Builtvisible’s validation framework
There are numerous approaches to validating ideas in the industry with various acronyms flying around. While I’m not saying Builtvisible’s approach is the definitive one, we find it works for us. Our approach allows us to stick to our core values, and in case it’s helpful to you, I’ve shared the set of questions we ask of each of our ideas we’re considering pitching.
Before we get to those questions, it’s worth pointing out that, before we even get to the questions, we – the digital PR and promotion team – will have already cancelled out several ideas, and that’s as a result of an initial validation check.
That first validation check covers some basic areas such as summarising the idea and exploring data sources. But I’d like to call one out in particular: the background check. The background check is all about doing your homework to find out whether the idea you’re considering already exists. If it does, that doesn’t mean you should scrap it, but instead ask if the idea you have can move the existing story on in some capacity. If the story can’t be moved on, then maybe it’s for the idea scrapyard.
By this point, we’ll usually have up to ten promising ideas to check against our validation questions. Collectively, we ask the below questions for each idea and give each one a score. If it’s a unanimous yes, we give it one point; a half-point for any uncertainty amongst the group; and zero for a flat-out no. The questions are:
- Is it [the idea] genuinely useful for the target audience? E.g. does it provide a practical element?
- Is [the idea] surprising?
- Is [the idea] hot/topical?
- Does [the idea] provoke an emotional response?
- Does [the idea] have longevity? Or, can the data/material be refreshed?
- Can we provide journalists with robust material?
- Does [the idea] have multiple angles and headline potential?
- Is [the idea] novel?
If an idea receives the magic eight, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will pitch it. There’s also a lot to say about intuition and experience. A high score, however, provides us with a clear indication that an idea is strong and worth taking forward.
It doesn’t end there
Now we have a handful of ideas, there’s a final step to take: preliminary outreach.
Preliminary outreach is the act of reaching out to a small subset of journalists to gauge their interest in the idea; a stress test if you will.
We all know journalists, writers, and editors are very busy people, so I can’t stress enough how important it is that your email is short and to the point. Where possible, I’d recommend reaching out to those you have established relationships with, although only if the idea is relevant to their beat.
Your objective with preliminary outreach is twofold:
1. Gauge potential media interest
2. Establish if there are other areas of exploration for the idea off the back of a journalist’s response. If positive, this will hopefully lead to journalist buy-in later down the line, too. Win-win!
Here’s an example of receiving some really useful feedback from a preliminary outreach email our Digital PR Consultant, Robyn, sent.
Thanks to this feedback, we were able to hone in on the digital skills aspect of the report and get back in touch with the writer when it was complete.
I’ve read so many Twitter and LinkedIn threads about how different people approach validation to be confident that, as an industry, we do check ourselves before a campaign becomes a reality, but, a few anomalies still manage to get through.
So, this is a plea more than anything – digital PRs, before a campaign goes out into the wild, ask yourselves: do you feel confident that it ticks the values you, as an agency or a brand, believe in? Is the campaign relevant to your brand and is the data or material you’re sharing honestly credible? If you’re not sure, maybe it’s worth a re-think.