In a little more than a year at Ottawa-based seoplus+, Lobban Erwin has made his presence known as a marketing and communications specialist to watch. The 2020 University of Ottawa grad already has an impressive resume on his hands, with stints at Health Canada, Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association prior to joinging the seoplus+ team.
Drawing on the experience he’s gleaned in a fast-moving career, Erwin spoke to the Qwoted 100 team about his philosophy of PR and how he approaches the craft with fresh eyes and energy in spades.
Qwoted: What do you see as the future of PR—technologically, strategically, or in any category you’re passionate about?
Lobban Erwin: The future of PR is digital. Every year, more and more media publications move to fully online models, and PR technology is being developed to help PR professionals keep up with this demand. Google search rankings and overall searchability will make or break new businesses in the future, as these factors are already vital to a business’ success.
Digital PR benefits search engine optimization while also increasing overall brand visibility and searchability, at a much more effective rate than through traditional PR efforts. Though traditional will always be around, the importance of digital-first PR strategies will come to the forefront in the near future.
Qwoted: What do you think you do that other PRs could learn from?
Erwin: PRs need to learn the importance of adding value. Value usually goes three ways for PRs — first, the brand and its message; then the journalist; and finally, the PR professional themselves or their agency. Some PR professionals can find it difficult to navigate changing priorities between these three stakeholders. But if they prioritize adding value for all parties, they will create successful media campaigns.
Your message also needs to be of value for the company you’re working for — enhancing their brand, while also being applicable and valuable to the reporter. By providing messages of value, you reflect positively on yourself and your agency.
Qwoted: What’s your toughest challenge with reporters?
Erwin: It’s getting that initial pickup from my outreach efforts. Well-known reporters receive anywhere from 50-100 PR pitches a day from different PRs and agencies all over the world. Making that initial pitch stand out will always be a challenge. However, I have used this challenge to help develop my pitches and make them smarter and more effective than before, which has increased my overall pickup ratio dramatically.
Qwoted: How do you approach breaking through the noise floor to get effective coverage?
Erwin: You need to do your research and identify the exact audience of each journalist and media outlet you reach out to. By identifying the target audience prior to making your pitch, you’ll determine the outlet’s overall interest in your client and whatever topic you’re pitching. Journalists find that the most frustrating thing PRs do is send irrelevant-to- their-audience pitches. You need to tailor-write your pitches to best suit the journalist in particular, and most importantly, their audience.
Qwoted: How does PR in 2023 square with the future of journalism?
Erwin: PR in 2023 has many different facets and focuses but all with the goal of generating positive publicity for the brand that you represent. In the future of journalism, it will continue to be about this but move more towards a focus on the digital space. As marketing in general is moving this way, so is public relations. Today, many platforms provide excellent updates to help PRs as we move towards this digital-first expectation in the media. Last year was a reflection of the overall adaption towards digital that we will see in the future of journalism, when speed and efficiency will be realized through digital platforms.
Qwoted: What advice would you give to those seeking to find an effective PR person?
Erwin: At its core, PR is about building relationships with people, both inside and outside your company, and getting them excited about what you do. An effective PR specialist needs to be enthusiastic about what your company is doing, and what’s going on in your industry as a whole.
Qwoted: What is your golden rule of PR?
Erwin: Again, always bring value to the table. I understand that your clients or business want to get as much media coverage as possible. But if that coverage is irrelevant or not applicable, the audience will be uninterested in your business either way.
A much better practice is to focus on finding industry-specific topics and outlets to pitch to, which will build a stronger relationship with your specific audience. For example, if you’re in the home cleaning industry, don’t just send pitches to every home-related outlet. Some of these outlets may focus more on mortgages, real estate, or other home topics that you don’t touch on. Instead, focus your pitches on relevant outlets that discuss general home care tips. This audience will much more likely click through to find out more about your business.
The same applies with journalists: If you don’t send a pitch that brings value to the journalist, they will not pick you up and provide you with earned media coverage. Don’t send unrelated pitches, ever. If you focus on adding value to yourself, your brand, and the journalist, you will receive much more relevant and effective media coverage.
Qwoted: Anything else to add?
Erwin: If you’re a PR professional, stay on track through the next year. PR is a rapidly growing and changing environment in every industry, so you need to stay active and keep your skills up to stay relevant and ahead of your competitors. To do this, focus on learning and growing your professional network. Prepare for the next wave of tech disruption in the industry, as AI writers and other connection-based media tools gain traction. Be well-versed and aware of industry trends to not be left behind. Also, keep up with best practices in the industry because these can change as quickly as the online media sphere itself.
February 14, 2023