Hello there 🙂

Welcome to issue thirty eight of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.

This newsletter is free to receive, but if you’d like to support me in this odd little endeavour you can buy me a coffee 🙂

Speaking of coffee, grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…


Part I: How to Write a Compelling Speaker Pitch

Earlier this week a friend got in contact to ask for some advice about pitching to speak at a conference. Given that various people have asked me this question over time, I figured that it might be worth sharing some thoughts with you here.

Given my line of work, I mainly pitch to speak at tech and marketing events; but I’m hoping that what I share is likely broadly applicable, regardless of the type of event you’re pitching to speak at.

To kick things off, I thought it might be helpful for you to see the sort of thing I typically provide conference organisers with.

Below you’ll see what I provided for MozCon – NB this is a little skewed because I was asked to speak as opposed to pitching to speak, however what I sent them looks a lot like a typical speaker pitch from me:


The Pitch

Myths, Misconceptions, & Mistakes (lessons learned from a decade in Digital PR)

For more than eleven years Hannah’s been tasked with coming up with content ideas which people will share, and journalists will write about; in this session she’ll be sharing some of the most important lessons she’s learned along the way. 

==

Background

I’ve been doing what today we call Digital PR, but what has previously been called Linkbait, Content Marketing, (and various other names) for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve seen a lot, and messed up a lot! What’s interesting to me, is that today I work with a bunch of agencies and inhouse teams, and I’ve observed that many of the myths I once believed to be true, the misconceptions I once laboured under, and the mistakes that I made are still alive and well today.

For example:

  • we still don’t talk much about our creative processes (ideas appear, like magic!)
  • we still have a tendency to try to analyse formats rather than ideas
  • we spend too much time looking at other people’s creative work and not enough time looking at the coverage it generated
  • the campaigns we make fail to generate coverage often – but often we don’t fully understand why we’ve failed.

By using real campaign examples and sharing my own experiences I plan to offer attendees some new ways to think about this stuff, plus some frameworks and processes they can implement in their own work.  

I also feel strongly that we’re sorely lacking in terms of robust benchmarks. For example, thanks to Aira’s excellent State of Link Building report we know that 31% of respondents created at least one campaign in 2021 that generated 0 links. But we don’t fully understand the proportional breakdown of zero link campaigns. I’ve done a little analysis of my own, and I’m hoping to persuade others in the industry to share their numbers anonymously with me too so I can provide people with a clearer picture.

==

Talk Outline

As the title suggests, the talk is in three parts:

  • A myth I’ve perpetuated: 
    • Luck played a bigger part in some of the most successful campaigns I’ve worked on than I’ve either realised, or truly been comfortable with admitting 
      • I’ll give a specific example here, and explain why I think it’s important that we acknowledge the role that luck can play.  
  • A misconception I’ve helped fuel:
    • On various stages I’ve shared the stories of some of my most successful campaigns. What I failed to tell people was that these campaigns were outliers – most of my work has not been so successful.
    • This happens an awful lot in this industry, and as a result people have a very skewed view of how digital PR campaigns perform
      • I’ll be sharing data from a range of agencies and inhouse teams to help give people a more realistic barometer
  • A pretty huge mistake I’ve made:
    • At various points I’ve said things like “Study successful content and try to figure out why it worked” 
    • This might sound reasonably sensible, but actually it’s not. Studying the content is not really what we should be doing (although it’s exactly what I did for a long time), what we should really be studying is the coverage the content generated.
      • I’ll explain why this is so important, and provide a framework to help people actually do this effectively

==

Takeaways for the audience:

  • A clearer understanding of the impact of “luck” (or things we cannot control) on successful digital PR campaigns
  • A more balanced view of how most campaigns actually perform (using data from a range of agencies and inhouse teams) 
  • A framework they can employ to better understand why particular campaigns are successful

For clarity, I’m sharing this because I felt like some people might find it useful/interesting – I’m in no way suggesting this is a shining example of speaker pitch.

What will hopefully be more useful is me sharing my approach…


When writing your pitch I think it’s useful to put yourself in the organisers’ shoes. Whilst it’s not always the case that organisers share how they select speakers, I noticed that Moz do provide some insight into this, their criteria seem sensible, and, I suspect, reasonably universal.

They apparently select talks based on the following:

  • Does it fit with overall programming and agenda?
  • Can the content reasonably be delivered in the time allotted?
  • Strength of the pitch (e.g., value, relevance to the audience, etc.)

Clearly when pitching a talk you’re not typically not exposed to the overall programming and agenda of the conference. As such, ignore this point. Don’t sweat the things you can’t control.

However, the second point “can the content reasonably be delivered in the time allotted” definitely worth paying attention to. I’ve frequently reviewed pitches where the scope of the talk is so broad that it’s unlikely that the person will be able to do the topic justice – essentially the speaker is pitching not one, but three or more talks. I suspect that many conference organisers favour a tightly-focussed pitch; and as an attendee I concur – I’d much rather see a speaker delve into a single topic in some depth, rather than scratching the surface of many topics.

Somewhat related, although not explicitly stated here, is the extent to which it’s clear what the speaker is planning to talk about, and exactly what their talk will contain.

For what it’s worth I’d acknowledge that this is perhaps the trickiest part of pitching a talk – whilst it’s likely that the talk is very clear in your mind, this doesn’t always translate to the pitch. Again, many pitches I’ve reviewed in the past have suffered from a lack of concrete detail, and after reading the pitch, I’m still not entirely clear what the speaker plans to talk about.

To help remedy both of these points I recommend including a brief outline (not only does this make your talk easier for the conference organiser to understand, it also forces you to check that you can actually cover everything you want to within the time allowed), and audience takeaways within your pitch.


I’d acknowledge that the next bit: “Strength of the pitch (e.g., value, relevance to the audience, etc.)” is a little more abstract – so here’s how I attempt to deal with this stuff. Within the pitch I try to answer the following questions:

  • Why am I the right person to give this talk? (credibility)
  • What unique perspective or point of view can I bring? (I think this bit is often more important that credibility)
  • Why is this a relevant talk to give right now?

In the MozCon pitch above, I’ve answered these points as follows:

  • Why am I the right person to give this talk?
    • More than ten years experience, and I’m arguably provably “good” at this (blah, blah: credibility)
  • What unique perspective or point of view can I bring? (I think this bit is often more important that credibility)
    • I now work with lots of different teams (rather than just one) which gives me unique insights that others might not have, plus I’m gathering a proprietary dataset that no one has previously had access to.
  • Why is this a relevant talk to give right now?
    • We’ve been doing stuff like this for more than ten years, and yet lots of companies are struggling to make this Digital PR thing work

You’ll notice that I don’t explicitly answer these questions in my pitch, so much as weave these answers in. This is my personal preference – I find writing answers to questions like that extremely awkward, but you do you 🙂


Wait! How do you figure out what to talk about?

Most of the talks I give pretty much boil down to this:

Here’s a problem I’ve identified and faced directly, and here’s what I learned when I tried to solve it.

It’s a talk structure I really like, and the great news is that anyone can steal it – people speaking directly about problems or challenges they’ve faced personally makes for a really compelling pitch, I think.

As such, if you’re trying to figure out what to pitch a talk about, this might be a good place to start:

  • What problems or challenges have you faced?
    • Write them all down
  • Then ask yourself:
    • Which ones have I worked hardest to solve?
    • Which ones do you think others might also have struggled with?
    • Which ones do you care the most about?
  • Pick just one (whichever feels most compelling to you); and pitch a talk about the journey you went on when trying to solve it – e.g. what went wrong, what went right, what did you learn, what would you do differently if you could do it again?
    • Bonus: you don’t have to have fully solved the problem in order to pitch a compelling talk – your journey and what you’ve learned are the interesting bit, and there are no perfect solutions to anything anyway.

In the example pitch above, here’s how that breaks down:

  • What’s the problem I’ve identified?
    • In this instance it’s that there are still a bunch of pervasive myths around Digital PR
  • How am I going to try to solve it?
    • By sharing my experiences of doing this work, with real data (hurrah!), and by providing some frameworks to help people think differently about this stuff

Again, you’ll notice that I don’t explicitly answer these questions in my pitch, so much as weave these answers in. As before, this is my personal preference, but you do you.


tl;dr

  • Not sure what to talk about? You might find thinking about specific problems or challenges you’ve faced and the journey you went on when trying to solve those things might make for a compelling pitch.
    • If you go down this route, explain both the problem and your experiences of solving it in the pitch
  • “Sell” yourself, and your talk by weaving the following details into your pitch:
    • Why am I the right person to give this talk?
    • What unique perspective or point of view can I bring?
    • Why is this a relevant talk to give right now?
  • Include a brief talk outline and takeaways in your pitch – this makes it easier for the organiser to get a clear picture of what you’re planning to talk about, and will reassure them you can deliver it in the time allowed.

I really hope this helps, and if you’ve got thoughts, feelings, or further comments I’d love to hear them.

Also, it occurred to me that some people might appreciate an easier way to share this, so I’ve also written this up as a post on my site.


Serendipitous finds:

The psychiatrist who believed people could tell the future

After a national disaster, a British doctor called John Barker began collecting foreboding visions. He created a network of hundreds of correspondents, from bank clerks to ballet teachers, and amongst them found two unnervingly gifted “percipients”. The pair predicted plane crashes, assassinations and international incidents, with uncanny accuracy. They even predicted Barker’s own death.


A rebel without a clause

Clive Thompson’s essay in defence of the em dash is absolutely delightful.


The guy collecting every Gap store playlist ever made

I love reading about other people’s passion projects, and this one from Mike Bise is ace.

“… during my time at Gap, I learned how much more expansive the world of recorded music was compared to what was just on the radio stations in Dallas. I never would have heard a note of acid jazz had I not worked at Gap in the 1990s.”

Click through to read the story via the link above, check out his blog, and spotify playlists, or just listen to this Bentley Rhythm Ace track.


The Charlatans: how we made The Only One I Know

“I came up with it on the way to the garage to get fags. I had to pelt back to my mum and dad’s to get my Dictaphone before I forgot it.”

More nineties music nostalgia!


Real cherry blossoms that look like a still from a Pixar movie

Drone photo of cherry trees blossoming at a tea plantation in Fujian, China taken by afun阿方.

Time got so much weirder: the world needs a new lexicon

“Our days aren’t ruled by the sundial or the pendulum clock anymore. They’re measured in binges and darkmodes.”


I love this:


You might also like:


Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now

I absolutely loved Sisters: A Novel by Daisy Johnson, a gothic tale of the dark relationship between two teenage siblings. It’s brilliant and you should get your mitts on a copy immediately.


I also really enjoyed Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. Set in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, this reimagining is definitely more Kafkaesque than Shelley, but it’s wonderful nevertheless.


Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching

Guess who got a free 6 month subscription to Disney+ with her new phone contract? Here are a couple of things which I’ve watched this fortnight:

  • Seeing Red (Disney+). The latest offering from Pixar about delightfully dorky female friendship, menstruation, and self-acceptance is ace.
  • Killing Eve – Season 4 (BBC iPlayer). The final season of this show is messy, confused, and the ending is disappointing, but I love Sandra Oh so much that I still (mostly) enjoyed this.
  • WandaVision (Disney+). Started out great (I loved the first three episodes), but then it all went very Marvel, and I’m not really into that. (I’m aware this means I probably shouldn’t have watched it).

I am very excited about watching Season 2 of Russian Doll, (Netflix). If, like me, you’re more than a little obsessed with Natasha Lyonne, you might enjoy this New Yorker profile.


Part IV: What I’ve been up to…

BrightonSEO was brilliant, and I somehow managed not to get Covid (immune system, I love you). The past fortnight has been a bit of a blur though and I have mainly been falling asleep in front of the TV.


What’s next?

This weekend I’m off to see Come from Away with my Dad, and it is my birthday next week. I am going to Alton Towers to ride rollercoasters with my friend Steve which I am very excited about.


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