How to Win Links and Influence Publishers with Stacker’s Amanda Milligan

🎧 Episode 105 of Yes, and Marketing


Machines may be taking over, but earning a link from a trusted publisher still does more for establishing your brand’s expertise and authority than ranking on page one of Google. (And personally, we think that’s a good thing.)

The biggest challenge with earned media, though, is that it requires truly interesting content.

On this episode of Yes, and Marketing, we learn what makes interesting, newsworthy content (as well as the inner workings of earned media, syndication, and public relations) from Amanda Milligan. Amanda is Head of Marketing at Stacker, a company producing data-driven journalism for the world’s top publishers. In her current role and as a former journalist, she understands exactly what it takes to build stories that publications want to share.

Listen to the full interview above or read on for our highlights from the conversation. You can also view excerpts from all our episodes on our show page.


📛 Who is Amanda Milligan?

Name: Amanda Milligan

What she does: Head of Marketing at Stacker.

Find Amanda on the web: Stacker | Stacker Studio | LinkedIn | Twitter

Get smart: “Earned media leverages the authority of the other people who are talking about you.”


👉 Top Takeaway

Earned media 101

“Earned media is basically any coverage about your brand that you do not pay for,” explains Amanda. Unlike paid media, earning media requires you to create content that someone else—often a publisher—finds valuable enough to link to. 

When it comes to establishing your brand’s authority with your audience, there’s nothing better than earned media. It tells readers you have actual insight on topics that matter to them, and it positions your brand as a trusted source. “If people are deciding between you and a competitor, but they’ve seen the reports that you’ve put out and you really helped them, they’re going to go with you,” Amanda says.

The one challenge with earned media? It’s hard to do.

In order for publications to consider content valuable enough to share with their audience, it has to be interesting and newsworthy. 

Earned media, Amanda explains, “is not saying this is why our product or service is amazing. It’s saying we care about the same topics that you do, and we’re investing the time and effort into showing that and giving you something that’s actually going to make your life easier.”

In addition to your content, however, earning media is often about relationships. That’s where Stacker comes in:

“The company started in 2017 as strictly a newswire,” she says. 

Their mission was to provide content to news publications, and they built a network of publishers that learned they could trust the quality of Stacker’s stories. It was only later that Stacker, through its Stacker Studio arm, began working with brands to produce stories. By maintaining their content’s high quality, however, they were able also to maintain that trust with publishers that they worked so hard to build.

“We establish these guidelines internally of, we’re going to write the story that we think is going to be good,” she says. “We’re always going to have final editorial say.” 

The lesson? There are no shortcuts to earned media. It requires long-term investment—both in the quality of your content and in your relationships—but it offers an unparalleled competitive advantage to the brands who get it right.


💡 Episode Highlights

Read verbatim excerpts from our interview with Amanda Milligan.

Don’t forget ToFu content

“People tend to build authority at the bottom of the funnel really well. They know how important it is. They build their case studies or testimonials, they know they have to do that in order to convert and get clients or customers, but they don’t really focus on the top of the funnel, and they’re not spending as much time cultivating authority for a wider audience.”

Earned media requires newsworthy content

“No matter where you’re at in the funnel—if you’re talking about a new product, or you’re talking about a study you put together that’s more top of the funnel—it has to be newsworthy or earned media is otherwise just not going to happen. You might as well go to paid, if you just need that message out there and you need it exactly the way you want it.”

Don’t skip the ideation phase

“At Stacker, we have a newsroom of people who work on the ideas. That’s the part that people tend to skip: They don’t think hard enough about the idea itself and put in their due diligence there.”

What to do *after* your bottom of funnel is ready to go

“You’re not talking about your brand anymore, when you get to the top of the funnel. Instead, you’re offering different levels of value to what’s still your target audience, but probably a broader audience in your industry, and deciding how can you best do that? What topics can you talk about? Can you use internal data or external data to tell a new story, to do a report? We see a lot of people doing annual reports that are really useful to those in their industry.

It’s that realm where you’re providing expertise that’s not saying, ‘This is why our product or service is amazing.’ It’s saying we care about the same topics that you do, and we’re investing the time and effort into showing that and giving you something that’s actually going to make your life easier.”

Earned media is hard, but worth it

“That’s the theme of this episode: It’s not going to be easy, but that’s why the people who invest in it are able to compete. And it has long-lasting benefits. This isn’t like, ‘Okay, I paid for this thing once,’ or, ‘I bought these sketchy links that gave me a boost and now it’s over.’ You’re really investing in it. It drips over into your brand.”

Why earned media is so effective

“Earned media leverages the authority of the other people who are talking about you. 

…If you’re paying for it, you didn’t have to meet any qualifications, right? If I see a paid piece, it’s like yeah, they paid for it. It might still be useful and great, but you’re not getting that immediate signal of ‘Oh, like so-and-so publication—’ 

If Newsweek talked about your brand and it wasn’t paid for, that sends a very different signal of you being trusted. It’s basically like an inferred vetting. It helps your reputation, and that’s a really, really valuable thing about earned compared to other approaches.”

What PR and SEO have in common

“[PR] is similar to SEO. You don’t just check a box for SEO. I mean, you can do an audit and do the technical side and check a box, but you still need to check up on that at some point. And other SEO efforts are ongoing—you can’t take a month and really buckle down on SEO and then forget about it. 

It’s a philosophy, really. When you decide that that’s the marketing strategy, you’ve gotta be ready to go for a long time because you’re going to see a lot of growth, but it takes a lot of investment.”

Look beyond your competition

“Make sure you’re broadening your sources of inspiration because I think it’s really easy to do the competitive audit and just look in your space—and you should do that—but when you’re able to see other verticals and what they’re doing and what’s interesting to their audiences, you can be pulling really interesting insights, methodologies, the data visualization styles… All of that stuff can be applied to your industry.”


🎙️ Amanda Milligan Quotes

“People really care about content that directly relates to them. They want to be able to see themselves in the content that you’re creating.”

“If you just need that message out there and you need it exactly the way you want it, you gotta pay for it that way. Otherwise, earned organic type stuff—you have to deserve it.”

“You can earn great media and live in the top of the funnel, but you have to have the bottom of the funnel ready to go.”

“If people are deciding between you and a competitor, but they’ve seen the reports that you’ve put out and you really helped them, they’re going to go with you.”

“Increasing your brand’s authority uplifts everything else you’re doing.”

“​​You still need to create interesting, newsworthy, data-driven stuff. That’s always going to be the case, but how you distribute it is getting harder and harder.”

“Authority and domain rating matter—you just have to make sure you’re using them appropriately.”


📚 Learn More

Into comic books? Try the Saga series, which Amanda describes as “pretty dark, but fantastic.” (At least one member of our team agrees.)

Check out MozCon, where Amanda will be speaking live this July. 

For “engaging data journalism,” Amanda recommends The Pudding.

And finally, a few other marketers and communities that Amanda follows: 

Megan Skalbeck

Megan traffics in words. Whether that’s spinning up a story on the blog or paring down a conversation on the podcast, it’s all elementary math in the end: She adds, subtracts, multiplies for effect, and divides for readability. When she’s not helping words live their most meaningful life, she’s usually in the woods, in the ocean, on a rock, or on the road.

Questions? Check out our FAQs or contact us.