One of the most effective ways to increase customers’ awareness of your product or service is through the public media. Referencing your product/service in trade publications, magazine articles, websites, and blogs helps deliver your messages to a target audience. Customers often perceive the public media as a more objective information source compared to your own sales collateral. Favorable coverage by the public media has therefore a better chance to resonate with customers.
Media coverage, unlike advertising, cannot be directly “purchased”. Sure, you may hear stories about the linkage between media coverage and the amount of advertising you spend with a particular publication. But from my experience, editors and writers maintain reasonable independence from their ad-selling departments. They are mindful of their professional reputation and seek to deliver quality information to their readers. While their may be a few cases where you could “buy” coverage, the majority of your coverage will always come from generating newsworthy information.
Public media is a very broad term, and there may be dozens of magazines, websites and blogs that cover your space. However as with any 80/20 rule, it is likely that 20% of the editors will produce 80% of your desired coverage. For every market segment there are a few leading publications per geography. A bit of research will help you identify those leading publications, and the individual editors, writers and bloggers you should focus on.
Remember that editors are looking for reliable and trusted sources. They are often responsible for the coverage of multiple technologies and market segments, and face a daily barrage of information. Sorting through all this information and determining what’s real and what’s hype is a daunting task. Editors often turn to analysts to help sort through information and prioritize coverage, but occasionally they develop trust relationships with selected vendors. If you manage to develop trust relationships with a handful of editors, your chances of getting your message across are much higher. It is recommended you develop personal relationships with a handful of editors in your space, and that you provide them repeatedly with solid, “hype free” information about your market, your customers needs and your product. Once you become a trusted information source, they payoff in terms of media coverage is substantial.
Most companies work with public relations (PR) firms to help increase the quantity and quality of their media coverage. Indeed, a good PR firm can help you achieve that goal. But getting quality coverage requires close cooperation between you, the product manager, and the PR firm.
PR firms bring to the table the valuable assets, which include: personal relationships with key editors in your space, familiarity with editorial calendars, and a good sense of what makes a “sellable story”. But PR firms lack in-depth knowledge of your product or service, its specific value proposition for your customers, and the key differentiators vs. competitors. This is the knowledge you, the product manager, bring to the table.
A good platform for collaborating with a PR firm is your product/service messaging document. Hopefully you have completed such a document before engaging a PR firm. But if you haven’t, this is a good time to do it. Without a solid messaging framework, individual “news items” lack consistency and coherence. It takes time and repetition to build awareness within your target audience. It is therefore important that the news items you share with the media weave into one coherent story, which gets reinforced each time you issue a press release. Furthermore, all your information sources: your website, collateral, press releases, public interviews, blog posts, etc. should all reinforce the same core messaging.
Now having a solid messaging framework is perhaps a necessary, but definitely insufficient condition for getting good media coverage. You must create a “story that sells”, and that’s where the PR firm can be very helpful. Each market has a set of trends, which involve hot topics and issues that occupy the audience mind. As you put your own story out there, it is important to be aware of these trends and to “link” your story to these trends. This is just like surfing waves – it is much easier to ride an existing wave than to paddle hard trying to create your own. Your PR firm can help identify those trends that are most related to your messaging, and help cast your story in a way that it’s linked to key trends in the editors mind.
The PR agency is your story “sales force”. They should make the contact with relevant editors, generate some initial interest, and set an appointment/call for you to deliver the story to the editor. As stated earlier, there are usually a handful of editors that are opinion leaders in a particular market segment. These are the people you should meet and get to know in person, and the PR agency should help with that.
The traditional vehicle for delivering stories to the media is the “press release”. It is a fairly short document (2-3 pages max) which summarizes the newsworthy item(s). Most press releases have the following structure:
- Title: This is the main “hook” that should capture media editors’ attention. It must be succinct, impactful and attention grabbing.
- Subtitle: a short sentence that appears below the title and provides some clarification and additional important information.
- Opening paragraph: embodies the key messages and sets the tone for the whole press release. Ideally, the whole story should be encapsulated in this one paragraph.
- Body paragraphs: include further details about specific aspects of the story that was introduced in the first paragraph.
- Company quote: usually given by a senior executive and intended to reinforce the story. The goal is for this “self-serving” quote to find its way into the stories written by the media.
- Supporting quotes: can come from analysts, partners or customers who express their support for the story and its importance to the market. Such quotes lend credibility to the story, since they come from sources outside the company.
- Boilerplate: typically appears at the bottom of the press release. It typically provides general background on the company, and reiterates the core messaging. Ideally, the boilerplate should stay the same for every press release, unless of course changes were made to the core messaging.
So how often should you issue a press release? There is no hard rule for that of course. When you are in the initial phases of building market awareness, you may want to issue more frequent press releases – perhaps even every 6-8 weeks. But that depends of course on your ability to generate newsworthy stories. What makes a newsworthy story? There are many options here: a new product release, a major customer win, a strategic partnership, the addition of key executive members to your team, the opening of a new office, etc. This is where the creativity of your PR firm shines. Just remember to avoid “the boy who cried wolf” syndrome… If you issue too many insignificant press releases, media editors will simply learn to ignore you…
As said, ‘press releases’ are the traditional vehicle for getting the word out. Now days however you can use additional tools to get your stories out there, especially through social media. Your website is another powerful tool for releasing information, for example by adding a ‘news’ section to your home page, publishing a bog regularly, and building subscription to your newsletter. But until you manage to generate significant, qualified traffic to your website, doing effective PR is still your best bet for reaching the broader market.
To summarize then:
Developing a consistent messaging platform should be a precondition for any media work. Without it, your “stories” will be disconnected and you’ll miss the ability to build upon repetition. Enrolling a PR agency definitely helps, but product managers should actively engage in the process – this is not a “fire and forget” exercise. Selling stories is no different than selling other goods: you need a newsworthy item (=quality product), a PR agency (=sales channel) and trust relationships with key media editors (=customers).