How to Make the Press Bite

Steve Bosak, an expert in Public Relations who specializes in high-tech start-ups, spills the beans on public relations and how to get editors to take you seriously.

A unique product. Excited investors. Positive feedback from initial sales. Could there ever be a better time for a public relations campaign? You bet.

One of the biggest mistakes start-ups make is to engage in public relations far too early. Companies have to be very, very sure they have a product, or they are just going to be wasting their money. Public relations is useless too early in the game.

A PR program can be a strong component in your marketing strategy, but before you even think about writing a press release, you need to know your sales process, customers and competition. Dig deep until you uncover every detail of the whole picture, get into production and sell, sell, sell. After considerable success, you can use public relations as a tool to increase product interest and enhance your sales—but make sure your story is unique and compelling, or the press won’t bite.

So how do you tread water in the sea of public relations? Many new companies look to outside professionals. The key here is to hire an expert, not just a well-known name or a large company with impressive office space. Agency size is not related to results, but experience is. Determine that your account representative, the person you’ll be working with daily, understands your technology. You shouldn’t have to train the person who will be handling your account. Before you sign on the dotted line, find out the nature of the working relationship, pricing and contracts. For example, ask pointed questions about what and how items are invoiced, i.e., faxes, e-mails and mark-ups.

It’s also important to take an honest assessment of your business. If you’re competing in a large market, you’ll need to spend more dollars on public relations. In a modest-sized market, about 40 to 50 agency hours a month should be enough to cover your publicity needs. Of course, additional hours are always possible, but may be a case of overkill. It’s smart to appoint someone in the organization to carefully monitor the agency’s activities.

Smaller companies may find it more cost-effective to do their own PR. According to Bosak, the only real requirement to become a good PR person is to possess top-notch communication skills. His marketing communications company provides in-depth training for companies who want to develop an in-house public relations team. Class graduates are schooled in dealing with the trade press, writing effective press releases and handling crisis communications.

While the basic elements of good PR haven’t changed, the way it is done today has been greatly impacted by technology. Press releases are emailed. Information is disseminated through websites. In fact, websites are becoming a must-have PR tool. Professionally done websites compel people to take action. They provide timely information and an inexpensive way to post special offers. Another bonus: websites can be linked to other partner websites and be built to create an electronic database of potential customers.

Public relations has changed form with the technology age, and it also changes as a company grows. Needs become clearer, and decisions of what to do or whom to hire will become easier. For instance, an in-house PR professional may be the right answer for a new company, but an agency that has a strong international presence or one with a greater media outreach program may fit the bill down the road. During a company’s launch phase, however, it’s wise to begin a PR program deliberately and carefully.

You can’t rely on PR to carry the full weight of product introduction, but a good PR strategy will harmonize and enhance your other marketing efforts. Done well, it will increase your results.

Steve’s Top 4 PR Success Tips & Tricks
  1. Always tell the press the truth. And always return their calls promptly.
  2. Press releases should never handle more than one topic. Keep them as short as possible, never more than three pages.
  3. Whether you hire an agency or do your own PR, it’s imperative that someone in your organization methodically read industry material on a weekly basis.
  4. Press conferences don’t work to a journalist’s benefit. Every journalist attending will know what the other is asking, so there is little incentive for journalists to attend, unless it’s the only way to get important information.
It’s not the number of leads you generate, but the quality of the leads and whether your message was right that are important.
Comfortable, but appropriate shoes are a must for booth staff.
Set quantifiable sales-related objectives for every show and consistently measure them.
Even though approximately 80% of the literature collected at a trade show ends up in the hotel trashcan, it’s important to bring marketing materials that project the right message and create a larger-than-life image for your company.
Trained staff can qualify a person in 30 seconds.
It takes 1.3 calls to close a sale that is a follow up from a trade show vs. 3.7 calls where there is no trade show lead.
Filed under: Marketing, PR, Startups