Iliyana worked in PR for years before moving to HubSpot as their Global Partner Manager where she helps customers develop and implement inbound strategies for their own clients.
We had the pleasure of picking her brains about all things inbound, as well as her book, “Inbound PR: The PR Agency’s Manual to Transforming Your Business With Inbound”, which looks at how inbound marketing can be used in the PR world, how to get started, and how it can work in different verticals.
Iliyana, can you give us a summary of what inbound means?
The premise is that people nowadays are very different in how they buy or work with someone. People no longer like to get information pushed out at them, like the direct outbound approach where we used to get direct mail or talk to a sales person to help get educated on a product or service. Now everything is inbound; everything comes to you. The role of the business is to pull you into a brand with remarkable content.
Inbound is pull vs push with content. It’s using your own channels (like your blog and social media) to attract people to your business.
Has marketing started to merge more now with PR?
100%. This was one of the realisations I had shortly after I joined HubSpot. I worked in PR and did a lot of traditional pitching and working with journalists and media people. But, what I’ve discovered is PR people don’t rely on other areas of work where they can leverage that kind of content to attract different stakeholders. PR has a really important role to play with sales and showing ROI because, in my experience, PR people are the best content creators.
With inbound, journalists can browse stories that are relevant to them in their own time rather than be spammed by pitches in their inbox.
They get thousands of email pitches per day. Guess how many they ignore? A lot! This is the traditional outbound approach — you’re pushing information on them that’s probably more relevant for you than the journalist.
Is there an element of outbound involved in the inbound approach?
It’s two-fold. The quality of the content is relevant, but you also want to make sure that the content reaches the right audience. You can use different channels to do this — sometimes email is the right channel, for example — but the most important thing is to sit down and take a strategic approach.
I have this concept about stakeholder personas in my book and the concept of the decision making journey. Before you even think about stories or topics or any type of campaign, you need to define your stakeholder personas.
If it’s someone who works in the media, you want to create a profile of the ideal media people that you want to work with.
Ask yourself: what are they interested in? What are their readers interested in? What does a day in their life look like? How do they prefer to be contacted?
For me, I would rather have someone reach out on Twitter with a short pitch than send an email.
We tend to ignore that, just like a normal buyer or consumer, journalists themselves do their research online. If they have a story, they go on Google and dig there. You want to try and become part of their research process with the content you create and use tactics like SEO to make sure it reaches them.
If you do the research first, you can then create a very personalised pitch which will be far more effective than mass emailing your database.
So it really is content led?
Correct. It’s very much content led based on the needs of your persona. Essentially, you’re trying to answer their questions before they’ve even asked them with the content you create.
Do you think this kind of approach can work for all verticals and industries in PR?
I think it can, but of course, it depends on the industry.
You have to start with your goals; with your bigger “why” questions. Why do you want PR involved in the first place? What do you expect to get out of it? What are the overarching objectives you’re trying to achieve? What’s the ROI expectation?
Once you have this in mind, then you can identify what stakeholder personas you need to hit and what tactics to use to reach them.
For the inbound approach to work, do you think a particular kind of content works better?
Generally people are a lot more interested in videos. I’ve done some experimenting and, instead of sending a document or pitch, you can use a quick video which performs a lot better. That’s a content type that has been working really well for us and other businesses recently.
Of course, long form content on the blog is really important too, because Google evaluates you based on your content there. You have to rely on high quality content still.
And something like that isn’t always in the PR remit, so I guess with this kind of approach it’s important to integrate with other people who are responsible for these areas?
Yes, certainly. And I think that’s one of the challenges for PR people, because they don’t often have access to the website or blog. Collaboration is crucial here, but again that depends on the campaign goals.
Measurement can be quite interesting here. How do you measure the success of inbound?
This is a big question. When I developed the inbound PR concept, it really came out of 2 key learnings. I knew that PR people were the best content creators out there, and that inbound doesn’t function without content. On the other hand, PR people are pretty bad with measurement.
So I asked myself, how do we measure PR? How do we show the ROI of it?
Everything with inbound marketing is about measurement because again you need to start with your overarching goals. It essentially has four stages:
When we say “attract”, we’re talking about the top of the funnel. This is where awareness and brand building comes into play. You’re creating thought leadership content to bring people towards you and you can clearly measure how those are performing.
These measurements allow you to move into the “convert” stage, which is all about creating content that has even more value and usually asks people to fill out a form to access it. In return, you get their email address and can continue to engage and nurture them with via that medium.
Then you can “close” them, which is the next stage of the process. This is where you can really see how successful you’ve been. The bottom of the funnel is where you can say, “okay because of all those tactics we generated X amount of leads”.
You can compare the top of the funnel with the bottom to see how much of the bottom relates to your goals at the beginning.
So it could be a whole variety of metrics that come into that?
Yes, correct. It’s key to start with the big vision of why are we doing this in the first place. Then you can define the specific tactics and measure those tactics to see if you’re hitting the goals.
Do you think an inbound approach from a PR perspective is easier with a big corporation or a startup client?
I would say the smaller, startup clients because they are more open to experimenting. In my experience, the larger brands commission PR agencies for one thing and one thing only. They have other legacy agencies that they’ve been working with for years on things like marketing, so it’s really hard to convince them that you can do everything.
You’re talking about something really exciting here: packaging up PR and inbound services and pricing them. In recent years, PR budgets seem to be getting smaller and put into other areas of marketing. But this presents a really exciting idea that we could tap into new budgets, right?
Absolutely, 100%. I used to be a senior consultant and, in that role, I was working with 200 partner agencies to help them grow their business by helping them bring inbound packages to their services. They essentially create new services and wrap them around our marketing software and resell them to their clients.
The book has a full list of the kind of services you could be providing and how you can develop the skills of your team to deliver these services.
We can tap into new budgets, but we then also realise that we need to develop our skills and our teams’ skills. As we know, PR is such a busy job that it’s hard to find the time to develop these skills.
That’s exactly right. The aim of the book is to help a traditional PR agency turn into an inbound PR agency. The book goes through the theory of PR and measurement, what inbound PR is all about, how you can implement a campaign, and everything around that, and then how you can go ahead and do it in your agency.
Before you consider and sell a new service, you have to be your best client. Your client will come to you and ask for case studies, and if you’ve never done it before you won’t have any case studies except yourself.
Other than your book, where can people start to find out more about this?
I would probably say read a few resources initially. I write a lot about inbound PR on my blog. The biggest question to ask yourself is: “what am I trying to achieve here?”. You can then figure out who you need to talk to about that but, again, you need to know what your goals are and why you’re doing all this.
How do you communicate something like inbound PR to a client?
I think that reverts back to the goals the client has. Clients usually see PR as an investment or a cost centre, so you almost need to prove that you can bring a return to it.
Sometimes, with the activity you have planned for them, you might be hitting your goals or you might not be, and you need to understand why you might not be hitting them. That might be an opportunity to bring in inbound.
If you see a client that’s ambitious and really wants to grow and you see potential, then maybe the conversation you should be having is about how you can help them go above and beyond.
You can listen to the full interview with Iliyana on the PR Resolution Podcast here.