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Making the most of your business, trade media opportunities.

"Experience shall give them that confidence, elegance and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable." Mark Twain

Despite the fact that we've been in the public relations field longer than we care to admit, we are always amazed when we revisit the basics. We developed the checklist over time to assist members of our staff and clients. The checklist only covers marketing activities, since financial relations has its own unique requirements. The checklist provides a solid sanity check to make certain every opportunity is being fully exploited. Save the list, modify it to suit your organization goals, and use it at least twice a year.

Analyst Relations

Public relations should actively work to build relationships with industry analysts who cover your product areas. Reporters and your customers constantly contact these analysts for their opinion on important industry announcements, trends and vendor suitability. Well-briefed and enthusiastic analysts are indispensable advocates for your company.

Many analysts also publish newsletters and reports, which are often well read within prospective customer locations and your competitors' operations. Remember that when you communicate with the analyst community, you're also communicating with your competitors.

Application Stories, Customer Case Studies

Your customers can be a powerful weapon in your PR arsenal. We classify an application story as a story that the media writes about your customer. A case study is a story that a public relations company writes about the customer. Don't get hung up on semantics; they can be use interchangeably.

Either way, public relations and sales will locate customers with interesting or unique applications of your products. Once they are located, public relations should interview the key individuals to determine if there is a newsworthy story, the difficulty in getting the article approved and if the article can be placed in a publication.

Doing the interviews and writing the article will be the easiest part of the project. The challenge is to obtain approvals to release the finished work to a publication. For this reason, it is often better and easier to work with a small- to medium-sized firm rather than a Fortune 50 firm. The approval process in some of these firms can take months of work and liaison and still have the project killed at the very last minute.

Another approach with these pieces is a self-published "preprint." The case study--typeset and formatted to look like a published piece--can be printed for distribution as sales literature.

Case studies can make excellent marketing literature, can be posted on your website and can be the stimulus for publication-written coverage. There are no shortcuts to good case studies. They are time consuming.

An alternative is to provide just enough background information for the publication to write the piece itself. Pitch the story to the appropriate reporter, as an exclusive. The downside is that you cannot control what is finally written. However, if you write the case study, you have reasonable control.

Another alternative is to write a series of brief user profiles for use in press materials With their approvals, turn them into interview sources as part of your ongoing editorial campaign. No matter how you work with and use your customers, keep your list current and make certain they are willing to speak (favorably) with the press.

Awards

Many publications offer "Best of," "Editor's Choice" and similar awards for new products or the best products in a review. While some aspects of the selection process are outside of your control, you can influence the decisions. It may seem obvious, but make certain you submit a rock solid product--not a final Beta or gold disc version but something that is bullet-proof. Make certain the documentation is complete, well written and produced in a professional manner. Ensure you provide an equally good reviewer's guide. Make certain you have a sound positioning presentation and application presentation to help the editor/reviewer put the product in the proper framework when he or she is reviewing the product. Finally, provide the reviewer with a direct contact with your best technical support staffer.

Columnist Campaigns

It's a tough job being a columnist. Columnists must constantly come up with a fresh opinion about an important subject. Familiarize yourself with the columnists who write for your top target publications. Continuously feed them column ideas, especially subject areas where you can assist them with facts and information. If you have a great product or service, your executives often possess insight into important trends and issues that could serve as great column topics.

Contributed Articles

A large number of publications publish articles written by vendors. These articles are great vehicles to further establish your executives, your company and your ideas in the marketplace. The most credible contributed articles don't even mention the vendor's products. Articles that constantly push the company's products and/or services will never be accepted in a reputable publication, which is one of the reasons PR people with a solid journalism background are so successful in developing and placing such articles. Effective contributed articles tend to be extremely time consuming to produce.

Editorial Calendars

One of the most important ongoing media-relations activities is editorial calendars. Every issue of a publication carries a theme or focus. It's an excellent opportunity to get expanded coverage for your company products, customers and senior management. Your goal should be to always get your unfair share of coverage by being the single source of information for technology, trends, markets and applications.

Make your contacts early to the specific editors and reporters who will be doing the features and reports. By working with them early, you can help define the scope and coverage of the feature article. This helps play to your organization's strength. Be the source first of general and market information as well as real users and applications. Make your senior managers readily available to discuss issues and outline your recommendations and proposed solutions.

If you've done your homework, you have good relations with the publication's senior editors and can even help them define the editorial calendar schedule for the coming year. Don't go in with the idea that you're going to dominate every issue, but pick those dates and activities that leverage opportunities for your company.

Editorial Visits

The stock-in-trade for public relations is solid relationships with the media. Once or twice a year, make arrangements to have your most important editors, reporters and analysis visit your organization to be briefed by your senior management. While this can be in conjunction with a major new product announcement, it can also be a valuable opportunity for your senior executives to provide insights into the competitive environment, the company's products and plans as well as outline the company's plans for the coming 6-12 months. To make the meeting as productive as possible for everyone concerned, have a meaningful agenda and thoroughly brief your senior people on the publication and people they will be meeting.

Expert Sourcing

With expert sourcing, we seek to attach ourselves to another story. If computer viruses are on the increase, then there is a solid platform to promote backup and disaster recovery software. If consumers say the prominent reason they will purchase a DVD burner is to produce home videos, there is a great opportunity to promote video production software. The key is to establish your company experts not just as experts in their product category but in the larger business and technical community whether it is with print or broadcast media.

Letters to the Editor

One of the first and best read sections in any publication is the "Letters to the Editor" column. Letters give you the opportunity to correct errors and omissions in past articles. They also give you the chance to reinforce your corporate and product messages by commenting on product round-ups, industry trend pieces or general industry articles. Well-written letters help establish your firm and executives as leaders and experts in the industry.

Listings

It is tedious and time consuming, but it is very important to keep your company and your products visible in directories, company/product lists and round-ups. Every industry has a top 100 list. Every product category is covered at least once during the year producing a matrix of products, features, capabilities and price. When your firm earns a spot in a specific or general top 100 list, promote the fact to all of the media and more importantly to your customers/prospects. People like to/want to associate with winners.

Press Releases By the Dozen

There are many reasons to issue a press release. Whether the news is covered or not depends on the strength of the story and how the story is handled. News releases are more than just a tool for communicating with press and analysts. They're also an excellent means of communicating with your customers and prospects. Before you begin a press release, determine your target audience, what you want them to come away with and what you want them to do after reading the news. Some announcements are strictly written for the company's website. Others are prepared for nationwide or international distribution.

Subjects and benefits include:

Acquisitions/Alliances: Your company is a leader and an industry consolidator. You are also able to attract just the right partners

Awards: Your products are clearly superior

Benchmark results: Your products perform better/faster/cheaper than competitors'

Channel programs: Your company knows how to work with the channel partners

Customer/contract wins: By promoting customers, you create the perception that you are a winner and everyone wants to associate with winners

International initiatives: International expansion shows you can provide global products, services and support

Earnings releases: Financial disclosure even for private firms shows you have a solid foundation, good financial strength and market momentum

Milestones: Highlight major announcement such as number of a specific product shipped, patents, expanding customer base and similar growth milestones

New personnel: Highlight the depth and breadth of your management team to serve the total marketplace

New products: Show the marketplace as strongly as possible that you have the solutions they want/need

Press Events: Establish the importance of your products against the competition and to the marketplace

Strategy/roadmap: Demonstrate your organization's vision and direction, as well as your ability to deliver

Press Tours

If you have a complex message or want to build 1-to-1 relationships, nothing is more effective than a press tour. However, not every new product warrants this level of time, effort and monetary commitment. It is a decision that must be made with senior management. Usually two, perhaps three, editorial tours are warranted.

Product Reviews

Product reviews are often an essential part of a product's launch. They can make or break a product, so it's important that you do everything possible to influence the outcome of the review. First ensure that the product is rock solid or, if you are letting the publication review a Beta version of the product, make certain you know (and that they know you know) where the problem issues lie and the upgrades that are being made.

Next produce a clear, concise and professional looking Reviewer's Guide. These guides help reviewers understand the product's attributes, capabilities and competitive position. It also assists the reviewer in quickly and accurately understanding your product. Develop a comprehensive product presentation that discusses the product's key features, capabilities and market position.

When these materials are complete and sent to the reviewer, arrange a telephone briefing with the reviewer and product management. This helps the reviewer clearly position the product in his or her mind before and during the review process.

While the review is in progress, stay in close contact with the reviewer to monitor progress and handle the inevitable glitches. In the rush to get product coverage, never send products out for review until everyone is confident it's a solid product. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Speaking Engagements

Speaker opportunity and panelist slots at seminars, conferences and conventions establish your executives and your company as leaders in your field. Speaker placement requires special planning and advance preparation; speaker proposals are often due 12 months prior to a conference. Establish the subject and content areas you want to promote during the coming 12 months and tailor your speaker proposals accordingly. Once you have the speaking engagement, stay in continual contact with conference chairpersons and coordinators to make certain you provide all the materials and information needed. Finally, work closely with your company executive to ensure he or she presents the best possible message.

Beyond that, promote your executive's speech/presentation with a news release. Offer copies of the presentation at the event by collecting business cards. For individuals who didn't attend offer copies of the presentation and post it on your website.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are excellent opportunities to meet editors face-to-face, build relationships and show off your products. But because of the chaos, they are usually not the best place to make major new product introductions. Instead, make your announcement weeks in advance of the show. This gives reporters and editors a much better chance to more thoroughly cover your announcement. It also gives them an opportunity to study the information and then meet at the show to clarify information. This can also produce product coverage prior to the show so people have a reason to visit your booth.

Regardless of when the announcement is made, trade shows give you an opportunity to update industry analysts and the press on the company, its market position and its products. To strengthen your relationships beyond just the idea of pitching stories, schedule breakfast, lunch and/or dinner meetings. Hold a special key editor/analyst event that is devoid of product pitches but gives your guests a chance to know each other and your company better--it is a good investment in the long-term.

Conclusion

Review your PR programs and activities at least twice a year. You'll often be surprised how quickly and easily you can slip into some slightly bad habits that don't let you take advantage of all of the opportunities that are available. Even after 25 years in the field, we still find ourselves overlooking one opportunity or another.

So what is your excuse?

THE CHECKLIST

Areas you need to constantly examine are:

Analyst Relations

Awards

Columnist Campaigns

Contributed Articles

Customer Case Studios

Editorial Calendars

Editorial Visits

Expert Sourcing

Letters to the Editor

Listings

Press Releases

Press Tours

Product Reviews

Speaking Engagements

Trade Shows

G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. He can be reached at: Andy@markencom.com
COPYRIGHT 2003 West World Productions, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business of Technology
Author:Marken, G.A.
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:2427
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