4 Agency PR Tactics That I Avoid At All Costs

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I’ve seen dozens of content marketing trends come and go a decade into Co-Founding Digital PR agency Fractl.

These are the ones I recommend avoiding at all costs, since they can be catastrophic for your brand affinity and Google rankings. 

1. Mass emailing (spamming) high-authority publishers with poor list building 

Every day, I get an email that looks like this — this person represents a Fortune 500 computer software company, seeking a link from Fractl:

There are several hundred pages on Fractl’s site, and only nine have any brief reference to a PDF, most of which are white papers with digital PR research.

We have zero interest in publishing an article on “PDF merging tools,” and we’ve never accepted a guest post.

So, what’s going on?

The targeting is completely irrelevant.

For a decade now, I’ve cautioned marketers about the “robot invasion in Digital PR”, where agencies prioritize emailing hundreds of writers in one fell swoop, instead of building a relationship with the person on the other side of the inbox.

There’s only one way for writers to receive these emails: spam. 

Sure, maybe your agency charges you less for this scaled outreach strategy, but the long-term negative impact on your brand authority in the newsroom can be severely detrimental.

In my 1:1 interviews with top-tier editors and our large-scale studies with thousands of writers, the universal truth is that poor targeting is the #1 way to get blocked from a publisher’s inbox.

If you’re going to waste an editorial team’s time spamming them with irrelevant content, why should they accept emails from your domain on their server?

Is a sitewide ban a risk you’re willing to take with your brand? 

Instead of advocating for mass outreach at Fractl, I’ve worked to train our Digital PR team on…

How to personalize strategies from end-to-end, through:

  • List building
  • Social media networking
  • Subject lines, introductions
  • The pitch strategy
  • The closing
  • The follow up

This personalized strategy has resulted in every single person on our team earning compliments on our pitches, from publishers most agencies never even hear back from: 

How can your team develop a better personalized Digital PR strategy?

Start by avoiding mass outreach, and improving your targeting to increase conversions.

We use these questions to help our team ensure accurate targeting, the #1 concern of all high-authority publishers: 

Questions to ask yourself to make sure your pitching stays relevant

  • Is my client’s industry or campaign relevant to the beat this writer highlights in their author page or social profiles? 
  • Has this writer covered a story that’s relevant to my client’s industry or campaign topic in the last 3-6 months?
  • Does my client or campaign help the writer build on a story she’s covered in the last 1-3 months, or will they simply be regurgitating what they already said? 
  • Has this writer ever posted anything negative about the topic or client I’m pitching? 
  • Have I built a diverse list of publishers across the multiple verticals my client, or campaign, is relevant to? (e.g. lifestyle, parenting, and health publishers oftentimes have overlap in their coverage)  
  • Have I confirmed the writer publishes frequently and consistently with this publication (1-3x/week), so I can ensure my client and campaign will be covered in a timely fashion? 
  • Have I found enough local publishers and news outlets for regional syndication, if I have applicable data to share?

Starting with an effective list build is the best way to build or ruin relationships with top-tier writers, so when you establish your PR strategy on this solid foundation, you’re off to a strong start. 

2. Hiring offshore link builders to purchase specific anchor text links for your domain 

I thought this strategy went back into the shadows along with anyone who called themselves “blackhat SEOs” a decade ago, but even Fractl has seen a massive surge in these emails recently: 

Shockingly, in Q4, two of our clients also brought up the concept of “purchasing links with a specific anchor text,” which sent my Executive team into a code red for client education.

Agencies and clients should be strongly forewarned:

In December 2020, Google launched SpamBrain, which “neutralizes the impact of unnatural links on search results” using AI to “detect sites buying links, and sites used for the purpose of passing outgoing links.” 

Google has always aggressively devalued link networks, and now through the power of AI, they’ll likely provide zero (if not) negative value. 

Instead, agencies need to shift their PR strategy to earning links through developing valuable, interesting, and educational content and industry research that earns links naturally when pitched to relevant high-authority news writers and niche-relevant sites and organizations. 

3. Prioritizing press releases via paid syndication networks

Press releases can get expensive, totaling several hundreds of dollars for a single press release on the most reputable newswires:  

If ultimately your goal is to get your message out to the most influential writers or publishers in your niche, then all it takes is a little legwork to understand which writers or publishers to pitch to ensure a broader reach.

There are numerous ways to evaluate syndication using BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, and other SEO tools. 

For example, Fractl has a client in the energy industry.

Our primary KPI is to earn our clients high-authority links (and brand awareness), which we back into by creating research and content around topics consumers and publishers care about.

Let’s start with a mid-funnel content marketing example, “How seasonal weather impacts power outages and how you could be better prepared in the next winter storm.” 

In one approach, I’ll look at which publishers and writers are covering “power outages” in BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer: 

Next, let’s drill into the backlinks on the top posts to develop an understanding of both the publishers and the writers who have the largest number of backlinks (natural syndication) on their stories. 

If you scale this analysis across numerous keywords related to your vertical, you can quickly build a database of both writers and publishers with the largest natural link syndication networks.

My business partner, Kristin Tynski, talks about Fractl’s study into naturally building links at scale here.

This research was built upon years of manually tracking the syndication of our content marketing campaigns to increase our understanding of industry-level link networks that would help us naturally scale our results: 

Pro Tip

Quick hack

Always seek to build relationships with mainstream, national news publishers who cover your industry.

Here is a sample of the top 10 syndicators from our data: 


  • cnbc.com
  • dailymail.co.uk
  • washingtonpost.com
  • businessinsider.com

What do these publishers have in common?

Generally, they have built-in syndication networks through their national and regional news outlets, and they’re industry-leading publishers that the outlets and bloggers look to and source when developing their stories.  

4. Sending templated emails to crème de la crème writers instead of personalization

If you talk to any one of my business partners, they’ll tell you AI is going to revolutionize our industry within the next year.

With offshore teams inundating publishers with pitches for years, it’s more important than ever for you to build relationships to stand out in the sea of growing inbox spam.

There are dozens of ways to stand out by personalizing your digital PR pitch, but here are my most favorite ways to invest in relationship building with top-tier writers. 

1. Build Twitter lists of writers who cover your industry and connect with them consistently, or at least 3-5x prior to pitching them (preferably with a response beforehand). 

  • Share articles they write and @ their handle 
  • Add commentary to something they wrote when sharing it on social, trying to engage them in a discussion  
  • Add a threaded reply and ask a question about something they recently tweeted 
  • Comment on something personal in their bio or recent tweet

2. Forgo a descriptive brand subject line (“X Brand Does Y”) and lead with something personalized to that writer’s interests.

Do they share any personal information on their bios across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Author profiles?

I’ve written hundreds of pitches over the years where the target complimented my outreach in their reply.

Oftentimes, my subject line and intro have nothing to do with what I’m pitching, and everything to do with the in-depth research I did to understand who that writer was and what they cared about as an individual.

This strategy is based on a Northwestern Law study which states:

Here are a few examples of personalized subject lines I used that led to the target complimenting my outreach: 

  • I See Your Black Lab, Todd, and Raise You My Chocolate Lab
  • Your passion for concerts and craft beer 
  • Hi Gina, I wanted to follow up on your interview with Wharton’s Digital Show 
  • The Family that adventures together, stays together [your Twitter pics]

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