When drafting a press release for a client recently, I highlighted a lot of the themes that would have made it a great newspaper feature. These included dramatic government budget cutbacks, a scramble for funds among richer and poorer regions, and how the vendor’s solution helped bring affordable IT services to all.
My client, as is their perfect right, told me to lay off the negative tone, which I did. But remember this is a press release, designed to get the attention of editors and readers who like drama and conflict. In these days when every vendor is a publisher, can we can really afford to keep press releases and case studies free of anything that smacks of bad news or negativity?
I know the job of a PR person or lawyer is to protect their client's image, and to ensure they don't look as if they’re taking sides in political (or any other) fight. But this isn’t the old days when a vendor could leave it up to a trade publication to use their press release as a starting point, and give the “real” (messy) story all the drama and ink it deserves. Trade pubs don’t have the staff or time to do that follow-up reporting these days.
So if you’re a vendor and you have a story that legitimately addresses a real controversy, are you hiding your light under the proverbial basket if you eliminate all the conflict? And when competing against bloggers who won't hesitate to tell the full story, where do you draw the line? Am curious to hear how you PR pros out there are handling this eternal conflict these days.
At Schwartz Communications’ breakfast roundtable on content marketing last week, attendees were asked to rank which channels they used to get the news out about their company. Plenty of people use “blogs,” “Twitter,” “Facebook,” or “LinkedIn” but “press release” barely registered.
That led one attendee to ask why. Her employer, a B2B electronics manufacturer, regularly uses press releases that have been optimized for search engines. They get decent readership, she said, as well as some media mentions. From the tone of her voice, she was wondering if she was crazy for still issuing press releases or everyone else was crazy for avoiding them.
I thought I had killed off the press release earlier this year with my post pointing out there’s fewer and fewer official “press” folks to distribute news to, and that they’re more and more likely to hear your news over the Web before you “release” it. No “press,” no “release” means no need for a “press release,” right?
OK, maybe not for everyone. You’ll always have important news to share with the world and if you want to call it a “press release,” go for it. Just remember the aim is to share news with the world, not just “release” it to the “press.” So what should you do differently?
Don’t just do a press release and share it over the syndication services. Reuse the content in the form of Tweets, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc
Do search-engine optimize both the press release and the spin-off content, based on an analysis of the keywords your target audience searches for.
Don’t write about what you think is exciting. Write instead about what’s in it for the reader (whether that’s a reporter, customer, industry analyst, or investor.) Include a benefit statement for that target reader in the first paragraph of every press release. For example:
Backing up its promise to aggressively comply with new financial regulations, Goliath Universal Bank today announced it has already met 2014 requirements established by this summer’s financial regulatory overhaul…
Bringing iSCSI capabilities to the small business network-attached storage market for the first time, PackRat Storage today announced…
Adding HP products to the existing IBM and HP offerings it can provide customers, Joe’s Regional Geek Services today announced it has become an HP Silver Solutions Partner…
And drop the useless quotes. “We are very pleased to have Amalgamated Stores choose us as their exclusive supplier of paper towels for their five trillion retail outlets worldwide.” Of course you’re pleased, the quote says nothing and will drive readers away lest you follow up with something equally dull.
Whether you call your news a “press release,” a “blog post” “mutterings from around the water cooler” or just “content” is less important than how you write it. Focus on what the reader wants to know, rather than what’s exciting to you from inside the organizational glass bubble. Then reuse it, share it, repeat it and search-optimize the heck out of it.
Software consultancy Software Advice has a good business model: Provide customers free software reviews and advice, both on-line and over the phone, and get paid by vendors when they pass on a quality lead based on those interactions. Its market analyst Lauren Carlson also had an interesting recent post about the major trends pushing customers towards marketing automation software, which tracks prospect behavior to determine which products they’re most likely to consider. Among the main drivers she listed: Buyers’ desire for quality content; an aversion to sales calls (especially before prospects are ready for one), the need for marketing to prove its value to the business and the fact that sales cycles are longer in a down economy.
I agree with her drivers, and would add another one: The decline of the trade press which used to be a source of trusted analysis and objectivity for customers. It would seem PR and marketing firms can help their customers by delivering the skills, processes and content B2B companies need to make marketing automation software work. Recent survey data indicates these are the top three hurdles to companies adopting MA software.
All of which begs the question: Which of these specific hurdles is most critical, and where do B2B vendors need help getting the benefits of MA software? Help us find the answer by taking a two-minute survey on what’s keeping you from MA heaven, and see instant results on how you stack up vs. your peers. And if there are hurdles I missed, I'd love to hear about them...
Some of the more forward-looking PR firms I work with are looking to supplement traditional PR offerings with demand generation services, using marketing automation software such as Marketo and HubSpot to track prospect’s actions to “nurture” them with additional content towards a sale.
I’ve long had a gut feeling that this is a good way to go, and my belief has been confirmed my recent survey results cited by the DemandGen Report. They show that the use of marketing automation software is indeed taking off, but not as quickly as some had hoped.
Why? Turns out that, just as with so many other IT initiatives, that having the right people and processes is as important as having the right software. These include not having the right or sufficient number of people (52% of those polled) and not having the right processes (43% of those polled.) Lack of good content was cited by 32%, but that’s such blatant self-promotion I shouldn’t mention it. Except I just did.
The types of services customers need are well suited to what PR can provide. PR firms already have deep relationships with clients, and understand – and in some cases helped create – their branding messages. They’re also skilled at creating content for different audiences, either using their own employees or outside help. As for having the right processes to put marketing automation to work, that’s something we’re all learning in real time – and those who get it right first will have a competitive edge.
With fewer and fewer pubs to pitch to – and less bang for the buck in pitching bloggers who may or may not have influence – it seems like showing they can generate valuable leads for a client is a good move for PR firms. Or is it too far outside their core compentency?
To succeed, the “social media press release” must focus more on content than Web bling.
Catherine Marenghi, senior PR manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions (a client of mine) read my recent post asking if it’s “Time to Kill the Press Release?” because it’s too stilted and vendor-focused, and asked what I thought of the Social Media Press Release (SMPR) template.
My first thought was that a “Social Media Press Release Template” makes about as much sense as a mahogany console for an iPhone. On second thought, my first thought was right.
The template looks like a gussied-up version of the traditional press release. The key innovations, if you can call them that, are a link and RSS feed to a purpose-built del.icio.us page with hyperlinks to “relevant historical, trend, market, product & competitive content sources…context as-needed, and, on-going updates” as well as blank spots for photos, videos, podcasts, etc.” There’s nothing here that couldn’t be done as well, or better, by a well-done blog post, Webinar, white paper, etc. with similar links.
The central problem is that this “Social Media Press Release” is still all about the vendor, which is why it doesn’t work in today’s world of “two-way” conversations among customers and vendors. As I argue in my post, the people you need to reach – prospects and customers – want far more candor, insight and context than you can deliver in a press release that’s been scrubbed of all three by PR, legal and marketing.
The fact that press releases focus on naval-gazing is probably why they’re often read first and foremost by competitors. And why not, since they focus on tweaks in management, distribution, product wins, sales or product features in terms that are more critical to competitors than customers? Only problem is that you’re spending money and time to feed your competitors info.
Similarly well-intentioned advice I’ve seen more recently makes the same mistake, describing how to do Web-friendly things like optimizing the press release for search engines, and adding multimedia and tags. Nothing about the core of the press release – what it says!
If you must write sterile press releases, go ahead, and if you want to Web-optimize, that’s probably a good idea. But focus your efforts, and your spending, on content that explains why the reader – the prospect – should care about what you’re doing.
Let’s say – let’s just say – you were a huge oil company, or a government agency, desperately trying to recover from a major blunder. You’re not sure how bad things are or when you can fix the situation. But do you do know you messed up real bad, didn’t move quickly enough to fix the problem and are desperately trying to calm everyone down while you scramble to undo the damage you’ve caused.
Yes, I’m talking about the oil slick the size of Puerto Rico now drifting towards the Gulf Coast. Federal and oil industry officials keep repeating nonsense like “utilizing every available resource” and “mitigating impacts” and wondering why the public doesn’t trust them.
What I’m not hearing enough of, in either official briefings or press reports, are details like:
75 skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels, as well as dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and offshore drilling platforms are spreading chemicals and booms to keep the oil from reaching sensitive shoreline.
They have already put in place more than 275,000 feet of booms l—an increase of nearly 60,000 feet since yesterday – and are preparing to deploy another 316,470 feet.
Nearly 2,000 people are working to protect the shoreline and wildlife.
Those numbers are real (as of May 1) but I had to read past acres of blather in the transcript of a government briefing to find them. The same is true in a lot of business to business marketing materials. Sellers hide behind the jargon they feel comfortable with, the marketing “buzzwords” they feel they must include and the platitudes they think people want to hear rather than using plain English.
Easily understood specifics help the reader or listener understand what you’re doing, and to weigh it against what should be done. The reader (or customer) will eventually learn what a government agency did and didn’t do, and what your product can and can’t do. Why not say it clearly, up-front, so everyone can get on with solving the problem of the day, whether it’s an oil spill or a stalled ERP implementation.
Speak English, not platitudes, to me and I’m much more likely to let you keep drilling for oil offshore, or for money in my wallet.
Gotten a pitch to attend a conference or trade show lately? Did you decide to spend the money, or ditch it and stay in the office? It’s tough to get people to part with their money, or their time, to attend conferences these days. But one way to do it is to give them a sample of what they’d get if they attended.
A recent email from the SAP Insider trade pub for their Administrator and Infrastructure Conference did a good job of doing exactly that. After a brief introductory paragraph or two, it provides a teaser list of six tips (each of which is actually a “best practices”) that was presented during earlier conferences. They are:
You don’t have to be an SAP expert to see that each tip is specific and technical enough to show the prospect the type of nitty-gritty value they’d get from the conference. By tracking which newsletter recipients click through to which tip (yes, the prospect has to give up their contact info to get the tip) SAP Insider (or a sponsor) can infer what products each prospect is using, and what challenges they’re facing. So even if you don’t get the prospect for the conference, you might have a lead for a product or service sale.
It’s a great example of “selling by offering value,” using valuable content that already exists from previous events. What great, usable content is sitting around your organization you could be using to attract conference attendees – or sales leads?
It’s good news these days to see a company whose revenue grew more than 70% year over year, as encryption vendor Voltage Security announced today. (They’re even profitable, more to the point.)
It’s an even better story when the earnings press release holds the germ of a trend story, which this does – but not until the sixth graf. That’s when Voltage says one reason for its success is that many customers are using Voltage’s encryption products to reduce the size of their PCI (Payment Card Industry) audits.
For any reporter covering the retail, financial services or credit card industry, that smells like a trend story. For another sentence or two, Voltage could have explained exactly how their encryption helps trim a PCI audit down to size, and roped editors in even further.
Earnings releases – especially those showing growth – are great opportunities to point to new market trends. And trend stories get a vendor a lot more ink than a one-off earnings announcement, no matter how positive.
At my advanced age (a sister, a cousin and a friend just became grandparents!) it isn’t often I run across a completely new source of great ideas to solve an “evergreen” problem.
But while doing some research on customer retention for a client, I stumbled on Bill Lee, who blogs and Tweets on the very specific topic of how to get customers to serve as “references” – i.e., to be quoted, interviewed, cited, etc. on how great your product or service is.
With every customer source doing two to three jobs, and with legal and PR types more nervous than ever about anyone saying anything, it’s getting harder and harder to get reference customers. Bill culled some great ideas from the 2009 Customer Reference Forum and the 2009 Summit on Customer Engagement – neither of which I knew even existed.
Among the tips:
· Tie a contractual agreement to serve as a reference customer to quarterly performance reviews, basing the case study or reference on what the vendor did right in response to the performance review.
· Doing surveys of your customer base about their satisfaction with your offerings and publicize the favorable rankings – no PR or legal approvals needed!
· Make asking for case studies part of a broader push to involve customers by inviting them to serve on executive forums, advisory boards or customer or industry communities. That provides value for them, not just you.
There’s much more (including tips for getting more budget for your customer reference efforts) at the full posting. If you’re going nuts trying to get reference customers, this will be a breath of fresh air.
Bob Scheier is a 20-year veteran of the IT trade press whose specialty is translating IT jargon into business benefits. Besides writing for major trade publications such as Computerworld, he produces white papers, email newsletters and other marketing collateral for major IT vendors including Microsoft, AT&T, Symantec and Nokia.