Digital PR Campaign Ideation: Creating Ideas & Choosing Between Them

When embarking on a digital pr campaign, particularly when developing a creative asset, the idea you move forward with is one of the most important parts of the entire process and can definitely be the difference between success or failure.

In this section of the guide, we’re going to look at how to choose ideas and the factors that go into that decision. We’re also going to look at some sources of inspiration when doing ideation and determining what is feasible and what isn’t.

Your Strategy

Fundamentally, the reason you choose one idea over another, or even before you start your ideation, is based on accomplishing the goals from your digital PR strategy.

Usually, and as discussed previously in this guide, we focus on the SEO impact digital PR work will have and assume most reading this are too. Therefore, there are some factors that come into play, which help determine their effectiveness as an SEO tactic and can become the differentiator when listing the ‘pros and cons’ of each idea you have.

Relevance

The relevance of your campaign should be closely connected with what you do as a brand and the keywords you are trying to influence. Mostly, this is important because it will allow you to target and build links in publications that focus on your core topic(s), which is a hugely important external signal that search engines take into account when ranking websites.

For example, let’s say you run a website selling table tennis tables. Search engines will expect the vast majority of your links (and the ones most likely to have a cross-over with your audience) to come from table tennis enthusiast sites and other sport websites. Therefore, your idea should be of interest to what table tennis enthusiasts would want to use or know, as well as potentially writers and readers of more well known sports publications. 

One such concept may be a statistical overview of table tennis worldwide, such as an annual report, which people can use and refer to when discussing the sports popularity. This would then certainly be of interest to your target audience and provides the relevancy signals search engines look for that can improve your ranking potential.

Journalistic Pool

Many good ideas can fail because they were too specific in who would actually care about them. This becomes increasingly important if a high volume of links and brand mentions is important to your strategy and what you need to do in order to achieve more competitive rankings.

Your journalistic pool is the number of journalists who you can outreach to regarding your campaign. We’ve discussed this before in Building An Octopus, but to maximise your chances of success, you’ll want to make sure your idea has enough legs to it in order to outreach to journalists in different verticals. By deciding on an idea that can lend itself to various different industries, such as travel and lifestyle rather than one or the other, you open up your journalistic pool immediately.

Our advice here – give more thought to ideas that have the ability to transcend verticals, or build on your ideas in order to see which ones have the potential pathways to other niches.

Asset Production

Many ideas you’ll have will immediately lend themselves to a particular digital PR format. For example, you may have an idea for a survey to run, which can easily be transferred into a simple series of data viz illustrations.

However, the idea you have will likely need to match a budget. Is a big interactive feasible for what you’re trying to achieve and likely to offer a positive ROI on the project, or would a small series of illustrations potentially get you over the line for what you need?

Separately, the asset you create will depend on the industry you’re working in as well. Often, writers at high authority publications will be very short on time, so you’ll need to create something engaging. A long-form in this scenario may not capture imaginations as quickly as you’d like, even if it’s a great piece. Therefore ensuring your piece is suited to your target audience (the journalists) is key.

Market Awareness

Part of off-page SEO is ensuring the links you are building are appearing on websites that have a geographical cross-over with your own and the search engines you are trying to push rankings for. Therefore, as part of your creative campaign you’ll likely pick a dataset or focus your campaign on the home-market for your website. Makes total sense.

However, another element of the market is how aware they are and how much interest there is in a particular topic. This can be particularly challenging if you’re based abroad from the website you are working on. This will likely be a smaller subset of people, but you’ll want to do some background checks on local search engines variants to see how the news of a particular topic compares to interest in other markets.

For example, a campaign about politics may be bigger in some countries than it will in others, so even great ideas may not translate that well if the market simply doesn’t exist.

Coming Up With Ideas

Now you’ve got a framework on how to view the ideas you’re developing, it’s time to come up with the ones you can potentially use.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet here and you will likely end up with lists upon lists of ideas you write down or add into your phones ‘notes’ app. The process of coming up with ideas itself is a very individual one, stretching from running a brainstorming session with others to word associations and mind-mapping on your own.

Ideation techniques have been covered before, so for this part of the guide, we’re going to look at sources of inspiration you can use to help whichever ideation techniques tickle your fancy. 

Repurposing Ideas

Most ideas people have are ones we’ve seen elsewhere and are repurposing to work in a new environment. The key here is finding ideas and pieces of content that are already successful but adjusting them to work for you in your niche (provided it’s different to the original).

One campaign I’d worked on earlier in my career had this exact premise and was the reason for its success. Have you ever heard of the Big Mac Index? It’s a resource built by the Economist to highlight how currency values fluctuate around the world using one key ingredient: the Big Mac.

Back when the iPhone 5S was the latest iPhone around, I used the premise of that piece to create my own index: the iPhone 5S Price Index. Sadly (and unforgivably) the site I produced it for now serves a 404 error code on its URL (the SEO in me hates this), yet has a link from The Guardian still (and from approximately 500 other domains at the time – it went nuts) to the interactive map:

By repurposing a resource I already knew about, I could utilise the same core principles (Purchase Price Parity in this case and a well-known key ingredient) to create my hook. I was then the first to discover and publish where in the world an iPhone was most expensive for locals.

On your travels and in the media you naturally look at, be considering if there is a way you can utilise this piece to become the foundation of something you can build.

George has previously written about How to Use Reddit on the Root blog and Reddit is a fantastic starting place for this. Dataisbeautiful can be the springboard you need when reviewing potential formats, looking at data-points people find interesting or discovering how you could take a piece further.

Successful Content

Like above, successful content can be a hugely useful source of inspiration. Here, we’re looking for what’s not only working across the internet but also in your marketplace.

There are some extremely valuable tools for this which we discuss latest in this guide, but we’ll cover two of our favourites here:

Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo puts its best foot forward when it comes to their ability to track content across social channels. It’s a one-stop shop for finding the best performing content for topics and websites, judging by how engaged the audience was with them.

By entering a topic or series of topics, you can discover content people have been talking about the most, hopefully giving you a source of inspiration for how you may be able to do something similar.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is one of the most popular link and rank tracking tools agencies and in-house teams use alike. However, their Content Explorer tool is also hugely valuable for diving into topics and reviewing the pieces that have gained the most links.

Often, you’ll be met by pages that make little sense for what you would be attempting to replicate, but within the list you’ll quickly find resources or news stories that have been picked up. This is the gold-dust your future campaign can be based upon.

To take things one step further when reviewing successful content on Ahrefs, you can also click into and look at who the websites were that linked to a page you’re interested in and what they talked about when linking to the page. This is invaluable insight (and something we do for a variety of pieces). This tells you the stat or angle (hook) that the website liked about that piece of content. 

The reason why a website links to a piece of content is one of the most powerful pieces of information you can have when coming up with your own ideas.

Competitors

Although not the best starting point for content idea inspiration, keeping an eye on your competitors and hoping to build on the content they’ve had digital PR success with is a must-have part of the list.

Both Buzzsumo and Ahrefs can be used for this, but because Ahrefs have one of the most comprehensive link indexing profiles in the space (i.e. they crawl a lot of the web to know who’s linking to who), we’d lean towards Ahrefs a good starting point here.

After you’ve entered a domain into the Site Explorer tool, you can sort by ‘Best by links’, which gives you a view on the most linked to pages that website has.

Pro-tip: Don’t just stick to competitors here. Use any popular publication or blog that has a presence in your industry. It’s likely they’ve developed content others have linked to, which is highly likely topical relevant for you to.

Usually, the homepage is the top performing page, but with this set of results, we’re looking for the resources and content the website has published which has gained it most of its backlinks. Explore these one-by-one and look through who linked to these pages and what they specifically mentioned about the content.

Digital PR Community

Luckily, the digital PR community is a hotbed of people sharing content and ideas that can act as additional sources of inspiration. The pieces being shared are often successful pieces but often, they are also pieces others have found inspiring themselves or different to anything they’ve seen in a particular space.

Here’s some sources to check out:

Campaign Feasibility

Before you’re ready to pitch your ideas or decide which one to start working on, you’ll need to know if the concept you’ve came up with is possible.

Figuring out what’s possible will entirely depend on the campaign idea you want to build and going down the appropriate route. The three categories below are directions you can head in to help answer these questions.

Budget

If you’ve worked out your strategy and looked at the outcomes you want to achieve from your digital PR activities, you can start to understand how your budgets should be applied. It’s likely you have a range with your budget – where you can go slightly over in some cases and you’ll find yourself under in others.

However, you need to know that the campaign idea you have isn’t completely out of sync with your ball-parks. This is where you’ll need to consider what methodology you’re going to need in order to accomplish your hook(s).

You can use the following list to determine what will be needed to build your campaign, which can have a huge impact on costs:

  • Are you going to need tools or equipment to develop your campaign?
  • Is a developer going to be involved?
  • How about a designer?
  • Do the data-points already exist or will you need to create a unique methodology of research?
  • Who is going to write the copy? Is a specialist copywriter needed?
  • Are there specialist skills you’re going to need to hire i.e. a photographer or animator?
  • Do you need a survey platform or unique audience as part of your research?

Elements of the above can make the costs of running your campaign ramp up very quickly. Before you pitch or start building, make sure you’ve looked into these and either got quotes or mapped out your plan to ensure it matches up with what you have in mind.

Research

As with all digital PR activity, what you are really doing is adding value. There’s a lot of data and information online that journalists can find and use, but your ability to create an interesting story and present that information is a value add to them.

A huge element of your campaign is going to be based on this data and what value you can actually add to it. At this point, you only want to conduct a top-level review of the sources available for your topic, but you also want to see how other people have tackled the topic and if there is an opportunity for you to diversify away from what other people have already potentially published.

This part of your feasibility analysis will entirely depend on the direction your campaign goes in, but here’s some sources to look at to help gauge what’s possible:

  • Existing published data from official sources
  • Survey platforms and the audiences you can filter by
  • Experts on the topic and if you can work with them
  • Reputable publications that journalists would know and trust
  • Books and studies published on the topic
  • Internal proprietary data you can share

You will also want to have a look at other pieces of content published on the topic to see if anyone has already done some similar. Many tools already exist to help here, but a free and easy method is simply doing a Google search. Use a variety of descriptions of what your hook would be and scroll through both the search and news verticals to see what’s been published and when.

Pro-tip: Even if you find another piece of content similar to the one you aim to produce, take a look at their methodology or the asset they created. If your campaign would be superior to this or an updated version, the campaign still may be worth pressing ahead with.

Asset

This part of your feasibility analysis is concerned with the asset you’ll be building (if one will exist) and if it’s possible to create.

If the concept you’re hoping to build or pitch is reliant on a particular data source (such as an API) or has to be designed in a specific way, it’s best to get in touch with a designer and developer who you’ll be working with. It’s best to discuss the topic and outline your plan now, before you’ve pitched the concept, to see if major or obvious hurdles exist.

This may not always be the case, but designers and developers, or anyone involved in producing your final asset, may also have other ideas and directions your campaign can go in, which will help shape the concept further.

Here’s some of the typical challenges you may face when producing your asset(s):

  • API limitation
  • CMS functionality
  • Hosting
  • Other internal teams and stakeholders
  • Data being too complicated to visualise
  • Device compatibility

With everything checked through, you should now be in a good position to build your campaign!