Increase Your Media Coverage with these Two Basic PR Tips

In 2009, we saw a lot of “innovative”, cost-cutting PR strategies — however, many companies may have cut corners to the point of potentially compromising the basics of a sound program. As stated by Naylor Gray, Frost and Sullivan Director of Global Marketing, in a recent Businessweek article, ”with recovery expected to take hold in 2010, marketing teams need to review their basic blocking and tackling to ensure that the fundamentals of their programs are on strong footing.”

Getting “back to the basics” of proven PR tactics can help provide a consistent stream of media coverage resulting in increased industry credibility and more interest from potential customers.

A real opportunity exists for companies that can consistently position their company in front of key issues and trends that truly concern the media. In doing so, companies become an invaluable resource to the media.

Here we’ll discuss two basic but proven PR tactics that can be utilized to help companies build credibility, trust and interest with key media and bloggers by fostering these relationships based on an industry-centric vs. product centric approach. Future-focused companies that provide meaningful insight and guidance to support buying decisions (vs. just marketing fluff) are often rewarded with more press coverage, better lead generation results, and a shortened sales cycle.

#1. Editorial Calendar Tracking

As much as social media can be a great avenue for starting and generating conversational trends, traditional main stream media (MSM) continues to have a huge influence on major topics of interest. Because MSM outlets operate on an advertising budget, they must secure ad sponsorship and leverage editorial calendars to attract potential advertisers. Most often, these editorial calendars are published a year in advance and can be a great way for your company to start the buzz about a topic.

TIP: Go get the editorial calendars from your top industry trade publications to find out what they are planning to publish in print. Then you can start blogging and writing articles for online syndication a month or two in advance of the print publication issue. This gives search engines the time to index your content providing high visibility for the topic once the publication hits the street.

#2. Rapid Response Program

“Rapid response” PR campaigns are a proactive strategy used to build relationships with media and bloggers by establishing a company’s spokespeople as industry experts and good news sources. It’s designed to keep your company on the cutting-edge of interesting news trends and is one of the ways to help elevate your company into a broader industry category with more press appeal.

TIP: After selecting 4-5 hot topics your company can speak to, begin to monitor news feeds and blogs. Every time a story about one of the selected topics is written and does not mention your company, contact the editor or blogger with positive feedback on their story and a gracious introduction to your company with an offer to help with future articles. Over time, you’ll build great relationships with key influencers and can work your company into the pages of high profile stories on a consistent basis.

While implementing fundamental PR strategies may take more planning, resources and budget, ultimately this approach can yield better results. Going beyond a “knee jerk” or “cookie cutter” approach to PR can help transform your company from an upstart technology player to an industry leader.

Tried and True PR Strategies for a Prosperous 2010

©iStockPhoto/pavlen

©iStockPhoto/pavlen

Out with the old, in with the new? Not necessarily.

Let’s face it. A lot of business folks jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2009 with little or no results. While social media tactics will continue to be a vital part in a holistic PR program, most specifically around SEO and brand reputation monitoring, B2B companies can benefit immediately in 2010 from tried and true public relations tactics that have stood the test of time.

First of all, it’s important to remember that while print circulation last year plummeted, the number of unique visitors to newspaper websites grew by 15.8% to 65 million. Though the news media still struggles to figure out how to make $$$ from journalism, the audience is present and accounted for. As we reported in a past blog post Traditional PR is Not Dead, IT buyers from leading companies reported that trade publications are the #1 resource they utilize for identifying new products and services.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the top PR tactics that have yielded results for our clients without fail. Leveraging customer and partners in marketing/PR activities consistently tops the list. As one of our industry analyst friends stated in a client briefing, “the most believable and powerful message is always coming from the customer – if vendor companies want to be successful, they need to incorporate customer testimonials in every marketing campaign.”

Without doubt, customer testimonials can greatly enhance the credibility of a company and result in increased sales and media coverage. When customers talk favorably of your product or service, they send a free, believable and targeted marketing message. Customer endorsements can be used in a variety of marketing mediums: media/analyst outreach, collateral, thought leadership events, social media and/or inclusion on the website.

Many companies fail to engage their customers and partners because they lack a focused program to identify key customer spokespeople or they do not present a compelling value proposition to secure their participation. Self-centered requests for a product endorsement often fail. Successful programs are based on answering a potential spokesperson’s question of “What’s in it for me?” before you approach them. Many times, it takes some “thinking outside the box” to get customers on board. Smaller customers with a great story/interesting application and evangelistic spokesperson can be just as effective as a major customer.

Here are some tips for successful involvement of customers in your PR efforts:

  • Develop a compelling “win-win” proposition and utilize innovative/focused programs to help secure customer/partner support
  • Identify hot industry trends and potential customer evangelists who share thought leadership vision around this trend and may be looking to gain industry visibility
  • Secure a solid list of reference accounts who are consistently supporting your PR activities at various levels
  • Look beyond the obvious suspects (top customers) to see who might be leveraged in your campaigns (BOD members, technology partners, investors, etc.)
  • Leverage customer testimonials in every PR activity so it becomes the customer that is telling your company’s value proposition
  • Build a company “fan base” and increase potential of word-of-mouth marketing by leveraging fans and testimonials in social media channels

Bottom line, customer and partner participation is the key to highly effective public relations campaigns that produce greater brand awareness/credibility and ultimately enhanced sales results.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at the power of editorial tracking and rapid response tactics.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year!

B2B Marketing Trends: The Rise of Consumers as the New Influencers

Traditionally the media and industry analysts have been revered as major market influencers (the people your target audience – those you’re trying to sell to – listen to). A leader position in an analyst report or positive product review was the holy grail of PR efforts. While these influencers continue to wield power, the collective influence of consumers is widening.

An increasing number of people are participating in online conversations – sharing opinions and influencing purchasing decisions (explicitly or implicitly) – as part of their daily routine. At the same time trust in consumer opinions posted online is growing, as social networks become dynamic ecosystems that develop and nurture relationships between people and the content they share.

As social media adoption goes mainstream, we cannot ignore the growing influence consumers have on brand affinity and purchasing decisions.

Here are some interesting tidbits for you to consider as you create your 2010 marketing plan:

  1. Social networks are gaining in popularity. Facebook has over 300 million active users and Twitter was declared the top word of 2009 by the Global Language Monitor. Need I say more?
  2. Online consumer opinions are becoming more trusted. An April 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey found that people trust consumer opinions posted online as much as editorial content and more than traditional newspapers and magazines.
  3. Social media content influences buying decisions. A study by SNCR Research concludes that traditional influence cycles are being disrupted by social media as decision makers utilize social networks to inform and validate decisions.
  4. People find products through social network sites. According a study released by Performics on how consumers use social networks to discover products 30% of respondents admitted to learning about a product, service or brand on a social network site, 44% recommended a product on Twitter and 39% have discussed a product on Twitter. 48% of people who saw a brand’s name on Twitter went to a search engine to look for the product.
  5. The volume of user generated content is growing. According to MarketingVox and Nielsen BuzzMetrics, “25% of search results for the world’s Top 20 brands link to user generated content.” If this trend holds, it is possible that user generated content will dominate search results as customers far outnumber the number of employees of even the largest brands.

As people embrace and exercise their ability to share their opinions through social networks, we as marketers must take note, listen to the conversations and evolve how we engage with our consumers.

,

PR Strategy: The Importance of Blogger Relations

As I reported back in August, Traditional PR is Not Dead, by any means, but the influence of bloggers is certainly gaining ground and should not be ignored as you develop your 2010 public relations strategy.

According to a blog post entitled,Statistics Show Social Media is Bigger Than you Thinkby Erik Qualman there are over 200,000,000 blogs and a reported 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands.

With over 1.5 million new blog posts every day and 77% of active Internet users reading blogs, coverage in the blogosphere can greatly increase your potential brand exposure and drive interest from target audiences.

Another upside is the fact that today’s journalists increasingly rely upon blogs and microblogs to find story ideas and conduct research. According to a new survey from Middleberg Communications and the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), 66 percent of journalists use blogs and 48 percent use Twitter and other microblogging sites to assist them with reporting.

These findings shouldn’t surprise any of us considering the growing lists of journalists using Twitter and other social networks.

To engage this new audience of influencers, you will first need to find the bloggers that cover your space. Free tools like blog search engine Technorati or Google can help you build and research your list. As a starting point, I would recommend that you identify no more than 20 targets.

Next subscribe to the RSS feeds and get in the habit of reading the posts and comments daily. This will help you monitor target blogs for topics that merit commentary or present possible opportunities to engage — but don’t jump in just yet. Blogger relations require different tactics than traditional PR because most bloggers don’t get paid to cover a specific beat.

Technorati’s 2009 State for the Blogosphere report claims over 70% of bloggers are hobbyists and self-expression and sharing expertise are the primary motivations for these bloggers.

According to our social media maven, Susan Getgood, the success of your blogger relations program depends upon how well you translate PR and marketing messages into stories that will resonate with your target bloggers on some personal level. Unlike the news media, bloggers don’t necessarily require the story to be new. Relevant is often more important, although this space will have a tendency toward wanting the latest news.

First and foremost, make sure that you understand your target blogger’s motivation for blogging and personal interests before you attempt to post a comment or pitch a story. With all the noise in the blogosphere, you must provide real value in order to be worth a post or better yet a longer-term relationship.

Finally, make a commitment to be in this for the long haul because blogger relations are very personal and an ongoing program is more effective than a campaign approach.

Crisis Media Relations: the Tiger Woods Edition

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

As of this writing, the celebrity gossip scandal involving golfer Tiger Woods is still unfolding, but enough is known to serve as a teachable moment in PR crisis management both for individuals and businesses.

Woods has parceled out information about the circumstances of his car crash in morsels just small enough to create an appetite for more. He has tried to balance the need to answer the media’s questions — not to mention those of the police — with his desire to protect his privacy.

Businesses sometimes find themselves in a similar dilemma when news comes out that makes them look bad and they try to respond to it while at the same time protecting their privacy. The best plan is to get out as much information as one can as soon as possible in order to prevent speculation from taking the place of known facts in the story.

The bare-bones facts in the Woods case are these, according to news reports. Woods left his Florida home at 2:25 a.m. Nov. 27 in his 2009 Cadillac Escalade and promptly ran off the road, knocked over a fire hydrant and hit a tree. Woods’s wife, Elin Nordegren, appeared on the scene soon after and reportedly used a golf club to break the rear windows on the car to free him.

Woods was taken to the hospital, treated for facial cuts and bruises and released.

After holding off Florida Highway Patrol investigators’ requests to interview the couple for three days, Woods’s silence created a vacuum filled by media speculation and gossip, including mention of a previous report in the National Enquirer that Woods may have been involved with another woman. The snickerers online found an alternative reason why his wife was wailing on the Escalade with a golf club.

Sunday, Woods issued a statement that prompted more questions than it answered. It read, in part: “This situation is my fault. I’m human and I’m not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Those with cynical motives can take off and run with “I’m human and I’m not perfect,” in any number of directions, and they probably have.

In his statement, Woods asked the public to respect his own and his family’s privacy. While even as a celebrity he is entitled to a certain amount of that, playing the privacy card has its downside. Deliver a carefully worded statement but offer no opportunity for questions and you only invite more criticism.

Monday, Woods spurred the next news cycle by revealing he wouldn’t be playing at a charity golf tournament in California this week that is to benefit his Tiger Woods Foundation.

An Associated Press story, published Saturday, laid out the public relations crisis management dilemma he faces:

“Assuming Woods has crisis management advisers, he had better get them on the phone. Assuming they answer, he had better listen to their advice. Say something, and say it soon,” wrote the AP’s Tim Dahlberg. “’I was always a believer that you should come out and say what happened, apologize if need be and take it from there,’ said John Rowady, president of rEvolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing agency.”

Say something and say it soon could be good advice for a business faced with a crisis to manage, too, be it a lawsuit, a high level executive departure or a product recall. Public relations experts advise convening a crisis management team to draft a response plan and carry it out.

In the article, “A startup roadmap for crisis communications,” Wendy Lane, founder of the PR and marketing firm Lane PR, lays out a well thought out crisis response plan.

In brief, Lane advises a company set up a response team ahead of time that includes one or two top executives and representatives of the public relations department. Any public statement, or statement to employees, should be drafted by group consensus within the crisis team. While company officials should reach out to key constituencies affected by the news – such as board members, key clients or vendors – information should not be distributed piecemeal. If someone hears a tidbit of news from a colleague rather than a supervisor, that prompts rumors.

Communicating to those outside the company, including the news media, should also be similarly well-coordinated. In October, I covered a story in which T-Mobile, a wireless carrier, had to notify users of its Danger Sidekick smartphone that, due to a server failure, backup information on their phones, like contacts, calendar entries and e-mail addresses, had been erased.

T-Mobile and Sidekick (a company owned by Microsoft) quickly acknowledged the problem, apologized profusely, temporarily pulled the Sidekick off the market, disclosed as much as they knew and gave disgruntled customers gift cards as compensation for their loss. Within a few weeks, lost data had been restored for most subscribers. The company made the best of a bad situation with a coordinated plan.

It remains to be seen how the Tiger Woods situation will play out. While crisis management professionals advise a more proactive stance than Woods seems to have taken, he still retains strong “brand equity.” He’s a successful golfer, both on the course and at the bank and is a positive role model for all kinds of people. He may have some reputational capital in reserve to survive whatever additional bad publicity lies ahead.

Is it Time to Place an Embargo on PR Embargoes?

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

Under the heading of things that can be both a blessing and a curse, journalists and the PR people we work with are in agreement on one: embargoes. They can be a simple and fair way for a PR client to disseminate news about themselves to the media, or they can be a way to manipulate journalists into doing a story because they know everyone else is.

All sides of the debate about embargoes were aired one recent evening at a panel discussion in San Francisco that featured journalists from old and new media and an audience of more than 50 media and public relations professionals. The organizer of the event was Waggener Edstrom, the huge PR agency whose most famous client is Microsoft.

First, here’s a primer on embargoes, just so we’re all on the same page. When a company wants to get the word out about something it thinks is newsworthy it reaches out to reporters with whom it wants to share the news. In order for all media to get the story at the same time, the company imposes an embargo that the news can’t be reported until, say, 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Monday.

The reporters who agree to the embargo are then entitled to an interview with key people from the company a few days ahead of time, called a prebrief. They may also be referred to industry analysts who’ve also been briefed who can provide some independent perspective on the news. Then the reporter can take his or her time writing the story with perhaps a little more thought, detail and insight than if they quickly rewrote the press release once it came out at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Sometimes, though, the embargo process fails.

“Embargo is from a Latin phrase which means ‘[to heck with] you,’” blurted Dylan Tweney, senior editor of Wired.com, the Web site of the high-tech magazine. (Use your imagination to fill in the real word in the brackets.) Tweney resents being forced to agree to embargoes in order to get the news.
Embargoes work — to get news out to readers in a timely fashion – except when they don’t work, Tweney said, and then provided examples of instances where he agreed to an embargo only to learn some other media outlet broke it and got the story out first. It happened twice within a few weeks on different stories handled by the same PR agency.

“I recognize both the utility and the anxiety and danger of embargoes,” added David Darlin, technology editor for the New York Times. While it can be a convenient way to report news, he also feels manipulated by the process.

“[The embargo] is a tool for PR people to co-opt the media to turn them into part of the PR apparatus,” said Darlin.

But the alternative to embargoes, which would be just putting the release on PR Newswire and only responding to reporters seeking interviews is impractical for the companies making the news, said Doug Free, public relations director for Microsoft’s operations in Silicon Valley.

“I can’t have my staff scrambling to take calls from 30 reporters,” said Free, from his seat in the audience. Using the embargo system sets up a more orderly process for arranging interviews ahead of time.

As the discussion continued, it became apparent that there remains some suspicion among reporters, PR people and their clients about who’s responsible for broken embargoes.

Sam Whitmore, founder of Media Survey, a consulting practice for tech PR people, and moderator of the discussion, listed what he thought were bogus “excuses” media gave for breaking embargoes, such as the story was posted by mistake, the embargoed story was mistaken for a non-embargoed story, there was time zone confusion about when the embargo lifts and the all purpose “I forgot.”

But Wired’s Tweney said embargoes are also broken by the client who, despite the PR agency’s efforts to control the embargo, leaks the news to a favored blogger or someone else who gets the jump on reporters who agreed to the embargo.

The debate ended 45 minutes later with no real consensus on how to fix the embargo dilemma, which with the expanding universe of media bloggers, corporate bloggers, PR bloggers, Twitterers and other new media sources, isn’t going away.

But both journalists and PR people agreed on one essential element for a fair embargo system: Trust.