If you're a CMO or CEO of a startup or even a mid stage tech company, this post is for you...
Over the past few months as I've gotten back into blogging, I've decided that my approach of writing, which is more surrounding the concept of IPO-insight, perspective, and opinion, is something that most PR folks working with tech and telecom companies are either scared of, or their clients don't want anyone asking questions that would allow for an actual story to be written.
What I'm finding is that gone are the days where bloggers, or industry influencers, were being courted and convinced to write real stories. Instead, the PR firms and clients they have, or the internal PR managers of companies, would rather NOT have to answer questions or share details that, for whatever reason, they don't want to address, explain or disclose.
One reason is the so-called "news announcement" isn't the basis for a story beyond what the company has said. That's announcement journalism. It's not that the don't want a story written. It's the fact that there's no story to be written.
For this types of announcements, it's better to write a nice "why we did this piece" on LinkedIn, Medium or as a blog post on the company's own site, as it's not "news." It's also why real reporters and editors don't cover the announcement because it is not news that's worth covering.
Oh, and the sites that do run the so-called news, don't be fooled. They're often being paid in some way to have someone rewrite the release, but God forbid, they don't ask hard questions, they just write the release, so the right keywords trigger ads that bring in money. That also applies to some of the larger outlets who simply write mostly about "new an shiny" or produce the occasional review. They just need content to put between the ads. Again, it's not a feature story. It's a bunch of words strung together to call up ads that generate $$$$$.
Oh, and some of those sites also love to play the name game.
- Got a VC involved. Check the box, run the release as a story.
- Got a pedigree exec as a founder from an exit to Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, SalesForce...run the release..
- Got some ties to Uber...run the story....
But find an angle..that's what the Wall Street Journal and New York Times are for...and the reporters there are really working hard for those real stories, as the PR folks are not really giving them the details, just the hype.
As a test, I started to fire back questions when I was asked to cover some weak story pitches like one from a telecom company winning some unified communications business from an NHL team. Given my background with the Philadelphia Flyers, (among other roles there I ran their office, bought the first System 75 sold to an arena-a precursor of sorts to what Unified Communications offers today) I was able to come up with a bunch of use case examples that I thought would make for interesting angles. Here they are:
- What role does it play with scouts and communications?
- How does UC benefit the GM in making trades?
- Are there any new benefits that UC brings to the waiver wire?
- When games/events are in process how is UC connecting the game night crew and to who?
- How have the XXXXX used UC to connect everyone from office, to homes, to when on the road...? Call it RoadGames?
- What was the Goal in switching to IP based Communications?
- How is YYYYY being used so scouts, coaches, GM, player personnel director are all in sync?
- What collaboration goes on inside the XXXX organization via YYYYYY?
What I got back was "we'll check with the client." That was almost a week ago. Either the client doesn't know about the pitch, doesn't want to comment, or the "win" isn't really live yet so instead of waiting to tell the story in a few months, the brand marketing team blows out a release when it's what we call a "nothing burger." What's worse though is the PR person, didn't even pick up on the cue to talk with me. PR = Public Relations. The emphasis is on "relations" ...or so I thought. Here was an opportunity to cultivate a relationship, and the shot taken goes wide of the net.
Another request came from a CaaS company surrounding a release that was more executive positioning than worth the embargo that was asked for. I figured out an angle and would have written, but the release was light on facts, but full of self-serving plaudits - like citing the Gartner Magic Quadrant status the company was able to secure.....YAWN...so the questions I posed included:
- What are the facts that I can use that demonstrates and communicates:
- Number of direct customers (new in 2018/total overall)
- Number of communications providers using XXXX (new in 2018/total overall)
- What percentage of business is attributable to CaaS at XXXX vs. DID number sales revenue
- How much (percentage) growth has XXXXXX seen with CaaS services in 2018 vs. 2017 vs. other revenue centers (growth/decline would also be good to know)
- What XXXX is doing differs from YYYYYYY which is a public company chasing the same markets
A third request came from a top-rated VPN company where they were pitching the angle around the need for VPN usage when using Wi-Fi at airports. Having worked with Boingo in the past, before their IPO, that knowledge gave me deep insight into airport Wi-Fi, so I asked for some specifics surrounding how the company had deemed one airport as the "most insecure" in the country.
Basically, I was looking to learn what they were comparing between the airports. I also asked if their study had the data to show airports whose Wi-Fi is run by the airport themselves vs. Boingo as I felt that Boingo likely does a more consistent job with security between their owned and operated vs. roaming properties vs. the airports that are doing their own thing. Nothing.
At the end of the day, PR firms and in house practitioners pitching stories are harming the companies. In each of the above cases I had an angle to write about, and in each case, the lack of any real substance held back insightful coverage. Instead, these companies get what they think they want. A release appears somewhere, and some marketing person see's an uptick in SEO.
That's not PR and that's not generating coverage.
If you're a CMO or CEO and want to get real coverage about your business talk to me. If you're just looking for outlets that will simply run your news release I'll help you trim your budget to what that release is really worth....You can reach me at [email protected] or better yet, send me a message via LinkedIn.