by Rachel Smith
20 July 2023
This week, Rachel and Lynne are chatting to a different style of guest – Bec Derrington from Sourcebottle. Sourcebottle is a fabulous resource for journalists, writers and content creators and one we both use regularly.
Bec shares the story behind Sourcebottle – why she started it and how it works.
You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts and on Spotify or keep scrolling for the transcript.
The following is a very rough / edited transcript from our chat with Bec – it is not the full transcript but rather pulls out some of the key points of our discussion.
journalists, sources, call outs, pr, platform, rachel, content, subject matter experts, publication, experts, great, bottle, freelancers, service, good, subscription, emails, lots, verify, media
So I’m originally from QLD … and I was a really lousy lawyer for about 3.5 minutes. And I was so miserable and working in building construction and litigation… you can tell it would be something I’d be really good at!? No. So I went back to uni and did something I always wanted to do which was PR and marketing, something much more in my wheelhouse. Then I fell in love and moved to Victoria in 2001. I was working in that PR space and then I had a baby and wanted to work for myself so I started a PR / marketing consultancy called Wagging Tails and realised I had no media contacts. AT ALL. I was working for lots of disparate clients…
It is, and at this stage is now a bit frustrating, because I’m kind of tied to the platform the way it was fundamentally built over 10 years ago. So yeah, that’s, that creates its own series of challenges. But it was yes, it is a custom build site.
For those who don’t really understand how the sort of media relations, PR machinery works, it sounds a little bit strange. But it’s kinda like the Tinder for storytellers and good stories. Or it could be you know, so think about a journalist, a content producer, who’s looking for either case studies or subject matter experts, they can post a call out onto this email list. And then they go out to relevant people who are subject matter experts or people who have great stories to tell, and then they get an opportunity to connect. That’s really it.
It has changed fundamentally, in terms of the way it operates and the additional kind of parameters of the service offered now, as opposed to when it was in its infancy. But I always have this overarching sort of rule: I find a lot of subscribers (Sourcy Subs!) might try to mold it to do a certain purpose that it wasn’t designed for. And if enough do that, and if I think ultimately, that is achieving the end objective – which is for journalists and bloggers or content producers to be inundated with great sources, and also for subject matter experts and sources to get publicity or fame – if feel like the way it’s been tried to be sort of jammed in and used actually achieves one of those objectives, then I will think about stretching the service so that it accommodates that.
Obviously, PRs use it for their clients to find the right stories for their clients. But they also can use it as a content producer as well. I used it when I was doing PR for a development company. I knew that they were building these houses for families who’d suffered at the hands of domestic violence and I knew that their stats were out there, I knew that I could find experts with statistics in that particular area, who recognize the need for these sorts of expert housing. So those sorts of opportunities, and it was for a network television program. So I put a call out for experts with stats, experts with comments, people who, who perhaps, had had life changes as a result of finding this kind of accommodation, that sort of thing. And in doing so, I managed to get some television coverage for a domestic violence service provider. As a PR, obviously, I’m wanting to create a credible story, I want a number of different voices, to present to a journalist to say, ‘look, here’s some experts, this is someone who’s resolving the issue / providing a solution, it’s a great story package’. And then you send that off to a journalist, they say, fantastic, let’s go with it. And everyone gets really good publicity out of it. So everyone wins. And so I started to think, well, that’s a really powerful tool for PRS, as well as the content creators, and I’m really happy when they use it for that.
I’m not happy when they want to use it for things like, can you tell me someone who’s using this particular app and had had success with it? Well, I’m not going to publish that. Because no one’s benefiting from that, except you tell him, you know, find your kind of finding sort of, that’s more testimonials. That’s not what it’s for.
Yeah, we certainly work on that. Because we don’t receive the responses ourselves it’s a relationship between the journalist or the blogger and the source. Unless we’re told about this stuff, we don’t know. So, because of that trust element, we have to ask for people to report that sort of thing. And, and yeah, it does slip through the cracks. But we’re also verifying media now. We’re doing a lot more things to sort of safeguard the responses and to ensure that their time is not wasted. But it is a moving feast.
It took a long time, Rachel, I was really surprised. I mean, I think that pivotal point was probably when we reached a critical mass. I wouldn’t necessarily say there was a number attached to that, but there was a saturation point where there was sufficient sources to be able to respond without me [needing to be involved]. I mean, early on, I’d go, who do I know that I can call to respond to this journalist? Oh, my sister in law would work for this… I was really desperate for it to succeed. And I had detractors in the media circles anyway, journalists, and I thought, okay – hacks who’ve been in it a long time might resent this tool maybe making life a little bit easy for journalists. They just called it a tool for lazy journalists.
I also had this thing, which was just crazy, where journalists were like, I’m not telling anybody about this. This is my delicious secret. I’m not telling anyone, because I’m getting some success with it. And it’s giving me an edge. And I’m not telling people about
I didn’t get a lot of support from, say, PR networks, either, which I was surprised by. And I said, ‘Listen, this is a tool that I think your members will really benefit from. And it’s free’. Like, I wasn’t sort of asking for it. I said, ‘Can you just let them know’ and they just ignored me. And I had media mocking the concept. I remember sending out my first press release. And it was, it was after just tried to announce it. This is a service that’s available for journalists, free to use, etc. And it was at the same time when Kevin Rudd was prime minister the first time and he went on Rove McManus. And he said, ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, right. And you know, he bastardized it because it should be ‘fair suck of the sauce bottle’ but he was on Rove and was trying to be polite. But I thought, ‘Omg, I’ve got to launch this now!’ So I did. And I had, like journalists all over going, ‘Oh have you heard about this, I’m going to ask for a new pony’ – All this kind of crazy stuff. And I was really shocked that people would be kind of mean spirited about it, particularly people who the tool was designed to help.
We’ve got an active subscriber list of about 55,000. That’s more sources and PRs than it is, journalists, you don’t have to be subscriber to Sourcebottle [to use it]. And for a long time I thought, okay, journalists are getting responses from sources, they don’t want to hear from Sourcebottle. So I never sort of ever cultivated a list of the journalists using it.
Yes, recently, on the last two years, we introduced a verified media service. So to accommodate a lot of freelance journalists, and a lot of journalists who didn’t want to say the publication or the media outlet that they were from – well our team could see where they were from, like was it news.com.au from their email, but they might put a very generic name, or label. So might be, it might be something like AFR, and they might just put ‘financial publication’, which happens all the time. And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, you really want to respond to this call out, it’s gonna be really good’. Right? If you’re in financial services, or something. But [the sources] might not know so, so I started thinking, we’ve got to somehow verify these journalistss. And as a result, now we have, you know, the opportunity to verify yourself as a genuine sort of legitimate media practitioner. And that’s been really enlightening in terms of the numbers of journalists who are subscribed – I don’t have the actual number for you in terms of verified media. But your email needs to showcase that you’re from that particular media outlet, or you’ve got to be a regular user.
There are so many reasons why you wouldn’t disclose. And I know PRs in the past have been really naughty. If they’ve seen it’s from MamaMia or something, they’ll go straight to Mamma Mia. They’ll just side-step the whole thing because they might know someone in there and think, I’ll just go direct – and then that freelancer gets into trouble. It happens. It has happened with so many journalists – they might say, ‘Hey, listen, I don’t know what’s going on, can you just you know, you know, curb this person that has gone in and floated the story and I’m working in a freelance capacity’. And so I’m really supportive of people not disclosing the publication. So I needed to, I needed to get give users of the service, some insight into the veracity of the media. WE SEND OUT 14 MILLION EMAILS A YEAR – WEIRDEST STORIES YOU’LL NEVER FORGET? There’s certainly some really strange one. because we I mean, we send out about, at last count about 14 million emails a year. And they’re all customized based on your selections. Early on, when I didn’t have any support and I was on holiday and it was very early on even in terms of smartphones. And I was mentioning before, we have to prove every call out. Because journalists don’t always pick the right topics, the way it sort of set out it, they might put all the information into the extended sort of description, and nothing in this little description. And their subject line might be really long. So there’s a whole lot of things where they might have sort of had some missteps. Anyway, early on, I was approving the call-outs kind of sight unseen. And there was a call out for how – how can I politely put this – there was a call out for pleasurable experiences for men, by women. And I had only seen the smallest snippet and I was about to get on a ride at Dreamworld with my kids. And I went, Oh, yeah, that’d be fine. Because there’s deadlines. Like, I’ve got to do it by 10 o’clock in the morning, got to do it by two o’clock in the afternoon. And I was like, okay, yeah, just publish. And then all of a sudden, like, I was inundated. I got off the ride and there was just this sea of emails. And then there was a nice write up by Tim Burrows in Mumbrella at the time where, you know, Sourcebottle was extending the scope of its services to provide pleasurable experiences for men I was like OH MY GOD… there were lots of unsubscribes. There was a lot of ‘I have not signed up for this kind of service…’
I did sort of do some PR work over over the lockdown. Because Sourcebottle is a subscription – it’s a freemium platform with sort of those upgrades to different subscription levels. And a lot of those subscribers with expert profiles and things like that, which is part of the sort of the value add, which is how it makes money, mainly, were like, ‘Oh I’ve got no speaking opportunities’ or ‘my events management companies is shutting down’ – so a lot of those businesses terminated their subscriptions. And so I started doing some PR work, and I love actually being on the tools. I really enjoy it. But I’m sort of the primary carer for my kids and although they’re getting older – one’s in Year 12 right now and he’s anywhere near stressed enough about it in my opinion! – so there’s still a lot of hand holding, and a lot of extracurricular activities and a lot of all that sort of stuff that needs to be done. And they all need to be fed! Every day! My husband has a really demanding role and travels a lot. So, Sourcebottle was a side hustle for a long time, but then it became the hustle. And then it started to sort of realize its potential a little bit, but I feel like I’m now getting a little bit more freedom, where I’m going to ramp things up. I’ve never even advertised. It’s a hard thing to advertise to, for people that don’t understand it.
I outsource a lot of the tech, but it’s kind of a tech team that’s been dedicated to me since it started, right. So I pay management fee, but that’s outside the operation. And then I’ve got two assistants helping with publishing call outs. So three days a week, they do sort of call outs and a lot of that management of the platform. And also, I have another person who does a lot of the accounts and subscriptions and manages that side of it. The advertising or the content production, pretty much that’s me. Which can be quite a lot. And managing a subscriber base of that size, you cannot understand there are lots of issues, lots of emails. It’s still a lot of work. I thought it was naively thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll create this set and forget kind of platform, it’s going to be great’. What an idiot!
You know what I love? I never stopped getting a thrill when someone says they get some great results from the platform. And that’s journalists and content producers or sources that say, ‘Oh, my God, I got the most incredible media opportunity as a result of Sourcebottle’. That just delights me. Still. It really feeds my soul. I’ve never grown tired of that. And I do get sick of it. I’ve fallen out of love with Sourcebottle many times. And then something happens and I fall in love with it again, or I think I I know I can make this improvement and that really makes it better. And all of a sudden, I’m interested again, I’m engaged. Different tools and things that sort of enter the market, and I think, ‘Oh, that would really work well with this’ and yes, I do have that up and down love affair with it.
What I hate about it? Hate is a strong word, but I really do hate the social media side of it. I hate the fact that people don’t believe there’s people at the end of the services, and the vitriol, the rudeness. It just shocks me. Someone might be paying $6.55 a month, and they’re just outraged at something not working. “And I’m like, I just can’t believe [the rudeness] – here, take your $6.55, and I’m going to unsubscribe you, and I don’t want to hear from you again’. And I’m now at that stage though in business where I’m confident enough, that if someone’s rude to me… I mean, I had someone say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this membership platform in a paid capacity’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, absolutely. How happy to refund you’ and they’d been a subscriber for a long time. And because you’ve told me you don’t want to be part of this community, you’ve been very clear about that, okay well you’re not going to be part of this community. And I know that it’s almost sounds spiteful, but it’s like, I don’t have to take it.
I get them on LinkedIn. Like, I’ve just connected and they say ‘I’ve created this and I just wanted to know if you want to work together’ and I’m thinking, ‘That sounds like just what I do’ and sometimes I, I just ignore the message. Because I’m like, I don’t know how to respond to this. Because I can’t believe that, that you’re being so tone deaf and making this approach. I’m a really big believer in collaboration. And I don’t believe I think there’s more than enough opportunities for all of us to have thriving businesses in our own right…. but those ones who say, yeah my service is like yours … and I really want to pick your brains about how you struggled for the first couple of years and how I can piggyback on that and avoid all that struggle that you’ve had! But no, the ones that just sort of seemingly just don’t – I understand that just maybe they just don’t understand. And so I have to kind of be I don’t know, understanding about that, but it’s disappointing. I just want to be the best service out there. So it sort of makes you go, ‘Ok I need to wear my big girl underpants’, and just make this service be better.
Put up front the type of expertise you want – don’t bury the lede. Like, we might get a call-out where a journalist is looking for someone who’s an expert in colour palettes for nursing homes or something. The call-out might have ‘nursing homes’ or something quite generic as a heading. And then in the middle of it, they might have ‘I’m looking for an expert on interior designs’. And that kind of thing should be upfront, because that’s what’s gonna be scanned and seen first. Some tips:
Twitter has been my favourite social media – it’s been my sandpit for such a long time… and it’s sad how it’s changing. And, you know, obviously, it’s the one that is still being used predominantly by journalists and PRs and things like that. So, but it’s so toxic. And and it’s so spammy. And I’m not seeing who I want to see anymore. And I can see that user experience has really deteriorated. They’ve also stopped the ability for our service to automatically tweet. So now, I have to manually tweet, so it’s another step. And so they’re making it harder, unless you pay, right. Which fine. [But] I don’t know whether the metrics justify going to that next step. And I don’t know about the longevity of Twitter; I just don’t know how much longer it’s going to be a meaningful tool for journalists and, and sources. It was instrumental in growing the subscriber base in in Sourcebottle. At the beginning, it was absolutely fundamentally instrumental. So I feel a sense of loyalty to the platform itself. No other platform has been as useful, but it’s making it really hard and if I’m finding sources are being driven away from the platform, then it’s not really for journalists to use, it’s really for sources to use because they’re answering questions, right? Or they’re answering the call. So I’ve dabbled in Threads but you have to start all over again… But I’ve always said about social media, you know, it’s such a temporary thing. Always grow your own list. Never rely on any social platform.
I think digital PR, and SEO seem to be linked up together. And it’s all just about content. And I find more and more PRs are understanding it’s not about just doing a media release anymore. It’s about creating a complete package of stories, including the sort of digital aspects from footage, images, whatever it is making that complete package, as I said before, if you’re pitching to a publication – have your other experts there, put together the whole story for the journalist and make it easier for them.
I think newsjacking is becoming much more widely understood. And with this sort of 24/7 news cycle as well – so recognizing or identifying an opportunity where you can inject yourself or your client into an interesting story at a pivotal time. So I talk a lot about it in some of the content on Spin The SourceBottle which is a blog on Sourcebottle, and I put out calendars all the time, which highlight key dates like, say it’s Diabetes Week so I put it out to the experts, particularly for people with effort profile subscriptions, three months in advance so they can see well there’s a milestone event up there. So I need to if I’m going to do some research, if I’m going to get some case studies or if I’m gonna write a pitch piece, particularly for lifestyle publications and stuff like that, you know, with long lead times I can start getting in advance that story. But newsjacking an existing story might be okay, so one example where Apple, Gwyneth Paltrow, posted on social media – this was years ago but it’s a perfect example of how to newsjack a story – and she came out and responded to her mom posting a picture of her on her social media feed. And she said, ‘Mom, I told you not to do that anymore’. And I thought, Okay, well, the reasons this was newsworthy: celebrity and all that sort of stuff. And then privacy and you know, what rights do the kids have in terms of parents using photos of them? So you’ve got all these follow on questions, and you think, ‘Okay, well, if I was acting for a legal firm that worked on on privacy, or if I was thinking about preventing parental issues, or even cybersecurity, like, there’s a whole lot of things where, you know, you’re disclosing different information about, you know, children and consent, all those sorts of issues. So you start to think about follow-on questions that might be interesting to that journalist, or a journalist who deals in that subject matter, and you start pitching those stories in with your experts, and all that sort of stuff. So we have to just be really, really smart about how to insert ourselves into news at those critical time moments, because that’s such a small window before other people beat you to it. o anyway, that’s, hopefully I’ve explained that sort of that newsjacking. I think that’s becoming more and more important, and particularly from from an SEO perspective, because, when people are looking for those sorts of news articles, or looking for answers to those follow up questions, they’ll just search online. And if you’re the first one there, and you’re using all the right words, as a content producer, that can be pretty powerful stuff and getting traction for your client.
I’m always thinking about advertising or having good content each day and trying to keep it fresh every couple of days. So I’ll sort of do that stuff behind the scenes, we’re looking at in terms of the call outs, everyone has to be approved. If they expire, they have to be removed. Sometimes, if if I think might be a difficult call out, and maybe there weren’t many sources, I might sort of reach out to the journalist and say, ‘Hey, listen, do you want this run again?’ In other words, sort of assuming that perhaps that deadline wasn’t a concrete hard and fast deadline? They might have been unsuccessful? Do they want another prod along? Sometimes they’ll say, ‘No, we’re all we’re all sorted’. Sometimes they’ll say ‘yes, please’. So we’ve got a 10 o’clock and two o’clock newsletter. So if journalists post any call outs, or requests before that, in the lead up to that, we try to make sure that we get them published in time.
Sometimes 9.55am is absolutely enough time, five minutes, but sometimes it depends on the call out. Depends on the call-out. It depends how well you’ve set it out. Some days you might have 20 or so call outs to go through. Or you might have 30, of which 20 are sort of Australian based and some are international, but you’ve got to approve them all. And you might not get to the end. And then all of a sudden, it’s 10 o’clock and too bad, so sad. Then they go out in the two o’clock one. I often find certain days are really busy and they’ve changed which is really interesting. So Mondays used to be one of those kind of filler days where you just kind of get all the junk from over the weekend. There’s a lot of rats and mice type stuff. Now Monday seems really good. Like people seem to be doing a lot of work on weekends. And then used to be Tuesday and Thursday were the busiest days, but now they’re not the busiest days. So sometimes it’s more Monday, Wednesday, and sometimes even Friday, Friday afternoon, which used to be kind of a dead day where no one really now I’m getting ones that are urgent for you know, 5pm on a Friday. I’m like, Oh God, I hope people are still reading their DrinkUp Alerts at two o’clock. So yes, so prior to the call outs, cleaning out the call outs responding to queries, subscription issues, content platform issues, it’s really full-on. So on most days, we get probably about between 30 to 50 call outs if you if you look to publish it every day, and as I said, you know when you’ve got a big subscription base, there going to be a lot of a lot of queries or a lot of bounce backs a lot of email issues … like sexual health expert in the headline…we have to be really careful about what’s put in the headline and what’s gonna, you know, sometimes we, we might do a line through to try to see if we can get through some spam filters. But you know, we get some of the crazy call outs we get from publications like MamaMia, they’re like, you know, or there are a couple of sexual health publications that that we publish collabs for that are quite talking about masturbation and things like that, that are, obviously get caught by spam filters. And then all of a sudden, it bounces a couple of times, it’s a hard block, and we have to unblock them and people, but we won’t know unless people say, ‘Listen, I haven’t received my call outs for two weeks’. Anyway. So it’s lots of that.
The email marketing is built into the platform. And I know that in terms of having sequencing and trying to target and promote to subscribers is something I need to probably contemplate. It’s just, I think, the appetite for that, when you’re already sending out two emails a day is really low. And I’m quite reluctant to promote through email marketing in these new, obviously innovative ways where you have these sequences and you create these funnels and building your list that way, it just doesn’t work because I cannot hit the subscriber base up more than I already am. Their tolerance levels wouldn’t allow for it. So I have to be creative.
There’s a really great one that I use all the time, and I will be lost without it. And it’s, it’s a browser organizer called Toby. It’s totally changed my whole, this is the way I organize things. So everything, all my all my browser, favorites, all organized. And so I can and I can access Toby from any device, that’s really useful when I’m kind of just so I might just have a Sourcebottle one that goes to the CMS, it goes to Twitter, it goes to whatever I have all those tabs, and I can just open it and just use it wherever I am. Things like that. I mean, obviously Canva, every other platform I’ve ever used has never been as good as Canva. I use HubDock for documents, that’s really good. Hub Doc is really good. I use Frase.io to help me put together a content brief, and even just sort of the top lists for articles and a particular key word topic. And I’m a total junkie for AppSumo, I’ve wasted lots of money on AppSumo. New sort of SaaS platforms need a critical mass, which I understand personally. And so they go and they give lifetime deals on this new software … and I’ve got lifetime deals on platforms that have gone on to be really successful. So I dip into App Sumo and they had some really great products. I’ve got way too many!
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