Campaign ideas for digital PR: How to add certainty into your ideation process

Matt Foster | 6th May 2021 |

Digital PR is a great way to secure coverage for your brand, while also building organic visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

We’re always looking at ways to encourage creative campaign ideas for the companies we work with. With the help of experience, conversations with others in the industry, and even a few books on the subject(!), we have adopted a structured process to the ideation phase. 

For any digital PR team, the ideation phase is a crucial part of running a successful campaign. It’s the grounding that everything is built from. 

Quite simply, if the campaign ideas aren’t flowing and results feel like an uphill climb, perhaps it’s time to analyse whether the appropriate structure is in place to help encourage that idea spark.

The golden question: Can you learn to come up with great ideas? And how can you better ensure repeated success?

Now, to clarify what we mean by an idea ‘spark’. While it may seem that the small spark of an idea can come from nowhere, it’s actually just the tip of the iceberg. Ideas can be seen as something that happens as an end result of research, topic knowledge, and information gathering.

The ideation steps:

  • Step 1 – The research phase (The ‘brainwave’ stage)
  • Step 2 – Research pt. II (Are the brainwaves possible?)
  • Step 3 – Team discussion: open ideas to the team and bounce ideas
  • Step 4 – The validation process: will they work in the real world?

Ground rules – 

A lot has been written about how to encourage ideas in designing, advertising, and other disciplines. Here’s what Distinctly have learnt from reading and putting into practice:

  • Anyone can formulate campaign ideas with the right structure
  • Utilise the different skills and perspectives of the team
  • Limitations can create useful direction for ideation
  • Great ideas can take time – encourage this!
  • A great idea is rarely original – many are variations of old or existing campaigns developed into something new
  • Get into good habits: always be taking notes, saving tabs, and thinking about how things can be applied to what you’re working on. The more you work on creating ideas the better they’ll become!
  • An idea’s potential is easier explained with validating research to back up their potential

Step 1. The research phase (The ‘brainwave’ stage)

The first step is simply absorbing as much knowledge as possible on the target niche and client.

Know your target niches from the start – these are the niches which your client operates in or has an interest in. Typically these will form part of everything you do for a client so should be well known. 

As long as it’s a natural topic for an individual from the company to comment on, it’s a topic that can be explored. Note these down and start researching.

Tips for what you’re looking for:

    • Be aware of any events or common seasonal activities. I.e. travel = summer, beaches, air travel
    • What is the press likely to cover this year? Are there any stories on these topics that are covered annually by press that you could tap into
    • Be knowledgeable of what other stories are successful and are getting covered – analyse the elements to this story that helped ‘sell’ it into press, consider how to adapt this to fit your client or niche
    • Be curious – look at sources of data that have been used in other stories. This may just provide another angle to the data that you can utilise
    • User submitted forums to scan target niches – websites like Reddit, which rely on user submitted content, can provide insight on what’s topical at the moment and different ways to present data and topics. There’s a subreddit thread for most things – i.e if you’re interested in sport trends, take a look at news shared on /r/olympics/
  • Have a chat! Talking with others is fundamental to building our knowledge and widening perspectives. Reach out to those who you might know with an interest in the target niche, or simply ask family and friends.

As you go through your research note things down that could be relevant to your client. As you come across points of interest, consider how this could apply to your client.

Most importantly, throughout all of this, is to remember relevancy. Always bring your research back to your client’s industry – how is it relevant and what are the topics that it would be natural to cover?

Sleep on it!

Try to give yourself a day between step 1 and step 2. Mulling over the research and initial idea notes will help them to process and develop in your mind.

Step 2. Research pt. II (Are the brainwaves possible?)

For the second step, come back to your notes and read over the findings. Condense down any initial ideas and research points into the most promising campaign idea.

Hopefully by now you’ll have some ideas that fit your client’s target niche and have a great newsworthy angle. If not, revisit stage 1 for more research though hold on to your notes – they may come in handy later in team discussions.

If you’re happy to continue, it’s time to develop the idea and make sure it’s realistic. Work through elements such as the below to check off:

  • Does it need a specific data source to make it work? Research free sources online or other avenues and check what you need is available.
  • Does it need visualisation? What is going to help convey the story best 
  • Does the idea have a time frame? Make sure that it can be created to the required standard within the allocated time -particularly important for ideas tied to events or dates.
  • Has it been done before? If so this doesn’t necessarily mean to drop the idea, though you’ll have to find the unique element to develop the existing idea.

Step 3. Team discussion: Open ideas to the team and bounce ideas

Now that you’ve identified some potential campaign ideas and validated their feasibility, step 3 is designed to gather wider opinion and troubleshoot any issues. Steps 3 and 4 can both be done in a team meeting where the end goal is to leave with a finalised campaign idea to start putting structure to.

It helps to come into the team discussion stage with an open mind. It is the team’s job to identify any pitfalls and to discuss any workable solutions that will make the idea stronger.

The value here comes from other team members who may have a unique perspective on the idea, or have knowledge from their research that can plug into yours at this stage.

Once discussed and the top ideas have been identified, move onto Step 4 to evaluate and validate its suitability for the real world and putting into practice…

Step 4. The validation process: will they work in the real world?

Many times you will know that an idea is great by that ‘gut feeling’ – though having a validation process in place is a means to formalise that feeling into something measurable.

Validate each campaign idea against the below questions. Are the answers ‘yes’ to the following:

  • Does the idea add and improve on a news topic?
  • Have journalists covered a similar topic before?
  • Is the idea thought provoking?
  • Is the idea feasible – can we produce suitable press material for journalists?
  • Does the idea have multiple target niches?
  • Does the idea address the right target audience?

Disclaimer that this can only go so far – not every metric will need to be met to make it a great campaign. This is where experience comes into play. As a final point, it’s worth noting that personal preferences to techniques discussed above will become apparent. 

Hopefully this has provided a brief insight into our digital PR work process here at Distinctly. If you’d like any further information on this, feel free to contact the team at [email protected]


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