As PRs, we always strive to use the perfect format for our ideas. With the industry becoming more competitive and more difficult to achieve coverage, we look to other campaigns as inspiration to see what works well to help inspire our next set.
The Grapevine is a monthly content marketing newsletter that brings together all the PR campaigns our team have found in that time. This means we have a huge bank of campaigns, from reactives to full-page takeovers. Because of this, we’re in a unique position to create a comprehensive report that looks at how different campaign types and formats have performed over the last year.
In this report, you’ll find a labour of love, revealing from 1,500 campaigns in total which industries commonly get the most links, what kind of campaign formats work the best and which types of campaigns reign supreme.
We’ll also scatter some other useful insights we’ve found from painstakingly analysing each campaign on our list.
Using this information, you can inform your PR strategies in 2023 with data-backed insights steering you in the right direction.
Let’s dig in.
In 2022, campaigns focusing on careers and money gained the most links
We all know that there are some industries where it’s much easier to build links to and others that are much harder, such as gambling and vaping. We’ve explored which categories have gained the most links in 2022 by putting each campaign into an industry category and then finding out the average number of backlinks each one has.
Our analysis reveals that career-related campaigns gain the most links per campaign at a cool 69. In 2022, career content was a big hit, with everything from the great resignation to the looming recession hitting the headlines. Often this information tends to be useful to readers, with many campaigns focusing on helping job seekers land their dream role.
Take this campaign by Resume.io that gave readers a tool that would genuinely help them. They designed a Resignation Letter Generator that asked users to input brief details about their situation. The tool would then automatically create a resignation letter catered to them, which they could copy and paste into another doc.
Money campaigns are close behind with an average of 60 links per campaign, and lifestyle is third with an average of 55 links. A personal favourite of mine from the money category is The New York Times’ essay which provided us with 6 ways to visualise Jeff Bezos’ wealth, a fun piece that merges unique data visuals with a powerful story.
Interestingly, automotive campaigns lagged at the back with an average of 18 links per campaign. This is likely because there are fewer publications in the automotive space, and often these types of journalists mainly cover news about new car launches than typically digital PR campaigns.
That’s not to say you can’t hit incredible heights with automotive campaigns, as proven with Propellernet’s The Dirtiest Areas of Cars campaign for ScrapCarComparison. The campaign did incredibly well by straddling the automotive category with lifestyle and health content.
Index and data studies are the most popular campaign types
Now that we know which categories are attracting the highest number of links, we wanted to then explore campaign types and which ones are the most popular among PRs.
Here, campaign types refer to the style of the campaign, be it a dream job, harnessing search volume data or a newly created product. This is not related to the style of assets created which will come later on.
During our analysis, one type of campaign kept coming up much more often than the others. These were index campaigns accounting for 22% of all campaigns, where PRs pull together a number of data points to create an overall scoring system. They’re often campaigns that rank countries and cities for being the best at X, or the popularity of different celebrities based on their different social media followings.
Index campaigns have been around for years, and often they’re a budget-friendly but data-intensive way for PRs to outreach to multiple verticles without it feeling forced. When done right, index campaigns can offer keen insight into a topic.
The most common format for indexes is naturally a table which lays out all the information clearly for journalists. More often than not these tables were made interactive so that readers could sort different columns to find the data they wanted.
Here are a few of the top-performing index campaigns of 2022:
- The Cosmetify Index – Cosmetify
- The Green Fuel Index – Compare the Market AU
- The Passport Index (Not a campaign but a great example)
Another popular campaign type is the study representing 20% of all campaigns. ‘Study’ is an umbrella term for thousands of campaigns that utilise data to tell a story. This could be using sentiment analysis, scraping large data sources or repurposing existing data.
More frequently we’re seeing data-heavy campaigns win out against more visually driven content, and that might be a reason for its current popularity.
An honourable mention that had to be sidelined into the ‘other’ category due to its low numbers are campaigns which utilise AI. This campaign type is still very new to the industry with many of us still trying to decipher ways we can use them for creative content, so we expect to see this number rise in the coming years.
Essays and tools take top spot as highest-performing campaign types
We talk a lot about campaign types, especially what we perceive is working and isn’t working. We chat a lot about if certain types of campaigns are still effective, such as dream jobs, or if certain types of campaigns will be the next big thing, like AI.
Below we’ve looked at the highest-performing campaign types. To do this, we’ve manually looked at each campaign and assigned them a campaign type. This would be things such as an index, study and competition. We then analyse the average number of links for a campaign of this type.
It’s worth mentioning that the campaigns we’ve pulled for this analysis are often ones we’ve found out in the wild. This means they’re the ones that already have picked up coverage and are generally already popular. Do not use this analysis as a basis for how many links you think your campaigns should be getting.
From our analysis, we can see that essay campaigns bring in the most links with an average of 100. It’s worth noting, however, that these types of campaigns are more common with publishers. The likes of The New York Times and Bloomberg often create their own data-heavy editorial content that attracts huge numbers of links. Another example would be The Pudding who tell great stories in a more editorial manner.
It’s hard to use this as a benchmark of which campaign type PRs should strive to create, as we’re essentially then going up against publishers with bigger budgets, but more importantly, huge amounts of trust.
The next campaign type with high linking numbers is creating a tool or calculator. These interactive pieces often give readers something useful to use alongside some additional data. While they can be a big risk, it seems like it’s one worth pursuing.
Expert commentary and stunts often have no web presence
The biggest goal of digital PR campaigns is to gain links back to the client’s website. Sometimes this is done by creating hero content, which sits on the client site on its own URL. However, often we build links back to the homepage or category pages of a website if we think it’s necessary for the client’s PR strategy.
In our study, we focused on looking at the campaigns that had a web presence as it’s easier to track how many links they have with a dedicated page on the website. However, this doesn’t mean those other campaigns have gone unnoticed.
Of the campaigns we analysed, we found out that there were a few campaign types that, more often than not, lacked any kind of dedicated page. These were campaigns of expert commentary and stunts.
The former campaigns are likely to not have any content on the website as they’re used for reactive purposes, which means that the speed that the information has to be given to a journalist outweighs the need to create a full write-up on the website. When looking at the coverage for these types of campaigns, they often had no links back to the website, or if they did went back to the homepage.
Stunts also often didn’t have a dedicated campaign page. Sometimes they would have videos to keep the longevity of the campaign, but there was no official information on
Take, for example, the stunt where the Eastenders end credit scene was adapted so that the Thames river flooded parts of London to highlight climate change. The stunt took place on TV during the show’s original viewing, but apart from that, all we can find online is the video taken from this moment. The client, the BBC, is unlikely to have a dedicated page online, and the aim of the stunt is clearly to raise awareness, not build links, gain more viewership or convert.
Regurgitated data campaigns are digital PRs new bad habit
In our study, a type of campaign that we found kept popping up again and again, with very little success in regards to the number or quality of links they generated, was the use of regurgitated data.
By this, we mean brands that took data from existing sources and essentially posted them to their own websites. They usually don’t change the data in any way and don’t create any of their own unique assets.
This should not be confused with repurposed data which uses existing data to tell a new story.
From our own experience, we assume these kinds of campaigns don’t work well with journalists as they’re not giving them any kind of new information. The data is not shown in a new way, doesn’t need to be made bite-sized and often tells the same story as the original study. The danger is that journalists are able to easily find this information themselves, so they will most likely cite the original source or feel it’s not newsworthy at all.
However, we also suspect these campaigns are popular among agencies due to the lack of time to ideate around new data or build on existing data to tell a new story.
That’s not to say that these campaigns don’t always work. There are some successful examples of regurgitated data, such as the most popular baby names, but these often are saved for reactive strategies where a certain story has been pulled from the wider data set.
Here are some tips to repurpose data, rather than regurgitate it:
- Show the data in a new way. If the information you’ve found is buried deep in a hard-to-access pdf, pull out key statistics and compare them with other parts of the report. An example of this is creating a map of localised data.
- Manipulate the data by combining it with other data to tell a better story. For example, if we have information on cybercrime statistics in different locations, you could compare this with the number of internet users in each area to give a better idea of the risks relative to each population.
- Look at the backlinks of your data source. If journalists have been using it and citing it themselves in articles, they may not find it groundbreaking if you try to push the same data.
Tables and maps are the most common formats
We looked further into the data to explore the most popular campaign formats and which ones are the most effective. Formats here refer to how a campaign has been visually created, often with the use of static images but also reaching all the way into 3D renders.
It’s no surprise that, of all the campaign formats we analysed, tables (22%) and maps (16%) were among the most popular. We already know that indexes are some of the most common campaign types, which are often presented in a table format so that readers can explore each of the data points and the overall scoring metric.
Blogs accounted for 15% of campaign formats, while data visualisations were also incredibly popular accounting for another 15% of campaign formats.
There seems to be a strong correlation between which campaign formats are cheap to produce and which are popular. Tables are incredibly easy and cost-effective, and we often see campaigns use screenshots of excel sheets or free data tools to achieve these. Similarly, blog content, which here stands for content held on a blog with no additional visuals except for potentially stock photography, is a popular choice among PRs.
The more expensive formats such as 3D renders (2%), microsites (1.1%) and videos (3.9%), appear to be much less popular, which makes perfect sense when you think about how much budget has to be invested in them for them to work well.
Microsites and maps are the formats that gain the most links
By manually looking at each campaign and assigning a format to each, we found out which ones gain the most links on average. A format here is described as how the campaign has been visually told and includes formats such as 3D renders, tables, microsites and more.
Another note to remember is that you should not benchmark your campaigns based on these numbers, as they are unfairly skewed towards campaigns that are already doing well. It is simply an indication of the performance of each campaign when compared to other formats.
Long live the map. Long has the format been shunned for being ‘uncreative’ and ‘boring’, with one newly launched agency this year claiming that they won’t create any map content. Maps, although a solid digital PR format, have pulled the industry into two camps. You either love them or you hate them.
From our analysis, we’ve proved that if you’re shunning a map, you’re missing out on one of the most effective digital PR formats out there. And to shun them simply because you think they’re not creative? Now that’s just silly.
Maps came out as the second highest-yielding format for links in our study, with the humble campaign style attracting an average of 83 links per campaign. Not bad for a static image. A campaign that utilised this format well was one which looked at the most used emojis on Twitter by Crossword-Solver.
In first place of the most links per campaign is the microsite. Often microsites are used by creative PR and advertising agencies to create an immersive experience for readers. Some examples include Truly Destroyed by The Salvation Army, a campaign that mimics an ecommerce website offering the worn shoes of homeless folk.
The only problem for us digital PRs is that microsites don’t actually provide us with any link value, which, afterall, is our primary goal. All coverage, if linked, goes to the microsite. Then, they’re often left for the domain to expire and the website goes along with it. No evergreen content here.
The other issue is that microsites can be extremely costly and time-consuming. Not only do you have to buy the domain and build the website, but you also need to spend time creating all the content you want included, whether this is a video, photography or tool.
So while microsites are great at getting links, they’re better off being full landing pages on your own website. This, or work with the trusty map.
Is this the end of the 3D render era?
3D renders have long been a digital PR favourite. We’ve all seen hundreds of iterations of X pop culture houses redesigned in the style of X (insert interior design style, artist, director, etc). But recently, we’ve seen the payback on these styles of campaigns dwindle. And with the large investment of money and time that often goes into them, they’re becoming less of a go-to choice for many.
Our analysis backs up this sentiment. Of all the formats we analysed, 3D render campaigns came at the bottom of our list. Each campaign brings, on average, 19 links. This is still a great amount, but for the amount of money and time going into them, potentially not the best way to spend your budget this year.
That’s not to say you won’t find success using the format. In 2021, Vanarama created interactive 3D models of what the Apple car might look like based on patents from the tech giant. It did incredibly well and is still picking up links to this date. This shows a great way you can use 3D to your advantage by creating something superfans haven’t yet seen.
Although 3D renders may not be paying off for many at the moment, that doesn’t mean that the media won’t swing around in a couple of years’ time, just like what happened with infographics.
Hopefully, by this point, this report has given you some key insights for you to take through into 2023 to help inform your own digital PR strategies. Or if you even need some hard data to back up why you’re working with a certain type or format of campaign.
While writing this report, I had two thoughts on creativity that popped into my head that I wanted to share.
1. Creativity doesn’t start and end with the idea.
2. No one can tell you what is and isn’t creative.
I think it’s interesting to note that PRs are forever in a battle to do or create the most creative thing they can. However, we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that creativity can only come in the form of specific pre-approved formats.
We’ve conditioned ourselves into thinking that if we make an index or a map, we’re not truly being creative. We haven’t tried hard enough. We’re not pushing ourselves enough. We think that if we pitch another dream job campaign, we’ve failed at our jobs.
I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Creativity can be found in each and every corner of the campaign process. From ideation to pitching journalists, we can constantly change and improve the way we work.
Following similar campaign formats is not being uncreative. This report has proven that some of our most popular campaigns that get a lot of stick on social media actually do work consistently. They’re good and often smart options to take.
We can be creative in how we gather the data, plan our copy and write our pitches. We can have a map while employing new ways of mining data with AI. We can create an index while visually presenting our findings in a new way.
Don’t fall into the trick of thinking creativity comes and goes at the ideation stage and is only apparent if you’ve created a brand new format.
Trying to say creativity is one thing or another isn’t helping the industry improve. It’s destructive for all involved.