Sarah Skerik

    • Member Type(s): Expert
    • Title:Vice President, Content Marketing
    • Organization:PR Newswire
    • Area of Expertise:
    • Member:ProfNet

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    Trend Watch: Content Marketing World Day 1

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014, 3:45 PM [General]
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    Following the tweet stream from Content Marketing World (#CMWorld) is like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. Not unexpectedly, the attendees and speakers are producing quite a bit of content.

    Emerging themes are bubbling up as day one is being recapped and digested, including:

    • Measuring business outcomes, not marketing output.  Increased spend is demanding increased rigor in measurement.
    • Aligning with the focus on outcomes, more attention is being paid to developing content for specific personas that is also mapped to buyers’ journeys.
    • Tightening the screws on content utility and relevance. Even as content marketing becomes more disciplined,  we can’t lose sight of the audience.  Content may be exquisitely aligned to personas and mapped to journeys but if doesn’t deliver value to the audience, it won’t produce results.
    • Using analytics to inform strategy.  Content marketers are increasingly mining big data sources to glean insights about what makes their audiences tick.
    • Content amplification.  Developing strategies to ensure content is seen from social seeding to actual distribution is central to achieving content success.

    This is my third year at Content Marketing World, and the industry is definitely maturing.  Sessions and conversations are focusing on advanced strategy and execution, rather than more basic why-you-should-get-started discussions.

    Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content Discovery. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

    Timeless Storytelling Tips from Former PR Newswire Features Editor Fred Ferguson

    Friday, August 29, 2014, 2:06 PM [General]
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    Editor’s note:  The following piece is based upon an article published years ago by our then Features Editor, Fred Ferguson.  We were saddened to hear news this week of Fred’s passing.  A PR Newswire employee for more than 16 years, Fred left an indelible mark on the organization and instilled keen news sensibility in many of his colleagues.   In today’s age of content marketing, his advice on fashioning effective news pieces is more relevant and timely than ever.

    A computer programmer develops a program to keep Internet pornography from the PC his son uses.

    A retired schoolteacher produces a set of cards to teach his own children math and vocabulary faster.

    And a dance teacher confined to a chair because of a broken leg creates a videotape teaching chair dancing.

    These are the personal, dramatic stories that once hid in routine news releases, according to Fred Ferguson, the former manager of PR Newswire’s Feature News Service who passed away on August 22, 2014.

    His advice, which encouraged organizations to incorporate feature news writing into their press releases and publicity campaigns, is still instructive today, and not just for PR pros penning press releases.  Marketers who want their content to resonate with audiences should pay heed to Ferguson’s words too.

    “Organizations and companies who need publicity may get more exposure by doing a feature story rather than issuing a straight news releases,” said Ferguson, who was a longtime reporter, editor and executive with United Press International before joining PR Newswire.  “Unless you’re announcing something or have breaking news, tell your story in a feature that won’t bury the heart of it.”

    Ferguson’s tips for creating a compelling feature story focused rigorously on putting the audience for the story first, and the brand second.

    • Hit editors with the story in the headline, which is all they see in selecting stories.
    • Tell the same story in first paragraph, which should never be cute, soft, a quote or a question. These leads obstruct getting to the story. People, editors included, don’t read deep;
    • Support the first paragraph with a second that backs it up and provides attribution. Bury the product and service name at the end of the second paragraph so it becomes less advertorial.
    • Try to keep all paragraphs under 30 words and to three lines. This curbs fulmination, is easier for editors to cut to fit available space, holds the reader’s attention and is attractive in most page layouts;
    • Do not excessively repeat the name of a product or service. Doing so is story desecration and the feature loses print and broadcast opportunities;
    • Forget superlatives. Forget techno babble. Forget buzz words. Tell why consumers care instead;
    • Never say anything is first or the best, express an opinion or make claims unless you directly attribute it to someone. Editors avoid anything not pinned to someone;
    • Avoid the self-serving laundry list of products or services. A better way to introduce a product or service is to have a spokesperson discussing it as a trend or advising how to use it;
    • Know that putting the corporate name in all capital letters violates style and will be rejected by many as advertorial and unsightly. Also beware trademark repetition.
    • Do not use the corporate identity statement. Instead, use the information throughout the story so that it will be used. If you must use the boilerplate, put it in note to editor so it won’t interfere with text.

    Storytelling is all the rage today in marketing circles.  Fred knew the power of stories, and taught scores of communicators the ins and outs of storytelling.

    Our thoughts are with Fred’s family and friends, and he has our everlasting thanks for his sharing of his knowledge and enthusiasm with his cohorts, cronies, colleagues and clients.

    Copy Quality: New Imperatives for Communicators

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 10:03 AM [General]
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    New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.
    New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire
    to help improve press release content quality.

    How does one determine whether or not a piece of content is low-quality?

    Since we added copy quality to the guidelines against which we assess press releases and other content prior to distribution, we’ve counseled a number of clients on steps they can take to improve thevalue of their content for their audiences.

    Understanding how to build/create quality content is a mandate for all communicators creating digital content. Google started raising the bar on Web content quality in early 2011, when the first Panda algorithm update was deployed. Taking aim at link farms and websites created to propagate links and manipulate search rank but which offer little to no real use to human beings, the goal of the Panda update is to improve the relevance of the search results Google returned to Internet searchers.

    The New Rules of Content Quality

    Google has kept the pedal to the metal, rolling out changes and updates to its algorithms in an ongoing effort to improve the utility of its search engine by returning better and better results to users, and it’s safe to assume that this won’t change in the future. Communicators of all stripes publishing digital content and seeking visibility in search engines will have to play by the rules.

    So let’s look at those rules. Click here to continue reading on PR Newswire's Beyond PR blog.

    Safeguarding Brand Visibility on Social Networks

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 2:53 PM [General]
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    brand hub

    Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all public companies and, as such, their primary objectives are to return profits to their shareholders, not drive visibility for the brands that have developed presences on their platforms.

    It’s no secret that social networks strive to make their sites useful and attractive to users, employing algorithms to serve up content that will engage their audiences and keep them on the site longer (thus exposing them to more advertising).

    The recent news of Facebook’s experiment in manipulating user emotions by managing what they see in their newsfeeds is surprising to some, but the reality is this: The brands we represent are not in control of social presences, and while there’s no doubt social media is a powerful communications medium, communicators are at the mercy of the social network companies and their fiduciary duties to their respective shareholders.

    Changes in organic reach of Facebook posts since September 2012. Via

    The social network companies can make (and have made) significant changes to their platforms, increasing and decreasing visibility for brands seemingly at the drop of a hat. As a result, except for brands willing to spend heavily on advertising, visibility via social networks can be unpredictable.

    Continue reading this article on Beyond PR to see four ways brands can safeguard their online visibility and social network traction.

    The Key to Press Release Success: Multiple Visual Elements

    Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 3:15 PM [General]
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    Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views, a study by PR Newswire found.
    Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views,
    a study by PR Newswire found.

    How can you get better results with your press releases? The data is in, and the answer is clear: Visual illustration of your message is a key driver of success.

    PR Newswire’s analytics team recently updated – and significantly expanded – our analysis of press release types, and the results each produces in terms of online views. For the most recent iteration of this ongoing analysis, we looked at every press release viewed on last year, regardless of when it was issued. Well over 1 million press releases were measured. 

    For the analysis, we broke the release types into the following buckets:

    • Text only
    • Text + one visual asset, such as a single image or video
    • Text + multiple visuals
    • Fully loaded multimedia press releases and campaign microsites

    The results are clear: visuals drive more content views, and adding multiple media assets to your content (press releases, and anything else you publish online, for that matter) generates even better results.

    Why visuals improve results:  

    One visual is good; more are better. Click here to read the full article on PR Newswire's Beyond PR blog and find out why.

    Google: How Earned Media Impacts Search & New KPIs for PR

    Monday, May 5, 2014, 10:43 AM [General]
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    Earned media and implied links, visualized by Brawn Media

    In a patent for search engine ranking methods that was granted on March 25, Google codified the role earned media plays in search rank. The patent describes how the search engine values “implied links,” which it describes as a reference to a target resource (i.e., a website or Web page) such as a citation, but does not include an express link to the resource, as part of its process for determining the search rank of a Web page.

    What are these implied links? In a nutshell, they are relevant earned mentions, and run the gamut from media pickup to references on blog posts to mentions in discussion groups.

    “What does all this mean? It means that once a connection is made by someone typing in a brand name or other search query and then clicking on a site it creates a connection in Google’s eyes,” SEO expert Simon Penson explained in a post about brand mentions. “The search engine can then store that info and use it in the context of unlinked mentions around the Web in order to help weight rankings of particular sites.”

    The implications for public relations are significant. The mentions your PR campaigns create in turn generate audience activity, which Google watches in the aggregate and uses to inform search results. In an excellent blog post on this topic titled, “Google Validates that PR is SEO in Patent Filing,” Christopher Penn of Shift Communications concludes:

    “Google is publicly acknowledging that every time your brand gets a mention in a story, that counts as an implied link that affects your SEO, that affects how many links there are to your website, which in turn affects how well your site shows up when someone is searching for your brand. In short, PR is SEO (or part of it). It singlehandedly validates all of the PR that you’ve generated for your brand, all of the mentions and citations that you’ve accrued through hard work, great products and reputation, and effective public relations, even if you didn’t necessarily get an explicit link in the coverage.”

    Continue reading

    Getting Press Release Readers to Take Action

    Thursday, February 27, 2014, 10:00 AM [General]
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    Before-and-after landing page optimization results from MecLabs. Changes to how Web pages are structured can significantly increase the results those pages generate.

    Marketers know that slight tweaks to their Web pages can deliver astonishing “lift” in the results those pages generate. Moving a button to a different spot on the page and reducing the amount of text and other visual clutter increases the likelihood that page visitors will take the desired action, clicking on the primary call to action on the page.

    This is called "landing page optimization," and it’s an increasingly important field of digital marketing. What’s the connection with PR?

    The press releases we issue become landing pages of a sort when they hit the wire and are distributed online. They are hosted on thousands of websites, and are the digital ambassadors for our brands, conveying messaging, branding, visuals and -- importantly -- links directly back to our websites.

    New press release outcomes 

    As a result, many organizations are using releases to generate more than media coverage. Driving social interactions that lead to improved search engine results is one potent new outcome for which brands are using the distribution of content.

    Promoting content -- such as blog posts and white papers -- is something else we’re seeing more brands do with online news releases. Generating leads and direct sales (such as app downloads and event registrations) is a third use of news releases we’re increasingly seeing.

    Formatting press releases to encourage readers to take action

    Jakob Neilsen of the Neilsen Norman Group is the grandfather of online user experience (“UX”) research, and has devoted considerable time to researching how people read content online. PR pros penning press releases can utilize this research to create more effective content. How?

    Continue reading

    5 Tips for Pulling of a Newsjack With Everyday PR Tools

    Friday, January 17, 2014, 9:55 AM [General]
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    Orchestrating a successful newsjack (a term coined by David Meerman Scott to describe the practice of responding quickly to a developing situation and inserting your brand’s voice into the ensuing media coverage) can seem daunting, but in reality, all it takes is one person who is paying attention and is willing to get creative with the PR tools they have at hand.

    Anthony Hardman (@ahardman) is a PR specialist with SecureState, a global management consulting firm focused on information security. Using common PR tools, he orchestrated a spectacular newsjack around the recent security breach at Target. Leveraging the media database within the Agility platform, along with a raft of finely tuned pitches, creative press releases, his brand’s owned media channels and his telephone, Hardman was able to earn fantastic news coverage through his efforts.

    Standing Out

    “The first key to earning media attention is determining what you can add to the story that no one else is talking about,” noted Hardman, a former television producer who pays particular attention to news value.  “In this case, it was the fact that SecureState could comment on what takes place during a data breach investigation. For other retailers, for example, it could be an example of how they’ve gone above and beyond to ensure their customers’ security.”

    Start With Existing Relationships

    Newsjacking requires one to work fast, so Hardman started with the journalists he already knew.

    "Once I found the news peg and crafted my pitch, I quickly pulled up all my media contacts who I thought would be interested in the story, and started making phone calls,” he told us. “Email is the best way to establish contact initially, but when you have an existing relationship with a reporter, it’s okay to call.”

    He called all the producers and reporters he knew, locally and nationally, and within 30 minutes had scheduled two on-site interviews and live in-studio time for a 7 p.m. broadcast that night.

    Mine Your Media Database

    Things were off to a great start. However, Hardman believed the story would appeal to a broader media audience beyond the core journalists he had already contacted. To develop a broader contact list, he turned to his Agility media database to identify relevant security-industry and national news contacts to whom he could send the pitch.

    An email pitch Hardman sent via Agility lead to this interview on PBS NewsHour featuring SecureState's CEO.
    An email pitch Hardman sent via Agility lead to this interview on PBS NewsHour featuring SecureState’s CEO.

    To save time, Hardman first exported relevant journalist contacts from lists he had created for previous media campaigns.  Then, he decided to cast his net wider, and performed a targeted search for consumer advocate reporters, and added selected contacts from that search to his growing media list. 

    “Generally speaking, I prefer to avoid sending out a mass email, in favor of more targeted and personal messages,” Hardman noted. “However, in cases where time is limited, such as a newsjack or when you need to communicate broadly in the event of a crisis, a mass email is appropriate – as long as you are selective about the recipients.”  

    To hone in on the right people, Hardman used the Google News search function embedded in Agility. 

    “I love the Agility Google search function,” he told us.  “I start by targeting topics within the database, and then whittle the contacts down.  Then I do a quick Google search and look at their latest stories to help decide whether or not they’re a good fit for my pitch.”

    “The Google search function is a great way to expand your media research beyond what we provide in the Agility profiles,” explained Torrey Mirabito, PR Newswire’s director of customer engagement, and one of our Agility experts. “If you want to get a real sense for how the journalist is writing and what they’re covering, you have the option to hit the “Search Google” button in Agility, which will pull up the Google News file for that person, enabling you to see their recent work at a glance. “

    Once he had refined his media lists, Hardman turned his attention to the messages, creating different emails for each outlet type.  For broadcast outlets, Hardman offered experts for on-camera interviews, and included a recent blog post so news producers could get a feel for the point of view the company was offering.  Print outlets received a pitch with a different news peg which highlighted the fact that SecureState is one of 11 companies authorized to investigate card holder data breaches.

    Hardman sent out his pitches and kept an eye on the analytics. Over the course of the following two hours, he secured multiple interviews with a variety of media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and numerous trade publications.  A follow up email distribution garnered more coverage, including an appearance two days ago on PBS NewsHour for SecureState’s CEO.

    Respond to Journalist Queries

    There are a variety of services journalists use to post queries and find experts, and Hardman didn’t rest on his laurels. He scanned PR Newswire’s ProfNet during the news cycle around the data breach, and responded to several requests for experts with his unique pitch. 

    This ProfNet query from an AP reporter lead to coverage in the Boston Globe, Yahoo! Finance and NPR (and dozens of other outlets across the US.)

    This ProfNet query from an AP reporter lead to coverage in the Boston Globe, Yahoo! Finance and NPR (and dozens of other outlets across the U.S.)

    Hardman says he knew he struck gold when Associated Press reporter Bree Fowler – who had issued a query on ProfNet and was on a tight deadline – instantly responded to his pitch with an interview request. The resulting story (Tips for Consumers Worried about the Target Breach) hit the AP national wire, and was picked up in media outlets from coast to coast.

    Leverage Branded Media

    Despite the fact that he was generating extraordinary media coverage, Hardman also capitalized on the opportunity to develop traction for SecureState’s owned media channels. Two internal experts were assigned blog posts to provide additional insight and perspective into the data breach.

    “I edited and published the posts, and promoted them through every channel I could, which included social media and a news release promoting the articles,” Hardman told us.

    The press releases SecureState has issued to  promote company content are now the second-largest source of web site traffic for the company, behind search engines.
    The press releases SecureState has issued to promote company content are now the second-largest source of web site traffic for the company, behind search engines.

    “People are reading news releases, and Google is indexing them. Our second leading source of referral traffic for our web site is from PR Newswire press releases,” Hardman noted. “We’re using them to promote our content. We’re targeting readers.”

    Press releases, blog posts and media databases are PR industry tools that can deliver spectacular results when wielded with creativity, timeliness and precision, as the results of Hardman’s efforts prove.

    “When you’re one person, you have to be agile and you have to use what you have,” Hardman concluded.

    Want more inspiration?  Join us for a free webinar titled “Newsworthiness: New Context & Opportunities for PR,” on January 23.  The very definition of “news” is changing, and this evolution creates the opportunity for PR pros to create timely content that earns credibility, earns media and generates ongoing (and relevant) visibility for the brand. Taking pages from the journalistic and content marketing playbooks, this webinar will include a discussion on the evolution of news, how to map the resources within your own organization and ways to identify different opportunities a responsive PR department can capitalize upon.

    Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the recently-published ebook Driving Content Discovery. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

    What’s Your PR Resolution for 2014? [Survey]

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 3:46 PM [General]
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    Image via

    The new year always brings discussion of what trends and tactics are on tap for the coming 12 months, and this year is no different. Storytelling, new measurement tactics, hyper-targeting, visuals, social, “Slow PR” -- these are just a few of the trends industry prognosticators have identified.

    But we’re curious – which strategies and tactics top your PR resolutions for 2014?  Tell us in this short, one-question survey:

    And check back next week on Beyond PR to see how your answer compares to what your peers said!

    The Content We Most Loved in 2013

    Monday, December 30, 2013, 12:15 PM [General]
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    As we wind down 2013 and look forward to the new year, we took a look at some of the campaigns and messages highlighted this year on Content We Love.

    The most popular posts for the year fell into three categories: examples of multimedia/multichannel campaigns, message distribution, and writing tactics. Here are the top posts of the year, for each of these key categories:

    Multimedia & Multichannel Campaigns

    Content We Love: the Press Release Behind the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign :

    Content We Love: A Message in a Bottle (and a Multimedia News Release)

    Content We Love: Michaels Stores Crafting Multimedia

    Content Distribution: 

    Content We Love: A Feel Great Story Gets A Boost:

    Content We Love: Curating Company Content & Keeping it Current

    Writing Tactics: 

    Content We Love: Backbone of Storytelling :

    Content We Love: A Press Release Built for Action

    Content We Love: Social Media Makes This Release Pop

    Content We Love: A Masterful News Hook

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