How to put your company on the PR map: a short primer

Most of the content you will read today is the result of many hours spent balancing the needs of the companies you are reading about, and of the outlets that are publishing the information. This means that while you might read about the same story in different titles, the angle will differ depending on the publication’s readership. Just as a sales professional will position a product to make it relevant to a given prospect, editors cover subjects according to the readers they need to reach.
In the crowded data storage and IT market generally, vendors are constantly clamouring for an increased share of voice i.e. a growing portion of relevant coverage and conversations in their target media and blogs (this refers to free editorial rather than paid for advertising). However influential writers get literally hundreds of announcements every day telling them about new products, services, programmes, case studies, and much more. This means that while editors are genuinely interested in relevant news, sometimes they simply cannot report each one of them and have to select just a handful that will make the final cut.
So how can you give your company the highest chance to be covered? Are big stunts the only way to get some attention?
Luckily for you, no. It really is a case of quality not quantity, although you should stay away from the flash-in-the-pan approach to PR.
Live on benefits
Your company has probably hired some of the most skilled sales and marketing people around but there is only so much credibility that you can gain among media, bloggers and end users by telling them about why your company and products are unique and stand head and shoulders above the rest. What is going to make a real difference is to have your customers talk about the benefits they have realised by deploying your solution. Did your solution enable competitive advantages for your customers? Save them significant dollars? And better still: would they openly recommend your technology to other end users? If you have the evidence to prove these real-world benefits you are already on the path to editorial success.
The most effective time to discuss becoming a public reference with a customer is early on, when you are negotiating prices, support contracts, etc then, once the solution is in and the benefits have been realised all you need to do is to get the user to tell the story. A case study will be worth much more than your entire team telling all their contacts about your products. Why? Because it’s an independent endorsement by someone who has actually used your technology and who has nothing to gain from extolling its virtues, so they are taken very seriously. 
Alongside getting your customers to talk about the benefits your products offer, you should ensure that when you or your colleagues talk about what your company can do, you focus on the benefits first and then back these up with features: for example increased productivity is a benefit, one million IOPS is a feature. How do your customers benefit from choosing your solution over the competition’s? For instance, are you entering a mature market as a new and nimble player which can quickly adapt following customer feedback and requirements? Are you the first one to offer a feature that addresses an issue organisations have had to put up with so far? Take your unique benefits, identify some proof points, bring them to the fore, and make these the key elements of your communications activities.
What’s up?
‘Knowledge is power’ said Sir Francis Bacon and a clear understanding of what is happening in your industry is a very valuable tool indeed. With the pace of developments in the technology industry, media and bloggers are inundated with announcements and invites to launches, vendor and (virtual) trade shows. Share your news pipeline with your PR team as long in advance as possible to fit key announcements around busy periods in the IT calendar and to ensure that the timing is appropriate. As I always say, organising a launch is similar to organising a party: invite your guests too late and you will find that the popular ones have already been invited by someone else. When it comes to PR, send an announcement out too late and the key targets might be too busy to cover it, be out, or have a bigger story to focus on. This means that you should always try to know what might be in your path in terms of events and breaking stories. 
However it is difficult to be aware of every single item in your targets’ diaries so a very effective way of getting around this is by flagging your news and invites well in advance, at least a week in the case of a press release with phone interviews, six to eight weeks if you are looking to meet with representatives from several publications and blogs in person in a single day. Telephone or Zoom/Teams briefings under embargo allow the journalist/blogger to fit in some time to write about your news and to publish it when it goes public. This way you avoid the issue of your press release being cast aside for lack of time on launch day. However do not fall into the flash-in-the-pan trap where you leave too long a gap between your news: out of sight is out of mind so you should aim to send a something out once a month.
Bark up the right tree
It is a common mistake for some companies when they first start to liaise with the media to target every publication with every piece of news. This not only wastes the writers’ time when they scan your announcement but it also does not increase your chances of coverage because if a release is not relevant it will be ignored. The most effective strategy is to identify the outlets your target customers go to for information, and then to select which piece of news to send to which writers. For example, if your customers are operating in the retail space you should get your news in the magazines that focus on that specific market. That does not mean that horizontal titles that cover particular parts of the datacentre such as storage or security should be ignored, but when you have an announcement that is of considerable relevance to a vertical sector you play in you should aim to maximise this. By the same token, if you sell through the channel ensure that you are engaging with the reseller media and encourage your partners to speak on your behalf as you do with customers.
On a broader note, it is no longer just the traditional journalists that you need to connect with, as bloggers and consultants are becoming influential writers in their own right and can carry a tremendous amount of weight among end users. If you are not familiar with those you should engage with, start tracking relevant discussions on social media platforms such as Twitter and linkedIn, monitor comments at the foot of relevant articles, and you will start to identify some of the influencers you should build a discussion with.
Manage your social media presence
Social media can be a very effective communications tool but it should only be embraced if you know that you can do it well remember, you only get once chance to make a good first impression and when it comes to social media you can make it or break it very quickly. 
To start with, there are some key points to consider: first, there is no need to adopt every social media channel currently available in fact some are more relevant than others depending on the nature and stage of your business. At one end is linkedIn, which is mostly used by business-to-business organisations in the middle is Twitter, which can be effective for most companies, whilst at the opposite end is Facebook, a better fit for consumer-facing businesses. There are other social media platforms beside these but, as with many things, it is wiser to start small and grow from there. 
One of the main differences between social and traditional media is the real-time element of the former: if you decide to get yourself a Twitter handle, ensure that you engage in conversations on a regular and frequent (daily at least) basis. It is called, and supposed to be, social and you cannot socialise unless you network with other people and form (virtual) relationships. Stopping and starting, due to poor time availability for instance, has a negative impact, so it is important to think through your social media strategy before you kick it off. If you want to get your name out there, you need to make sure it stays there.
Say what? Be prepared to have opinions
Whether you are looking to create or increase brand awareness for yourself or your company, whether you are aiming for coverage in traditional or social media, getting stuck into the industry debates by commenting on relevant articles and blog posts, or even starting one of your own, provides additional opportunities to gain coverage and get tech-savvy influencers on-side. If you are discussing something which is currently topical, such as the impact of big data, cloud storage, or the challenges around virtualisation management, writers will be all the more receptive to what you will have to say in the future and your content will stand out from that of competitors. Just make sure that you have strong and innovative opinions nobody is interested in a ‘me too’ story.
So where do I start?
It is never too early for a company to discuss and flesh out a communications strategy as this will pervade overall branding, product positioning, sales pitches, website development, and much more. A clear set of messages will ensure that everyone in the company puts forward a consistent picture and, ultimately, will result in a clear profile of the organisation and its solutions, one that journalists, bloggers, other influencers and end users, will more readily understand and more easily discuss.
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