Media Relations for Link Building 101 – Jasmine Granton

Link building is still a major factor in SEO success.

But as Google get better at spotting ‘good’ links and getting good links is getting increasingly hard – how do you get links that will improve your search rankings?

Jasmine Granton, from Aira Digital does it for a living… literally.

Get expert tips on how to do good PR, create content which earns links, master outreach to journalists and much more.

Video & Slides


Hi everyone, so before I get started with my talk on media relations for link building (before Jono tells you not to do link building!), just a little bit about myself…

So I come from a traditional PR background, working for the largest conservation charity in Europe, the RSPB, and the whole time I was working there we were constantly talking about how traditional PR needs to evolve and change and kind of get with the times. But having said that, I had a great time. 

Traditional PR is really fun – you get to do some cool campaigns and loads of wild things like dress as a big bird and go to Pride, and get the Bird Song in the top 10 chart, and odd things like that. And most, importantly get top-tier coverage which helped brand awareness, gained more members and ultimately spread their message that wildlife is declining. But like I said, we were constantly talking about how traditional PR needs to evolve, and that’s because we live in a digital first world. 


So, that leads me to my next role which is Aira, an agency based in Milton Keynes, and I’ve been there for the last ten/eleven months now and I get to work with this lovely lot of wonderful people. But most importantly (and the person who influences most of us on a daily basis), is the wonderful Rolo, our head of Bark-ating, so he always has to make an appearance in any presentation!These are a couple of our clients that we work with – we work with travel clients, engineering, there’s art clients there, a real real variety, and we build links for them and get coverage across sites like these. So for me, having taken off my traditional PR hat off and popped on a digital one, there’s just no looking back, but having said that, link building is really, really difficult.

I didn’t actually realise until I started at Aira that there’s a lot of different steps from getting a really good idea in your head, onto a website, and ready to build links and pitch to journalists. So this is kind of what our process looks like an Aira:

The Process

It starts with ideation – that’s all of your wonderful ideas coming out in a brainstorm and having to validate them, and come up with reasons with your team of why it’s definitely going to work, and definitely going to build loads of links. 

And then onto production – which is working with your designers and developers to make it look pretty, and most importantly work and be really user friendly. 

And then onto outreach – so that is pitching to journalists and creating wonderful spreadsheets full of loads of names that you’re going to pitch to.

And then onto measurement – so the all important KPIs and reporting back to your client.

If I was to talk about all four of those stages in immense detail, we would probably be here for the next two months, and nobody (including me!) wants that. So tonight I’m going to talk about outreach, and predominantly, I’m going to talk about the pitch email and the prospecting list because these are two really crucial stages that often get missed out.

If you get these two stages right, you can take your client from being a little bit miserable, to really really happy.

So my promise is that by the end of this talk, you’ll be able to create campaign specific prospecting lists for the best chance of success and tailored pitch emails that get cut through in an oversaturated inbox. 

Tip 1 – Get Organised 

My first tip is simply to get organised –  so I’m not naturally an organised person. It’s already been pointed out I didn’t think about what’s gonna wear, I don’t think ahead that often in those kinds of things.

But it’s really important and at Aira that’s something I had to learn quite quickly.

In order to take a campaign and pitch it to hundreds of journalists, in order to get links, you really do need to be organised, because if not you risk missing key contacts.

But more importantly, you can piss off the ones that you’ve already built really good relationships with because you continuously spam them with the same thing. 

So in order to be organised, you need a process, or a document, or a Bible… whatever you want to call it. In this prospecting list you need:

  • Publication
  • Contacts name
  • Contacts email
  • Name of the member pitching (so you’re not all sending it to the same person)
  • A pitch day
  • Followed up date
  • Notes section

…And then you also need:

  • URL to the piece 
  • List of angles
  • Embed code
  • Link to the pitch
  • link to the press release

…Which is an awful lot of information to get in one condensed, organised document. This is what ours looks like at Aira and it works super well:

(So for GDPR purposes I’ve not used real journalist’s names because I’m really scared of GDPR! But…) These are some office characters just to fill in the nice spots there.

As you can see you’ve got all of the information that you would need across there, and then you’ve got an index – we work in teams at Aira, so if someone new came in they’ve got everything they could possibly need in one succinct document. 

But when you start your outreach, the organisation certainly doesn’t stop.

At Aira, once we’ve actually done our pitching, we use a traffic light system. What this does is it allows us to see at a glance who has already been outreached to and what they think of it.

So in this case it’s red because Kevin didn’t want my contact, he’s not going to link, he just didn’t like it. Orange would be a warm lead, and green Michael Scott and Pam Beesly – my favourite people on that list – they’ve used the content, they liked it, they link to it.

You also need to make sure you check in for duplicates, which sounds really obvious but it is an easy step to miss. (If you want to use this kind of template there is a link there which I am going to drop in at the end of the slides, so you can make a copy and do outreach for yourselves using this tool.)

Tip 2 – Get specific & tailored

Tip two is to get specific and tailored.

So in order to gain good links, you need to be producing the right content, whether that’s a static graphic or an interactive index, or whatever it may be. For relevant contacts that are most likely to use your content, in specific sectors again that’s relevant to your client at the right time.

Here’s how not to do this…

Twitter is a really fun place and these are some tweets from the sun’s travel editor.

She receives so many irrelevant press releases that she does an “irrelevant press release of the day”. And she’s been doing this since 2012, which tells you how many of these she must get.

So this is the first one (it took me a while to actually realise what that’s about – I don’t think I understand it yet!).

And here’s another one there:

Again, I don’t know what that is, but I do know it’s not travel.

And then my personal favourite… 60% of women say they would consider a lesbian vagina massage – that’s fun to get 11am on a Monday when you’re a travel journalist!

So how do you make sure that one of your press releases doesn’t appear on these tweets of shame?

Well, you need to think about which sectors your piece fits into – that’s a key one.

This is a piece that we created from one of our travel insurance clients, Alfa. It’s a backpacker index and does what it says in the tin – it’s looking at Europe’s most and least affordable cities to go backpacking in. 

Travel: Instantly, of course I’m going to go to all of my wonderful travel clients, but there’s a lot of other angles you need to be thinking about as well. 

Lifestyle: There’s definitely a lifestyle element to this, both from a male and female point of view. 

Nationals: Most nationals have a travel editor at some point 

Student: It’s about affordability, it’s about budgeting, so there’s definitely a student angle there as well.

International: And of course, for any of the cities featured in this, it’s worth going to some of their top publications as well.

Carrie Rose here tweets about relevancy, and it’s a really good point because she uses a gambling client – if you’ve got a gambling client, you don’t just want to be going to gambling sites and gambling blogs, you need to be thinking about that end user and what content they’re going to be consuming.

So she uses the examples of Sport Bible or The Sun, and if you’re thinking about travel like we were before, you also don’t want to just be going to a variation of travel sites. You need to think about what content they’re consuming, and pitch to the journalists who are targeting those people. 

If you’re struggling to think of more angles and publications, there are a ton of tools out there that can help you.

Looking at competitor’s content and where they’re getting backlinks on Majestic or but Buzzsumo is a good place to start, but Answer the Public and News Now are also really good places to find out what journalists are talking about and what’s topical right now. 

The one I’m going to show you an example of is SimilarWeb, because this is something that I use quite literally every time I start a prospecting list.

This is a piece of content we did quite recently, it’s called the Wedding Tier Timeline and it’s based on the moments that you’re most likely to cry at a wedding. It’s also based on the moments that are most likely to make you bored and pick up your phone, which is quite frequent.

So is the biggest bridal website in the UK, so obviously we want to go to them. We want to get links from them, as it’s super relevant to our client who is a wedding insurance company.

But I can’t just go to them, get a link and stop. That wouldn’t be particularly impressive.

So if you pop into SimilarWeb, it generates loads of different sites that are a similar standard and a similar industry. So you can take those into your document, find some contacts and pitch to them as well.

As I said before, I come from a traditional PR background and that’s helped me in digital PR more than I actually thought it would.

At Aira, a lot of us do have traditional PR backgrounds, and it’s how we get big links fast, because we’re really used to jumping on the press quickly and on a reactive basis. 

what is a reactive opportunity?

A reactive opportunity is essentially where you see a journalist talking about the same sort of theme or subject that you’re trying to pitch to them, and you go to them because there’s a really good chance they’re going to be interested in what you’re talking about. 

As an example from my traditional PR days, if you remember this story – “The Beast From the East”, it’s all anyone could talk about (I mean it was -8 and it was horrible so I understand why!).

It was absolutely dominating the press, so at the RSPB we looked for an opportunity and we turned this into a huge amount of coverage of how you need to help wildlife in these conditions.

It’s news jacking – it’s jumping on these journalists when they’re just about getting really bored and running out of things to talk about on that topic, and you give them some new content. And we do this in digital PR too. 

If we think back to the back packing index I was just talking about, these are three opportunities that I could jump on. So any journalist that’s talking about backpacking or gap years or student travel – there is a really strong chance that they’re going to be interested in that piece of content.

Which is why at Aira, we try to make evergreen content as much as we can.

For example, if you create a piece that is solely dedicated to Valentine’s Day, you’ve got a few months up until Valentine’s Day to try and hit your KPI, to try and get links, to try and build as much into that website as possible.

But once you get to the day after Valentine’s Day, you’re going to find it quite tricky to get any journalists to cover that topic. 

If we think about the backpacker index, that piece was launched in October 2018, and the most recent followed link that we got was June 2019, and that’s actually not true because we got one yesterday, but I didn’t want to update the slides again! So it was yesterday.

That campaign link target was 10, and currently we are sitting at 31, so it just proves that if you create campaigns that are evergreen and you continue to outreach them on a reactive basis, you’re going to get a higher KPI.

And looking at this piece, I’ve definitely still got another three to four months of outreaching that, at least. 

Tip 3 – Find your contacts 

Once you’ve figured out all of the websites you want to go to, all the different publications that are most likely to use your content, you need to find specific contacts there.

And that’s not always easy.

Again, GDPR has made this even harder, but here’s how we do it. 

There’s again so many different tools that you can use – these are essentially all databases full of journalist’s names and roles and contact details. The one that we’re using at the moment is Vuelio, but I’ve used Gorkana in the past, and they are relatively similar.

But if you’re kind of a smaller company, or you don’t want to invest too much money in paying for a tool, Twitter can be a huge help. 

Some journalists (the best journalists in my opinion!) will have the email in their bio. Not that many of them do that to be honest, but it’s not the only way that you can use Twitter. Some of them will have shared their emails on threads before, and I actually find email addresses this way quite often.

Search @username “email” on Twitter and their email address is right there. 

But you can also pitch on Twitter too. I wasn’t sure about that when I started doing it, I didn’t really think I’d get cut through, but I thought I’d give it a go, and it works!

This is a campaign that I was working on earlier in the year, the England’s Regional Premier League (notice Yorkshire at the top there, just saying!).

And this is a tweet that I sent to a journalist – I just couldn’t find his contact details anywhere quite literally anywhere. He’s a freelancer so he didn’t have anything on a specific website. So I just sent him a really brief tweet asking him to get in touch if he liked the idea, and he did just that.

He sent me a direct message with his email, I sent him the pitch and the press release, and then a few days later – there’s the coverage, with a link.And I’ve done that sort of five or six times in the last two months, and I mean it doesn’t always work – sometimes they completely ignore you like everyone on Twitter, but sometimes it does. 

Another reason why Twitter is useful… I feel like I’m really saying a lot of reasons why Twitter is useful and it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever thought that, but it can be a really useful tool for this specific reason!

[tweetshare tweet=”Following key journalists on Twitter is super important because you need to find out what they’re interested in. – @GrantonJasmine at an #Optimisey event” username=”optimisey”]

This is Ellen Scott, she’s one of my favourite journalists. She’s a lifestyle editor for Metro, and in order for me to pitch to her I need to understand what she enjoys writing about. So these are the three things that she writes about most predominantly – dating and relationships, anything about kind of female issues, and mental health.

So if I was going to pitch my football piece that I just talked about, or something about sustainability or oil levels, there’s a good chance she’s not gonna be that interested – which seems really obvious and it almost feels a little bit condescending for me to say, but when you look back to how many irrelevant press releases journalists receive maybe, it’s not that obvious.

This stage of prospecting is quite time-consuming and it’s really really tempting to rush it and to kind of skip through it, but it’s vital that you don’t.

If you simply scrape 500 contacts from a database and just send an email to all of them, chances are you wasting your time and you’re going to be pissing some people off in the process.

So at this point you’ve got your contacts, you’ve got all of your publications, you’ve worked really hard to build this nice relevant media list, and now it’s time to pitch.

This is the bit that before I got into PR, I presumed they just send loads and loads of the same email to loads and loads of people and that it’s kind of just a spray and pray. But there’s quite a lot of things to think about. 

Tip 4 – subject line

At Comms Con last year, the Daily Mirror’s feature editor Nada, said she had 92 thousand unread emails in her inbox.

I’m gonna say she was exaggerating because I struggled to believe it… it makes me feel sick and I’d just rather not believe it. So I’m gonna say a thousand because even that unnerves me. 

Amongst a thousand unread emails, how the hell are you supposed to get noticed? Well this is how we do it…

At Aira we were going on gut instinct for a long time as to what made a strong subject line and what stood out. And by doing that we were doing quite well.

The industry-standard open rate was 20.8% we were achieving around 30, so it’s pretty good. But as always, we knew we could improve.

So we did some A/B testing on BuzzStream, and we did that on story tip versus data in the subject line, and the journalist’s name in the subject line versus without it. 

Both data and story tip did so much better with the journalist’s name – that personal touch clearly really works, and story tip did better than data overall. So that’s the formula that we adopted: 

Story tip for (name): Punchy headline or shiny key statistic

This is an example for you:

Story tip for Jasmine: Hollywood is giving women an unrealistic idea of sex and orgasms 

So personalised at the front, and eye catching at the back.

I know that’s a really unfair example, because if you put sex or orgasm in a subject line they’re going to open it, but this is a genuine piece I’m working on at the moment, so I’m allowed to use that!

This formula got as a fifty-two percent open rate, and by doing this we can achieve twenty two percent more opens on top of what was an already above average open rate.

As a team we send around three to four hundred outreach emails a week, and actually with BuzzStream we weren’t all doing this test, so it’s actually a lot more than that, which means that we could end up with around 66 to 88 more opens per week.

Obviously 88 more opens certainly doesn’t mean 88 more guarantee links, but if they’re opening your email in a thousand or a 92000 unread inbox, then you’re kind of winning half the battle!

But the main message here is simply to test. So some basic A/B testing on your subject lines – don’t rely on what you think is working. 

Tip 5 – formatting 

When it comes to pitch emails you really need to keep everything super simple, concise and waffle free. You simply need to tell the journalist the who the what the when the why of a story at a glance.

Journalists want to be able to read your pitch email within about one to two minutes, and here’s how you do that. 

So this is going back to the wedding tier timeline piece that I talked about before – this is the pitch that I used.

So, you’ve got the who and the what instantly. The who is of course your link to your client, the what is the campaign itself.

There’s no waffle, I’m not asking her how her day is, I’m not asking her how her dog’s doing, and I’m not talking about the weather. It’s just straight to the campaign. 

And then also pulling out the key story right there – put it in colour, bold it, italic it – just make sure that that headline is the key thing that I go to.

Find out the key hooks – think about your different stats and headlines and everything else, and whatever is going to be key to that reader. Pop them right up in the top in bullet point form. 

If you’re using data, make sure it’s nice and clean and simple. Pop it in a table – top 5 and 10 lists work really well for journalists.

Essentially make their job as easy as possible. Don’t make a journalist keep coming back for more information, pop the press release in there, give them the embed code, get everything in one email.

And if you’re using something that is very visually pleasing, whether it’s cool or pretty or whatever it is, pop a screenshot on the body itself because they’re way more likely to click on the campaign and actually take a look at what it is. 

So if we put all of that together, it looks a bit like that. 

It’s really clean, digestible – I reckon anyone could read that in about a minute or two. You can kind of see what the key hooks are at a glance.

As Lisa says here, if you give all of the information that you need, if there’s no waffle-y intros and if you tell the story at a glance, apparently she will love you forever – which is good! So again, it sounds a bit condescending, but do make sure to check the spelling, especially in your subject line. I know we all do that and none of us ever make any mistakes, especially in subject lines because that’s the most vital part not to make a mistake in.

But this is what I sent two weeks ago, which is awkward because my boss is in here…  but yeah I did and it was the day after my birthday so I had a few glasses of wine the night before, which is what I’m gonna blame it on!

So yeah, “Stroy tip for Tracey” wasn’t what I meant to say, and she replied saying “Typo in subject line not helping your credibility”… that wasn’t a good day, so yeah, I’m a little bit more vigilant since that.

If you do really like the work of a journalist, and I do follow journalists quite closely, and I always have. So if that’s the case, then you can drop them a compliment.

If I’m pitching to Ellen or Natalie the two journalists I’ve mentioned and they’ve written something recently that’s really resonated with me on a genuine level, I’ll definitely tell them at some point in that email.

But make sure it is genuine, because it’s pretty see-through, and there’s a mistake here as you’ll see…

So if you’ve just copied and pasted what your manager has sent you, and if you send that (actually I mean this is like the fourth time I’ve seen this on Twitter and that’s how much engagement that has so yeah)… if you do that just quit, sorry! 

Tip 6 – Always follow up

One simple follow-up email can really affect your chances of getting a response.

But it’s a little bit like dating – you’ve got to tread quite carefully, because you don’t want to get in touch to you quickly and be really annoying and needy, but equally you don’t want to leave it a week and make them forget the story entirely.

So we suggest that for Nationals around two days is enough, with Regionals where there’s slightly fewer resources and other publications that are a little bit smaller, perhaps two to three days – give them a little bit of breathing space.

But stick to one follow-up and never call a journalist without suggesting at first. I don’t even like it when my friends call me without pre-planning the call, so a journalist definitely doesn’t! 

If you’ve still not got a reply, then take the hint – they’re probably not interested in that content right now. It might not fit into what they’re talking about, or they might just not like it.

[tweetshare tweet=”It’s not worth burning bridges by constantly checking in and following up and asking them more and more questions. – @GrantonJasmine talking outreach at #Optimisey” username=”optimisey”]

If a journalist does come back to you saying thanks but no thanks, don’t be this person – don’t say “Excuse me!”, don’t argue back, don’t tell them that the content is relevant to them, because it’s not going to go down that well!

If the journalist does cover your story, then definitely say thank you. It’s a really really small thing, but those small things do add up when it comes to media relations.

So, in summary, get ready to build links by having a shared document with specific prospecting. Think broadly about your angles, don’t just go for the obvious then stop, find the right journalists using a variation of tools and Twitter, test your subject line and find out what works, and then when you get to your pitch…

  • Get to the point 
  • Pull out the hooks 
  • Make the data clear
  • Provide the journalist with everything they might need in the first instance, and always always always follow up

But if there’s one key takeaway, it’s to be specific, because link building isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Tailored prospecting lists and pitches for each individual campaign are always, always needed, because link building isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be.

The main thing is that it’s really really time consuming, but it’s worth it when you’re getting your favourite clients on top sites like these. 

Thank you.

What are you favourite link building and outreach tactics? Are you going to give any of the above a try? Do leave a comment below.

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