Every tech business needs leads to survive. Many turn to PR to bring them in. However, it can be an uphill struggle if you haven't got the right ingredients. For starters you need a board and sales team that understands PR isn't a lead generating tap that produces instant leads. It takes time. You also need a great story to tell, and most importantly people who are great at telling it for the press to take notice and write about it.
This guide will help you navigate some of these challenges and produce a strategy that will get traction and deliver results.
You will struggle to get any PR programme off the ground if the board doesn't see its value. Firstly, they won't fund it, and worst still they will pull the plug if they don't see instant results.
It's fair to say that reputation is everything today. CEOs do understand that customers make buying decisions based on all manner of things, not just the quality and price of your product or service. From whether you are ethical in your trading arrangements, fair to suppliers, through to being a responsible employer, demonstrating your values is essential to underpinning the brand's success.
But that won't be what the board is interested in most. It's the bottom line they are worried about. You therefore have to show that PR will contribute to the overall company goal. Start from this point when you are designing a strategy and you will convince the CEO it's worth pursuing PR. If the goal is to increase market share, attract investment or find channel partners then you need to show PR will support this aim.
Looking at competitor activity can help. If other businesses in your space are in the press with positive coverage week in week out and their market share has been growing then you have a case to say PR is contributing to their brand perception and growth. That's a powerful argument and one the CFO will buy-in to as well.
It's also a helpful way to point out that the conversation about keeping smart cities secure will be happening regardless of whether you contribute or not. It's better if it happens with you than without.
Convincing the board of PR's value is a huge step forward. However, you do need to set some expectations as to what PR will achieve because it won't generate leads overnight.
What it will do is start to build your profile with the press. The more familiar the press is with your brand, and the contribution you can make to the debate, the more likely they will write about you when you offer comment. Get it right and over time you will become the 'go to' to ask for comment on hot topics.
That said, leads aren't totally out of reach. It is possible to get leads from PR. The trick is to get all of the ingredients right - clear message, great spokespeople, proactive campaigns to generate coverage, and a concerted efforts to use the coverage you achieve for marketing purposes.
The next section will explain the ingredients in more detail and how they work together.
It's often assumed that PR programmes require an endless stream of press releases. In fact, in 90% of cases, coverage has come from everything but a press release. Mostly it's down to using your opinion to join the conversation the press is interested in writing about.
There are lots of ways in which you can join the conversation, but before you get started you have to be clear about what it is you want to say. Your prospects will be searching for your opinion as part of their decision process, and your clients will be looking for continued reassurance you understand what the future holds for their industry or specialism.
It's therefore crucial what you say resonates with them and positions you as an authority. For some CEOs this rolls off the tongue, for others it's harder to break the tunnel vision of product and service and talk about the wider issues. But it's vital that you do think more broadly because that is what the press wants.
That's why we always suggest you develop a set of three to five key messages that you want to be famous for. They will be aligned to the company goals. So for instance you might have developed a cloud security product that reduces risk to IoT devices connected to a network with everything resting on it to grow your business.
As it stands the press won't be interested in the technology itself, or that you want to grow your business with its launch. What they are interested in are the issues related to the product - in essence why does the product need to exist in the first place?
So consider the problems you product or service solves:
Asking questions like this will help you understand the important issues of the day and establish your key messages.
It's useful to get senior people from across the business involved in this process. Not only will you get a picture of what's happening in the market, you'll also start to establish who could be your spokespeople as you can't always rely on a CEO to be available. You might find people who are expert in the issues facing retailers or banks so you can create a vertical version of your story, and others who can talk about R&D and enthuse people about the future. This will broaden the opportunities you have to speak to the press and ensure your message lands every time.
It's a good idea to test the messages you arrive at. Check they stand out from the crowd, and offer something new to the debate, as it's this that will get a journalist's attention. If you overlap with a competitor too much then you aren't giving the journalist a compelling reason to choose you - especially if you're relatively unknown in comparison. If you fail to get this part of the strategy right then the PR programme will fail and you will be back to square one with the board.
The final step is to rehearse the messages. Make sure the CEO and your other spokespeople, can deliver them eloquently and succinctly, because if they can't the press won't listen - nor will employees or customers. This is a skill and it doesn't always come naturally.
Media training can be hugely beneficial in helping people practice getting the right message across. And as most media training is done by journalists it's a good way to uncover any issues you've overlooked, and prepare answers to those tricky questions lurking in the background.
When you've determined your messages and have your spokespeople ready to deliver them, then the next step is to approach the press.
As we've already said this isn't about relying on press release. The tech press especially won't cover news related to a new product or service unless it is absolutely ground breaking or going to smash the status quo apart. By all means send them, especially if it is necessary for shareholder communications, but don't think it will get you front page headlines. That said there are some releases that will get noticed, generally they relate to major partnerships, customer wins, and substantial investment.
Those sorts of stories don't grown on trees so you'll need to employ a selection of other techniques:
Features and story hijacking requires science: knowing which press write about the topics you want to be known for. When you know who to target, and what sort of story they will want, or the angle they are likely to take, you can then approach them with your ideas and opinion. The same goes for by-line articles.
Research and reports are a little different. These pieces of content get around the problem of having no news at all and are designed to generate multiple pieces of coverage in one go.
Now what? I'm generating coverage but can I say I am creating leads? Yes and no. It's not always clear if PR has caused someone to pick up the phone - not unless they tell you. And it might not be one piece of coverage that's been the catalyst, it might have been a number of pieces that have helped you to stand out. The buying decision can be protracted in the tech industry and it can take time for all the stars to align before someone can act on their decision - budget allocated, senior sponsorship secured, a contract coming up for renewal.
But all the time you are being creative and offering new insight and opinion to the press you are building your profile and drip feeding your audience with reasons why you are so good at what you do. It's this that will push people to consider you when they come to make those important buying decisions. In short you have credibility.
Using advertising to generate the kind of credibility we've described would cost substantially more than any PR programme and won't be nearly as effective in helping you get your key messages across. Adverts are short and punchy. PR coverage is involved and detailed and can be sustained for far longer than an ad campaign, which generally last as long as there is budget.
Budget for advertising is hard to come by and the business often has to make a choice about which to do. However, with clever use of PR assets it's possible to use PR to run marketing and lead generation campaigns.
Let's take the PR tactic of running research to find out what consumers think about driverless cars. It's easy to package up the results, send them to the press and take the coverage. But with a lead generating mindset they can be used far beyond the initial findings.
By producing a report of the findings, you can not only give the press a set of stats to work with, but also add some context, and explain what the results indicate, how traffic planners, or software developers should respond and offer advice on how to manage public concerns on issues such as security, that are uncovered. You can offer far more detail than you can in a press release and again demonstrate you are an authority on these matters.
But more than that, this report can also be used in lead generation campaigns. It can be emailed to prospects, shared with customers and used to start a conversation about how you can help them overcome the challenges presented and the opportunities that exist.
The tools available in marketing automations platforms such as HubSpot allow you to effectively 'squeeze all of the juice' out of your PR content. Taking the report described above as an example of a high-value piece of content, you can leverage this in HubSpot in all three stages of the buyer's journey. Here's an example:
Of course, once you've convinced the board that it needs to do PR, then you have to prove that they were right to back you and it does contribute to the company goal. There are numerous ways to share your successes:
So we've discovered that strategic PR can generate leads but it requires investment and support from the board. Putting company goals at the heart of the campaign is therefore imperative. Plus it makes the ROI much easier to define and measure.
But to truly generate leads, PR plans must encourage broader adoption across the business. Everyone must understand that great PR not only produces coverage in the press, but it also creates collateral that can be used by sales teams and beyond. It's this integrated view of PR and marketing that makes the best brands stand out and drives leads.