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Elon opens his mouth and says the smartest and dumbest things and he makes headlines.

That’s the holy grail of a CEO/founder generating millions of dollars worth of coverage by just talking about what they’re doing.

Beyond Elon there is a cascading number of tiers of other prominent celebrity-business types that are running away from the press.

But at a certain point, it’s flipped, and companies are begging to get some sort of publicity and coverage of their company – but it doesn’t come to their door, they have to work for it.

Companies that don’t do frequent product launches that get press naturally, nor have name-brand CEOs that get quoted like Elon need to create something worth talking about.

Companies with great, but not entirely differentiated products and services can’t rely purely on customer buzz and word of mouth to spread their brand name.

One solution is a robust content marketing and/or digital PR operation to produce interesting content worth covering.

Companies can create fascinating studies, rankings, reports, and data releases that introduce new knowledge to the world that’s useful to the media.

This is truly a win-win-win situation for the company the media and the readers.

But making it happen is a complex process, so I’m going to break it down based on my own experience doing this 50+ times!

It all starts with ideation.

Method 1: Topical Mind Maps

Brainstorming with topical mind maps represents how your brain networks thoughts together. Incidentally, these look similar to link graphs.  

We typically start with the core overarching business purpose – such as the unique selling proposition or positioning statement – and spider out from there. Find the juicy ideas after you get all the ideas out on paper.

We like to do this in Miro, but FigJam is popular as well.

Method 2: Competing Agency Client Campaigns

Next, we will typically look at campaigns that other content marketing agencies have done – and they all do the same.

We’re aware of a percentage of the agencies and clients out there, and we store ideas and patterns in boards on Airtable or Notion where we can see both images and text in gallery modes easily.

We love looking individually at link profiles of competing domains in-depth and working them in spreadsheets with different frameworks we have to surface the best ideas.

Recently we’ve been liking these filters: Dofollow, DR 50+, linking domain has 5k+ in traffic, and in your language. This adds a really strong filter layer to highlight which campaigns are actually doing really well and not just getting scraper links:

Method 3: Ahrefs Content Explorer Search

A good faster way to get a pulse on a framework or concept is with Ahrefs Content Explorer. Search for either different headline permutations that align with popular campaigns, or search the topic broadly and limit it to what news outlets are publishing.

We love Ahrefs Content Explorer because of its link graph. We usually search the broad topic within the last year, then add in a few filters to narrow the search.

We filter to campaigns with at least 10 linking root domains, in English, and then we will play around with sorting by links or Twitter shares.

Method 4: Buzzsumo Trending

Buzzsumo is a paid tool, but worth the $99 a month if you do enough campaigns. One standout feature is their Trending tool. You can track topics and hashtags relevant to your industry or content model.

We track “best cities” among other searches to understand who’s covering these types of stories we can create for clients. There’s a lot of weird ideas out there that will help you make some magic.

Method 5: Curated Journalist and Blogger Feeds

We curate journalist and blogger feeds by industry to understand what they’re writing about. In a sense, this is one of the most important methods because we’re starting with the end in mind. The goal is to get published, so we should look at who’s publishing.

This method is pretty time-consuming, however. While we can automate things to a degree with Feedly, Zapier, and Google Alerts, it still requires diving into the articles to get a sense of what they’re writing about and what they’ll cover next.

Method 6: Reddit and Twitter

While there’s not always a correlation between social popularity and link placement volume, Reddit and Twitter are good to get a pulse of what themes and stories are popular.

Reddit is good for getting a sense of overall trends or seeing what content formats do well vs others.

Twitter is good for trends but moreso to dive into some of the conversations to see what people are talking about and how they’re talking about things. You’ll also find brand new conversations on there first before they even make it to

Journalists use Twitter a lot for a reason – it’s where stories are formed.

We’ve been looking at methods for generating ideas for content marketing campaigns where the goal is coverage and backlinks.

Here are the final three methods we often use in our process.

Method 7: Trend Aggregators

Google Trends is the well-known quick and dirty way to get a sense of trends that are popular – use it as a starting point or for validating your own trend concept.

Exploding Topics is cool to see a nicer curation of what’s coming up.

TrendHunter is pretty awesome and goes the deepest – hey surface trends and products that are hot on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.

Step 8: Use Themes that Already Work

Scan headlines in Google News around a topic to find content patterns that work. You can also do this with individual publications. Examples would be: remote work, COVID, crypto, etc.

Leverage existing themes that are already growing and mesh with your own topics for a better shot at getting attention.

Step 9: Content Formats that Work

Sometimes the idea drives the format, sometimes the format drives the idea.

If I start the sentence “Survey reveals…” that narrows down the scope of ideas. We would only pay to run a survey for topics that require audience responses.

The content format “World Map Shows…” limits the scope in a good way. It means we have to think about geographic-oriented topics only. Constraints are good.

Bringing it all together

This process above is great for surfacing ideas and the start of our overall process. We’ll take the ideas that come out of this, narrow down the ideas, workshop them a bit, and then continue to refine the ideas until the winning one is selected and ready to go.

Joe Robison

Founder & Consultant
Joe Robison is the founder of Green Flag Digital. He founded the agency in 2015 and has been heads-down scaling content marketing and SEO services for clients ever since. He is an occasional surfer, fledgling yogi, and sucker for organized travel tours.
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