Your PR Program Will Fail If You Don’t Do This

I have a pet peeve. (Actually I have a lot of pet peeves, but that’s a subject for my personal blog.)

I really get frustrated when people start discussing marketing tactics in the absence of a business objective. Let’s do a whitepaper! Why? We should host a webinar! Why?

PR, in particular, is a function that is prone to failure if you don’t have a strong objective defined. To illustrate this I’m going to outline a couple of specific objectives and some ideas on the tactics that would help meet that objective. I think it will show how very different the activities will be depending on the objective.

Objective #1: We need to raise money. For fund-raising you want hits in TechCrunch, ValleyWag, Business Insider and similar publications that are read by the VC set. You want to articles to focus on what makes your business hot and interesting. You also want to try and get on “The Top XX Start-ups to Watch” lists. Profiles of your founders can also be good, especially if they make the business seem hot/cool.

Objective #2: We are a B2B company and we need revenue. You need articles in the top trade publications that are read by your prospects. And you need those articles to focus on the problem you solve. Research is very helpful here — can you publish data that shows that some (large) percentage of companies struggle with the problem you are solving? Remember that negative news gets more ink, but positive news can work too. You also want to focus on speaking engagements at your industry’s top conferences. Thought leadership is the focus of your efforts so content creation is the key. Think about hiring a few freelancers to keep it cranking out.

Objective #3: We are a B2C company and we need more users. I’m not a consumer expert, but here you want to think about placing articles in mainstream articles that are focused on how cool your service is or how you solve a consumer problem. But you might also consider that this is an objective that doesn’t have a PR solution. You might need SEO instead, for example.

Objective #4: We are planning an IPO. This objective is similar to #1, but the audience is different. You aren’t looking for VCs anymore, you are trying to impress institutional investors. So you want mainstream business publications like WSJ, NYT, BusinessWeek and so forth. But the story is also different now. You want stories that illustrate a combination of growth (nowhere to go but up!) and stability (this is no flash in the pan business!). Data that shows the size of the market you are going after are important.

Objective #5: We are hiring (and man is it harder than we expected given the economy). Also similar to objectives #1 and #3 in terms of possible publications to target, but here the story is about how great your company is to work for. Focus on culture, unique perks and the opportunity to be part of something cool. Think about what positions you are most focused on. The messages that will attract engineers might be different from those that will attract sales guys. Also, submit for “top workplace” awards. Start with ones that cover your local market since they tend to be easier to win, then move to national awards.

See? Five objectives, five really different PR plans. Outline your objectives in order to figure out the activities that are most likely to meet those objectives. Your chances of success go up exponentially when you know what success looks like.

Do journalists hate infographics?

I’m going to go ahead and open this blog post with a caveat: it’s based on feedback from just two people. I’m aware that the plural of anecdotes is not data.

With that caveat I found the feedback interesting enough that I want to share.

This week my company put out it’s first infographic (I know, I know. We are behind.) Kudos to the incomparable Tom Sather who created it.

Journalist #1 is a guy who knows our company well, knows our industry and is a big fan of ours. His reaction to the infographic was (and I’m nearly quoting here): “I hate infographics! But I’m happy to interview Tom.” He wrote a great story.

Journalist #2 is a woman who knows our company a bit, knows our industry well but may not fully understand what we do and how we are different from other players in the space. She’s also very skeptical of vendor research, though she did cover our last report. Her feedback was basically puzzlement. She wanted to see “the full study.” We gave her the press release and a blog post Tom wrote. So far no coverage yet but hard to tell if that’s because it’s an infographic or some other reason. The lack of a proper “paper” does seem to be a factor.

In terms of overall coverage it’s a bit too early to tell, both because clips are still coming in and because we haven’t analyzed it yet. But a couple quick thoughts:

1. Some people like pictures, others like words, serve both: Infographics are great, but some people need to *read* something. And I’m guessing that a lot of journalists fall into this camp. So having something written to accompany the infographic is important to.

2. The press release, despite many obituaries, isn’t really dead. This is related to #2, but deserves it’s own call out. The release can serve as the written piece, especially for things that just wouldn’t work as a study or research paper. Key is for the release to be interesting and to have real news in it. Did I have to tell you that?

3. Relationships matter. Journalist #1 has such a great relationship with us that he’d likely have covered our story if I’d just given him a call and pitched it to him cold. Much of the other coverage is coming as the result of a lot of work building relationships with key reporters by giving them good stories for years. I can’t imagine we’d get this kind of coverage just chucking an infographic across to a bunch of people who don’t know us.

4. Tell a good story. Infographics aren’t interesting. Stories are interesting. Infographics can be a great vehicle for telling a story. But if you don’t have a good story then you’ve got nothing. Start over.

What’s been your experience with infographics?