help.
Amanda Milligan: And to your point, if you don’t have conversion content, if you are not expressing why somebody should later convert, you know, what are you doing with all this traffic and these links and everything, it’s just, it’s not going to deliver fully. So I’m glad you mentioned that because you have to strategically add it into your marketing. Your boss will never say, “Yeah, let’s go straight to that”, when we don’t have any good onsite content yet. Right. That’s just not gonna, it’s gonna be a much harder hill to climb, but I don’t recommend doing that. I think you definitely need both of these things, and they uplift each other, uh, you know, constantly. It all compounds. If you’re able to make your site’s authority better, it helps all, the onsite content. It’s just, it all plays together.
Pam Didner: Excellent. Excellent. So any parting words of wisdom that you have for anybody who is doing our media coverage on their own, uh, or, uh, trying to do a lot of backlinks because they have a small budget. They can’t afford to hire an agency to do that. Do you have one or two kinds of wisdom you want to share with them?
Amanda Milligan: Yeah. I think what I mentioned earlier about the internal data thing because then you’re not hunting around for data sets. You might have something that nobody else has, right? Because it’s your data, or you can survey your customers or your email list or whatever it is. But if you’re going to spend a lot of time on it. I think the idea is extremely important. So people just kind of like throw something out there and hope it works. Um, but ask yourself if you’re going to do it the way we do it, where you are a little more on-brand, like what questions do you have as a marketer in your industry? and your brand’s industry? Because other people probably will have the same questions and see if you have internal data that answers those questions.
That’s like a great place to start. You do not have to go anywhere else for the data. You can visualize the top-level results. You know, if you’re doing it in Survey Monkey or something, they even create the graphics for you. You can use Canva to come up with some graphics, whatever you can do. And then the pitching side, yes, it does take a lot of time, but especially if you’re at a smaller company with a smaller budget, you probably have your like dream publications in your mind. You probably think even if it’s not a national publication, maybe it’s an industry publication, but you know, would reach your target audience, study what they write about. Subscribe to everything that writer does, follow them on social, get a sense of their beat, and ask yourself how you can contribute to that. How can you contribute to those conversations? Offer something different and have those writers in mind that you’re going to customize something for.
Pam Didner: I think that’s wonderful. Wonderful. Amanda. It’s great to have you on my podcast. I would like to add the podcast with one silly question. What is the most useless telling?
Amanda Milligan: So it, you know, sadly it’s one I haven’t been able to use in quarantine times, but I’m a big karaoke fan. I’m all about karaoke. There’s a Facebook group called Quarantine Karaoke. If you’re ever bored, for anyone listening, hundreds of thousands of people are on this Facebook group, just singing. Like, there’s a lot of people like me out there who miss karaoke a lot.
Pam Didner: Well, you just like sing a song for us, maybe for like 10 seconds. You’ll favorite song. Let’s get started. (both laugh)
Amanda Milligan: Um, let me see. (Sings Adele song “There’s a fire, starting in my heart…”)
Pam Didner: I love it! (both laugh)
Amanda Milligan: It’s so funny cause I don’t talk as much in COVID times, like lose my voice so much quicker than I used to. (both laugh) You know, you have that set of songs. You always do. I have like five, but I always will. We’ll sing at different places, but
Pam Didner: I cannot sing. I’m horrible. And you know, if I start singing, people start leaving, they’re like “Get off the stage! Get off the stage!”
Amanda Milligan: (laughs) But the best karaoke bars are ones where everyone’s just like very supportive of everyone who goes up there, right? It’s just like a; it’s like a way of expressing yourself. And it’s just; it’s fun. It’s a great time. I miss it. I’ll be right when it’s safe again. That’ll be the first thing I do.
Pam Didner: Hey, thank you so much, Amanda, for joining me. It’s wonderful to share your insight about, uh, the earned media coverage and how to pitch and work with writers. Those are very, very sound and wonderful tips. So happy to have you on my show.
Amanda Milligan: Thank you, Pam. Honestly, I respect you so much. You are just a force in this industry. So the fact that I’m on your show made my week. So thank you for having me.
Pam Didner: You made my day!