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Tips from 8 World-Leading PR Experts on Writing Influential Content

It’s getting late.

You’ve missed your train home.

Only the cleaner and that colleague who always stays late to prove how indispensable he is are left in the office.

But you’ve still got that 1500-word blog post to write.

That cornerstone (“what we need is a cornerstone piece of content that’s going to put us on the map”) post that’s going to solve all your customers’ pain points, make you look witty and erudite, while somehow selling your company's raison d’etre.

Tricky eh?

No wonder you’re on a second can of coke from the company dispensing machine.

It won’t be long before you succumb to that chunky Yorkie bar with your name on it.

You’re Not Alone

If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one.

Here at Prezly, we work with some of the world’s leading corporate communication teams and head of comms.

The reason I tell you this is that we surveyed our customers earlier this year and... do you know what they cited as their number one concern?

You guessed it:

Producing content that the influencers we want to reach in our sector actually care about

Let’s put that another way.

Producing content (let’s for argument’s sake say writing a blog post) about which, frankly, anyone gives a damn.

Your post is written in an era when on WordPress.com alone (25 per cent of t’Internet), 87 million posts are published every month.

That’s more than two million a day. Depending on the sector you’re operating in...that’s a lot of competition.

Our Passion

At Prezly our passion is software. And we’ve made it our business to get to know the PR industry like the back of our hand in the past few years.

We’re now (almost) as passionate as PR as we are about programming!

Like any good business, one of the things we like doing best is helping our customers scratch their itches; reach down their backs and really get rid of that bothersome tickle that’s doing their heads in.

So How Do You Produce Itch-Free Content?

We have our own thoughts, which we’ll come to at the end of this article BUT one of the benefits of being involved in PR communities such as #PRStack is getting to know some of the world’s leading PR experts.

And who better to scratch this itch than them. So without further ado, we took off our metaphorical loafers and got in the metaphorical bath with each world-leading PR influencer and asked:

When you're searching for interesting blog posts to share with your network, or writing content yourself, what are the top three things you look for? What makes you prick your ears up, read the entire article, and share it with your mates on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or through your newsletter? In a nutshell, how can clients write content that influences people, whatever their sector?

And, peeking out from their metaphorical bubble baths, here’s what they had to say:

Deirdre Breakenridge

Deirde Breakenridge is the CEO of Pure Performance Communications. Next to that, she’s also an author at Lynda.com, where she gives media training and teaches people about public relations.

“If you want your content shared, then here are three considerations. First, write posts that help your community tackle issues, solve problems or evaluate challenges from a different perspective. If you’re always listening to community conversations, then it’s easy to know hot button topics.

Second, the most shareable content is easy to digest with bullets, tips and copy broken up with headlines. Video posts get a lot of interest too. People scan and grab information or quickly watch videos. Time is precious.

Third, getting content shared involves your trusted champions who share for you. When influencers in a community share, others members will move to action.”

Philippe Borremans

Philippe Borremans is a PR consultant specialized in digital transformation, crisis communications, and thought leadership development. In addition, he’s also the Digital Communications Work Group Coordinator for the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), guest lecturer at the ISCAE Business School and the International University of Casablanca.

“As a Public Relations consultant I am a news and information addict. Let's face it, we have to be.

But the internet firehose can be a terrible thing so I am rather careful with the selection of my sources. I most often read updates, blogposts and long reads from sources I trust and know.

Another important criterion is the practical use I can make of the information I read. Call it the ‘what's in it for me’ angle if you wish.

And last but not least... I'd rather read a story written in a personal, human tone than the traditional corporate speak. And a pinch of humor has never hurt anyone either.”

Elliot Tomaeno

Elliot Tomaeno is the founder and CEO of Astrsk, an NYC-based PR agency that’s in the business of making startups succeed.

“I’m constantly looking for personality, creativity and boldness.

I am piqued by articles that are raw and make a strong argument. I usually share pieces that totally changed my perception or a story that I’ve never heard before.

Influential content needs to be ‘new’ and make people think. The most successful client pieces are those that include ‘lessons learned’ and actionable advice for readers.”

David Sawyer

David Sawyer runs Zude PR. Ex-head of Weber Shandwick’s Glasgow office, David has branched out into SEO and digital marketing since setting up his own PR firm in February 2014. He has 20 years’ experience of producing content for international campaigns and was the first winner of the United Nations award for public relations.

“Something new. Something fresh. Something that makes me look good for sharing.

Ultimately, something that makes me look good for sharing means something that will help the people I am trying to target.

For example, when I’m sharing things, I’m not just sharing posts or videos on PR, SEO and digital marketing. I’m trying to think about who I’m trying to reach. What are they doing at this moment? Do they have children? How old are they? What do they drink and eat? Where do they live?

It’s only by knowing the people who follow your stuff intimately that you’re really able to help them.

So, the content I share ranges from tactical and strategic PR and digital marketing insights, through book recommendations, to financial independence, to minimalism, to home-working, investments, how to get stuff done when you have so little time to yourself.

When ghost-writing for clients or training them in how to produce content, I take the same approach. Know thy audience. Then do the research to find out what they’re interested in. Then produce some content that knocks the socks off your competition. I favour the skyscraper approach.

One last thing, there is no substitute for knowing how to tell a story coupled with good old promotion when it comes to producing killer content and getting it out there. However, a working knowledge of the plethora of free tools available nowadays sets you off in the right direction.”

Luke Budka

Having moved through the ranks of TopLine Comms, an integrated marketing agency, from account assistant to director, Luke Budka is now splitting his time between managing and advising integrated communications teams working on B2B briefs, and business development.

“In short, I look for original research. The content I share the most contains useful, original research pertinent to the sectors we work in and the marketing services we sell.

Two good recent examples are Moz’s searcher behaviour and Buzzsumo’s 100 million headlines blogs – these contain stats that will inform everything from new business pitches to client strategies.

They obviously take time to pull together and are a lot of work for the respective authors, but they result in increased brand recognition and followed links, as readers use them as online reference points.

There are so many companies out there sitting on data their target audiences would find fascinating, they just need to dedicate the resources to mining and marketing it.”

Steve Loynes

Steve Loynes is  Head of Technology practice at Porter Novelli, who has held in-house and consultancy roles and has considerable international PR experience.

Prior to joining Porter Novelli, Steve led agency-side campaigns for a number of technology firms including Alstom Power, BT, Citrix, Hitachi Data Systems, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Orange and Siemens. He was also European PR director at IT services company Cambridge Technology Partners, and EMEA PR director at Novelli.

“We look for assured, well-articulated, authoritative content. On our blog about cybersecurity we pay particular attention to the authority of sources. It is important our content is supported by fact and addresses the issues experienced by organisations and individuals today.

Our nascent blog about Technology PR reflects our approach as a company. It’s more relaxed, and tries to remember the ‘entertain’ element of Lord Reith’s ‘inform, educate and entertain.’ We look to identify topics that provoke new ideas and lead to thoughtful discussion. And hopefully a wry smile.”

Brooke Hammerling

Brooke Hammerling is the founder of Brew Media Relations. A former VP of Media Relations at Zeno, she’s specialized in high level media relations for technology companies, networking and evangelizing.

“It sounds cliché, but the headline is key. I don’t believe in catchy headlines just for clicks, but more clearly saying what the post is about that will pique interest with the reader. Having a provocative headline and then a boring post will only irritate the reader so being measured but catchy will first bring the reader in.

And then there comes the length. We have clients who have so much to say and they write beautifully, but no one wants to read a 3,000 word essay and frankly most won’t. So you must be concise and get your point across in a shorter format. We have a very prominent client who says he will not read emails over 3 sentences. So get to your point or get nowhere. Obviously a blog post will be more in-depth, but the point is still the same.

And at the center of it all is content. Bring people into your story, tell a personal story or give a real world example of something that people can identify with. We all love to feel we are not alone in the challenges we face and we all love to have ideas for solutions. But bringing that story to life with real world examples is the most compelling.”

Donna Burke

Donna Burke is the founder of Sparkpr, a public relations powerhouse with a spirit of fearless, creative communication. Before cofounding Sparkpr, Donna held a variety of marketing and public relations positions at Netscape, TSI Communications, News Corporation and the US Olympic Committee.

"Here are the top three things I look for when sharing content.

First, whether the content actually helps my clients get closer to solving their problems (as a content creator, think of the interests of your audience’s audience).

Second, I look for something new—a new topic that has never been discussed or a new perspective on one that has been explained to death.

Third, I can’t deny a catchy title and image that clearly express what I will get out of reading the content."

Thanks

Huge thanks to all these international PR experts for taking time out of their busy schedules to scratch our clients’ content itch. We couldn’t have done it without them.

To round things off, here’s Idries at Prezly’s (me) top five tips.

Know Your Audience

As David Sawyer from Zude PR says, know your audience. A good way of doing this is through customer or buyer personas. Then try and establish what content they might need that you could produce. Is it a blog post? Is it an online tool? Is it a guide? Perhaps it’s a video?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If you’re like me, you’ll agonise over every if, but and comma in a blog post then be so eager to press publish you don’t spend the extra hour going through and illustrating your points with visual imagery.

Don’t be like me.

Spend Time on the Headline

Hubspot writers pen 25 headlines before picking the one they think will sing. We humans are fallible. You need to grab people’s attention by the short and curlies before their attention flits elsewhere.

Luckily there are two excellent tools to help you in your search for headline nirvana. Step forward Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyser and CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser (sic).

Personally, I write 10 headlines per blog post and run each one through these tools. They help me decide which headline to use.

Read Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Book

Then apply the lessons it teaches every time you produce content. You are trying to produce influential content right? Content that will help your company, company x, get on the radars of influential people in your sector? Content aht influences?

Then you need to know what causes people to change their behaviour. There is no better book than Professor Robert Cialdini’s classic. As relevant today as when it was first published in 1984.

Network

Did you know that 79 per cent of the world’s wealthiest people network for more than five hours a month.

To get to know what is bothering/perplexing people in your sector, you need to go out and meet them. Use networking events to find out what’s irking your customers.

Then produce content scratching that metaphorical itch.

Conclusion

Right, there you have it. More ideas on how to create content that influences people than you can shake a stick at.

I’m off to email all our clients with, I hope, the answer to their prayers. The metaphorical loafer to scratch their content itch.

Here’s to more cornerstone pieces of content and less late-night staring at the office wall desperately trying to churn out a masterpiece after missing your train home.

Content Creation