June 7, 2013

Reporter’s PR tip at trade shows: stop listening to marketing folks

imagesA recent blog post by Health Data Management reporter Joseph Goedert is a good reminder of how PR folks can be operating on auto pilot when it comes to announcements issued at trade shows.  According to Joe, it happens every year:

“Can’t wait for your big news to break at the show when you announce it Monday morning? And hoping you won’t be disappointed by the coverage like you were last year, the year before, the year before…?”

His advice:

“Stop listening to your marketing folks. Listen to a reporter and your outside PR pro who is begging you to release the news early, and release it the week before the conference.”

Joe points out that if your news isn’t major, release it early.  We agree with him in that it often makes more sense, especially if you provide copies in the trade show press room, at publication booths on the show floor and during scheduled meetings with reporters.

His last piece of advice: the week before a trade show is often slow on news and reporters still have daily newsletters to get out.  Routine vendor announcements that might be ignored get picked up.

Good insight the next time your marketing folks demand you release news during the first day of a major event.  It might be wise to consider the input from a reporter.



June 6, 2013

Blog post as a media relations tool?

blog post

Yes, a company’s blog can be a significant tool in reaching out to media and securing news coverage. Often, if there is an issue receiving a lot of attention within an industry, a blog post is the quickest and most efficient way to put a stake in the ground and offer your company’s point of view.

But just posting your company’s position on an issue is not enough. Sure, your employees and other company stakeholders are alerted, but you need to take it a step further and use that post just as you would a press release.

After you’ve entered your blog post, email a copy of it to all media reps important in your space. They’ll see it’s not a press release and you’re not pitching them for coverage, but merely alerting them to an issue your company believes is important. Once the email is sent, continue working with it like a press release and conduct phone follow-up to the top media you want to be in front of. When you have him or her on the phone, talk about why this issue is important to you and how your company could act as a resource should the reporter provide further coverage. You’ve already given your company’s point of view and demonstrated your commitment by phoning the journalist; you might be pleasantly surprised how far this will go in having your company included in future coverage.

May 20, 2013

Industry analysts key to converting prospects to customers

Think of the last time you made a decision to purchase a significant item such as a home, new car, furniture or appliance.  It’s likely you spent a lot of time doing research to determine the best products and prices. Customer prospects often engage in the same process; they’ll talk with colleagues, read reviews on the web and even consult with an analyst firm that covers a particular market category.

Is it impossible to introduce analysts to your company without spending a significant amount of money?  Not always. We introduce our clients to major analyst firms including Gartner, Forrester Research and IDC on a regular basis regardless of whether or not our client is a paying customer.  The key is to understand the role of the analyst and to keep in mind how to help him or her be more informed of the latest business and product developments in his or her industry niche.

imagesNot every company that wants to schedule an analyst meeting is successful.  Understandably, the bulk of each analyst’s time is allocated to paying clients.  Without the proper strategy it will be very difficult to gain their attention.  So consider these tips the next time you plan to propose a product or service briefing:

1-    No Advertising/Endorsement. Analysts are only interested in how your company is providing a new solution to a pressing business challenge or opportunity in the market.  Remove any marketing hyperbole from your presentation and refrain from asking for an endorsement during the first briefing.

2-    Earn Trust. This is an excellent opportunity to preview beta or prototypes to gain expert feedback and help position your company as an industry leader now and in the future.  In these cases, the analysts are fine with non-disclosure agreements.

3-    Trust Your Instincts. Don’t hesitate to engage in friendly debate regarding a particular topic or data point.  The analysts will respect your opinion and be more amenable to follow up briefings.

Building a successful analyst relations program takes time and patience.  The results can make a huge difference as to whether or not your company is perceived as a leader and the best choice for prospects seeking to make a purchase.







May 17, 2013

Trend alert: blog posts replacing press releases

imagesA growing number of companies are announcing major news via their blogs. Google, Dell, Southwest Airlines and others have all chosen this format to break their stories to the world. But can a smaller business get away with this digital strategy? I think so. But they must not skip over key ways to promote the new post and drive traffic to their blog page. Here are some tips to do that:

- Individually email a summary of the news to your target press. Link to the blog page.
- Promote the post in all your social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), in multiple ways, multiple times. Again, link to the blog page.
- Promote it on your company home page, so readers are only one click away from seeing the full story.

If you don’t have a blog, then this strategy is not for you. But if you do, seriously consider breaking some (or all) your news there. When you have press, analysts, customers and other stakeholders in the habit of reading news on your blog, you create the opportunity for them to click multiple times and view more of your website’s content.

Be sure to break from the stiff, formal look of a traditional press release, too. Be human, conversational and approachable (for example, invite comments). Take a look at Zillow’s blog to see an example of how you can turn your blog into a warm and welcoming place to engage with readers.

May 13, 2013

When it comes to start-ups, there is no one size fits all answer about if or when to hire a PR agency

You can’t work in the PR business without developing a thick skin. Some folks in the media take an almost perverse pleasure in bashing the annoying habits or supposed incompetence of PR people and agencies. To be fair, as an industry, we suffer from more than our share of self-inflicted wounds. But that doesn’t mean every criticism is valid. Or even intelligent.

In a recent VentureBeat post, former journalist*, PR rep and now founder of a somewhat creepy site that helps guys stalk single women (sorry, it doesn’t deserve a link), Kevin Leu questions whether start-ups should ever work with a PR firm. Spoiler: he says “no.” Leu’s “5 Reasons You’ll Regret Hiring a PR Agency for Your Start-up – and What You Should Do Instead,” starts with a questionable premise and backs it up with sweeping generalizations unsupported by facts. Good thing he’s no longer a “journalist.” Here are just a few of the things he got wrong.

Choosing-a-PR-Agency-photoFirst, the basic premise: should start-ups hire a PR agency? The real answer, as with most things, is: “it depends.” Some start-ups do just fine getting the word out about themselves without any outside help. Some are really savvy about story-telling, building relationships with media and influencers, leveraging social media and creating content that’s both interesting and marketable. And some start-ups have the internal resources (meaning, mostly time) to put into PR. But many don’t. And if you’re one of the latter, you might need a PR firm.

But is it worth it? According to Leu, the “average” cost of retaining a PR firm is $12,000 per month with a minimum 6-month commitment. That’s a lot of cash for a series A-type start-up. Of course, he has no data to back this number up. And, of course, it’s a completely absurd figure. Do some firms charge that much? Sure, but it’s not “average.” Here at VOXUS, we successfully work with a lot of start-ups whose budgets are far more modest than that. I suspect we’re not unique. Also, in nearly two decades doing PR in Silicon Valley and the Northwest, I’ve never heard of a minimum half-year commitment. Not once.

With his bogus starting number, Leu does some questionable math to arrive at the conclusion that hiring a junior or mid-level PR person internally at somewhere between $70- $90,000 per year is a better use of money than an agency at $144,000. Wrong again. Ask anybody who’s run a business and they’ll tell you that the true cost of an employee is about 2X salary. So that one junior PR person is actually costing you $140-$180,000 year. Even if you accept Leu’s $144,000/year agency number, that doesn’t pencil out. Also, his suggestion that it’s somehow a detriment that agencies have more than one client makes little sense. First, respectable agencies don’t represent multiple, competing clients, so they won’t be pitching another client instead of you. And if they represent complementary clients, it actually helps to make them more knowledgeable about the markets their clients are in.

In any event, Leu’s beef seems to be that you’re paying an agency for the part-time work of two junior people when you can hire one full-time, junior person for the same cost. Once again, his basic assumption is wrong. The VOXUS model ensures that every one of our clients gets consistent, in-depth senior-level attention. And by “senior,” we mean people with at least a decade or more of PR experience and know-how. That in-house junior account person Leu recommends may eventually understand your business, but won’t be providing much in the way of strategy. Nor will he or she have much bandwidth overhead for major launches or when crises erupt. That’s why agencies use teams.

As for Leu’s assertion that agencies don’t know how to tell stories, I’m not sure he’s qualified to say. (Reporting on traffic and writing about where to find girls are hardly complicated beats). But for the record, storytelling is at the center of all we do. That said, no agency (or any start-up working on their own) is going to be successful getting attention if the only thing they have to sell is an idea. Facts, data, compelling user stories, ROI numbers, etc., are all essential to getting quality coverage in top-tier media. Lots of tech start-ups are founded by people with fantastic technical skills and great vision, but lack the communications skills to make their ideas obvious to a wider audience. Again, that’s what we do at VOXUS.

Leu does make one decent point: ensure that any agency you’re considering working with has a track record of recent success representing companies that are like yours, whether it’s in the same market or a similar business challenge.

I guess one out of five isn’t bad…

*Leu’s “journalism” background consists of a few months as a traffic reporter, about a year writing puff pieces for a third-tier bi-monthly lad magazine in Florida and the last several years writing his own blog called “SiliconValleyBachelor.com.” Most recent post: a girl in a bikini holding a drink. The New York Times, it’s not…

May 8, 2013

Media pitching: fear not the phone!

A large part of a PR professional’s job is pitching news to the media and successfully getting coverage in targeted publications. However, editors and writers are very busy and receive a million calls a day, so it can sometimes be nerve-racking to pick up the phone to pitch a story verbally rather than by sending an email. Our best advice is to email the pitch and always follow up with a call. Yes, it takes time out of your day, but phone calls humanize and personalize your stories, so if you have a newsworthy story you believe in, get on the phone and tell the media about it.

ContentImageHandler.ashxNevertheless, editors and writers are people. Some are fun and easy to get along with, others are grumpy and impatient. Many are overworked and have little time for calls and story ideas that don’t really apply to their readers So if the calling process intimidates you, here are a few must-know, must-follow tips to keep you on the right track.

Write a script
Write down either a full script or bullet points of your pitch; do not jump on a call without planning what you’re going to say. No matter how familiar you are with the story, a script will help you stay on track and focused on the newsworthy elements.

Once you’ve created your script, read it out loud a few times to make sure it flows and feels comfortable. This will help you be more confident.

Call early in the day
Usually reporters are on a deadline in the afternoon or evening, so don’t procrastinate. Call first thing in the morning when writers have time to chat.

Keep it brief
Keep your pitch to 30 seconds or under. Writers have jobs to do, so if you can get the important points of your pitch out quickly it will be appreciated.  If the writer is interested, he/she will ask additional questions. Your pitch should get to the heart of the story quickly.

Be prepared to answer questions
Have detailed examples, statistics and/or stories to back up your pitch, and be prepared to pass along the contact information of people who can be interviewed to tell these stories.

This is the oldest sales/customer service trick in the book. If you are smiling while you are talking on the phone you sound more pleasant to the person on the other line. If your voice sounds monotone and unenthusiastic, so does your pitch. If the writer can tell that you’re not excited, why should he or she be interested in anything you have to say?

Rejection happens
Writers are going to say the word ‘no’ to you. Get used to it and pick up the phone and dial the next number. Don’t get offended, don’t analyze the reasons why, just move on and try that writer again the next time you’re pitching.

May 3, 2013

Contributed articles can turn CEOs into thought leaders

As PR and marketing professionals, we hear the term constantly during planning meetings with a client’s executive management.  The CEO wants to be positioned as a thought leader, or someone who is considered to be on the cutting edge of innovation and is helping to guide his or her industry into the future.  A thought leader’s opinion is usually important, sought after and commented on by media, analysts and other industry influencers.

How can you turn a CEO into a thought leader? For those of us in marketing and public relations, it can be a daunting task.  One way to achieve this goal is to utilize contributed article opportunities.


Contributed articles are great ways to share trends, best practices and a vision for the future within any industry.  Many publications consider these articles to play a vital role in their success.  Most of the time you can work with the CEO to determine the topic and key points, then draft an article for his or her approval.  Once published, the piece can be posted on a website, used for social media posts and integrated into sales and marketing collateral.

Before you go down this road, consider these tips for success:

No selling. Many will be disappointed to learn that the best articles contain no company or product information.  They are specifically designed to help colleagues and other observers stay on top of the latest trends.  Credibility comes from addressing challenges and opportunities facing the industry, not just a particular company or set of customers.  The article will contain a byline for the author, and that’s enough.

Be specific. Before writing the article, you will be required to submit a well thought-out topic, headline and at least one paragraph to explain the focus of the piece and what readers can expect to learn.  Take the time to create a quality pitch to the magazine’s editors.  It’s the most important part of the process and not to be taken lightly.

Be patient. If submitted for a print publication, articles could be held for up to three months.  Conversely, web articles are typically posted within a week or two.

Contributed articles can often open doors to build or develop relationships with key media, analysts and industry influencers.  Other benefits can include speaking opportunities at major trade shows and events.




April 22, 2013

LinkedIn Recommendations for CEOs

When a CEO becomes interested in building a larger presence on LinkedIn, here are some of the suggestions we’ve provided in the past to get him or her started, organized by the amount of time and effort needed:

imagesLevel 1 (Low Participation) – Approx. 30 minutes – 1 hour a week
• Join five LinkedIn groups.  Pick five groups that are related to your company or industry, and ones you feel comfortable participating in. The second step is to make comments when the right topic is posted within those groups. We recommend checking in with the groups once a week to see if there’s a new topic of conversation you’d like to join.
• Post one link to profile wall once a week.  These links can be to anything related to the company. Whether it’s specific company news or industry news, the more you post on your profile, the more attention will be received.

Level 2 (Medium Participation) – Approx. 1 – 2 hours a week
• Create posts in two of the five groups.  Instead of making brief comments to other users’ posts, create your own posts within those groups to generate more conversations revolving around topics that relate to the company’s products, services, and industry. The company name should not be mentioned in the post so that group members do not assume it is a sales pitch.  This allows you to control the conversations, generate discussions and glean potential customer and industry leader feedback.
• Post revised version of group post to your wall.  Anything that is posted within a group should also be posted to your profile wall.

Level 3 (High Participation) – Approx. 3 – 5 hours a week
• Start new group.  Creating a new group allows you to invite customers and other contacts to join and participate. Create one company specific post a week and recruit internal marketing personnel to post industry news and other information. We would advise that the company should create a minimum of eight posts a month. Customers could also create posts sharing their experiences and feedback. The idea is to make it inviting for users that are not current customers to join. This allows you to learn more information about current customers and potential customers and could also lead to great case study material.
• Post revised version your group posts to wall.  This is the same principle as Level 2 except there will be multiple group posts.
• Thought leadership responses to five groups.  Pick three main conversations from the original five groups and write thought leadership-inspired responses. Rather than short comments to certain posts, these responses would be drafted ahead of time and could even be edited and repurposed to fit different groups or shortened to be posted on the wall. These type of thought leadership responses, along with many of the other listed recommendations, will drive more users to not only connect and follow you but also the company brand.

April 19, 2013

Kill The Press Release Obituary

If you work in the PR, marketing or the media world, you’ve most likely read or heard about the death of the press release (see Simon Dumenco’s article in AdvertisingAge, “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) — and Long Live the Tweet” or Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher’s post, “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!”).

diepressreleaseFunny thing is, with the 24×7 media climate we find ourselves in today, predictions of the death of the press release couldn’t be more premature.

Fact #1

Journalists, much like the entire workforce, have less time than ever. They need a tool that gives them the facts, all of the facts, in one centralized place for their stories. The press release accomplishes this in a succinct, easy to read document. Unlike blog posts in general, the press release is a semi formulaic document.

Fact #2

Content is king. The press release actually gives companies a formatted piece of content that editors can use to link to tweets, Facebook posts, newsletters, etc.

Fact #3

SEO rules the (digital) world. If you want your companies’ digital footprint to be positive, press releases are a great tool. They are built, if utilized properly, to leverage the most current SEO algorithms.

Fact #4

Even though we live in a digital world, there are times and places where reporters don’t have Internet access. For example, a TV reporter may be working on a report for the evening news in the field. Before they leave the office, they (gasp!) often print out a press release before they set up interviews. That way, they don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to refer to the facts of a story. Granted, their story might not be about a particular press release, but chances are some facts might be contained in an old press release that will be leveraged.

These facts are not a comprehensive, be-all-end-all list. But they are a good guidepost for explaining why the press release is here to stay. Long LIVE the press release!

April 16, 2013

Five Ways Pay Walls Impact PR

Image courtesy of Digital Trends

As readership continues to shift from print to online, newspapers have begun to embrace pay walls (as opposed to free online content) as a way to regain some lost revenue. But how will pay walls impact public relations? Some might worry about reduced exposure for a client or reduced ability to research reporters, but PR professionals shouldn’t worry. It’s likely pay walls won’t hurt PR, but they might change it. Let’s examine how.

Why are online papers using pay walls?

Print readership is in decline. In response, many online newspapers have beefed up online content and tried to add online advertisers, but that might not be enough. Figures from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism show us that for every dollar newspapers earn digitally, they’re losing seven in print. That’s why they’ve turned to pay walls.

Besides the obvious bump in revenue, pay walls offer newspapers three main benefits. First, though charging for access might cut down visitor numbers initially, those that are left will be more loyal to the brand. Charging for access opens up a whole new revenue stream and allows publishers to serve up more targeted content and ads. It also benefits journalism itself by requiring the news organizations to produce unique and high-quality articles to convince people to pay.

How will pay walls impact PR?

1. Pay walls create a shallower pool of potential readers, but the remaining audience will be more engaged. Online newspapers see a drop in readership after implementing pay walls, but their remaining audience is typically more loyal and more engaged. When someone pays for content, it can be assumed that they actually want to read the content. And for PR pros, we want people to actually read the content about our clients.

2. Content marketing will become more important. Content marketing is presenting brand content in the style of journalistic reporting rather than regular marketing copy. Being blocked from some content, readers may turn to brand websites for more information. In this instance, it’d be important to write content as it would appear in a media outlet, or as a reported piece.

3. Most pay walls allow visitors a generous number of free clicks. Most online newspapers allow visitors free access to a certain number of articles before having to pay. For instance, the Los Angeles Times offers 15 free stories per month while The New York Times offers 20 free stories. Most website visitors will not reach this threshold; however, this could have an impact on researching beats of reporters.

4. The potential for articles going viral is not likely to be affected. Content accessed via links shared from social media platforms don’t count toward the monthly limit. In case PR pros have reached their monthly limit for free content, this is another route for them to conduct their media research and review articles for free.

5. Online newspapers will likely be more interested in running a story as an exclusive. It might be enticing to offer an exclusive if papers can run a story as “exclusive subscriber-only content.” If their paper is the only place readers can get a story, then they’ll be more likely to get more people paying. 

As we can see above, pay walls will not negatively impact PR. There might be some changes, but there will also be added benefits, including survival of print newspapers. And if they survive, there will be more opportunity to secure original articles for your client.

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