create effective pitch deckAfter many years producing mostly marketing content for vendors, I’m finding myself doing more technology reporting. That means reaching out to IT vendors for their take on industry trends or  customer references.

That is, when I can find a human being to email. In the several years I’ve been away from the reporting game,  it seems someone removed many of the “press contact” links on vendor home pages. What I instead often see are lead-snagging “bots” that pop up and ask me if I’d like a demo (“No.”) or what challenges I’m facing (“Digital transformation? No.”)

Clicking over to the “Contact Us” page often brings me to a generic form that is, again, clearly designed to snag sales leads. I sometimes leave my query there, but I never know if it will get to someone versed in PR rather than sales, and there’s the risk the query will be lost in the internal shuffle.

Another trick I use to find a media relations person is to go to the “news” section, assuming that each press release will have the name of a media contact. But amazingly, there’s often no contact person listed on the press release, just “Follow Us on Social Media” links. And the media contact list is often buried several sub-pages down within the “news” section.

I certainly get the IT trade press has long since ceased being the only, or even the prime, source of information for IT buyers. However, being mentioned in a “real” publication that editors strive to make impartial and authoritative still holds cachet. That’s why, when I finally get hold of a human being at a vendor, they’re genuinely eager to find me a source to snag a mention in the publication.

If mention in the press is still valuable, and especially if you’re paying in-house staff or external PR pros, why make it so hard for time-pressed reporters to get hold of you?

Include a “media” or “press” contact at the bottom of your home page, and on every press release you publish. Adding a contact name and information (if not of the author, then to a PR contact) to every blog post would also help in case a reporter likes the insights they’re seeing and want more.

And, of course, make sure that contact person checks their email and has some training in how to respond to press inquiries. If it’s worth paying someone to generate content you hope will see the light of day, make it less of a wild goose chase for reporters to find you.

(And speaking of coverage opportunities, if you’d like to be on my revived editorial calendar of current reported stories email me.)

No Contact Info? Then Don’t Do a Press Release

how to write a press release There’s a one-sentence error that almost guarantees an editor, blogger or other influencer won’t call for more information, a chat with your CEO or enough details to write about your latest  announcement.

And I’m seeing more and more vendors making this mistake all the time.

The mistake is not in a sentence they include in the press release, but a sentence they leave out.

The missing info is, believe it or not, the name, phone number and email of a person to contact for more information.

Company to Press: Drop Dead?

PR and marketing folks are probably skipping this “For more information….” line because “press” is thought of as old-fashioned or downright obsolete, with bloggers and social media providing the faster path to awareness. Many companies are also cutting back on internal or external PR to save money and figure any calls aren’t worth their time.

Judging from the requests I keep getting for product and company briefings, I “press” exposure is still important. If you don’t agree, why go to the time and trouble of doing a press release at all? If the aim is to get people to notice you and write/blog/Tweet/podcast about you, why wouldn’t you want to make it as easy as possible for them to talk to you?

Even worse is, often, the lack of any easy to find press contact info on company Web sites. More and more, I need to drill deep into the general “Contact Us” page and even go through a drop-down list to find the “press contact” option. The harder you make it for a writer or editor to contact you, the more likely they’ll click through to a competitor who is easier to work with.

Your Real Readers

Remember also that the “press” has expanded far beyond full-time reporters working for name-brand trade or general interest pubs. For example, I’m doing a series for a vendor-sponsored Web site aimed at developers. It’s run by a former trade press editor, the methodology and sourcing are almost identical to common practice on trade pubs, and the stories are informational and objective, not vendor sales puffery.

For the sources I interview for such stories (such as recruiters and Web sites offering salary benchmarks) I’d bet the coverage on this site is just as valuable as if I were writing for a trade pub. It might even be more valuable, as it’s in the vendor’s interest to aggressively promote the content to the target audience. In any case, they seem happy with the links I’ve sent and are lining up to cooperate on future stories.

Given all that, I’m at a loss for why anyone would issue a press release without contact information. Any clues? And check out these other tips for beefing up your press releases.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Why Won’t Vendors Come Out and Fight?

bigstock-Cartoon-kid-suffering-from-bul-33837272What do your clients do when they’re accused of doing wrong? A) Present a detailed, convincing defense? B) Pretend they didn’t hear the question? C) Talk around the issue with marketing jargon?

The answers, according to my recent experience in a story on software pricing, are B) and C).  A number of  consultants who negotiate software contracts told me that major software vendors are sneaking price hikes by customers with ever more complex contracts, terms and conditions.

None of the four household-name software vendors to whom I sent detailed, specific questions about their pricing policies gave a convincing response.

Two never replied. A third declined comment. The fourth answered with bland marketing-speak and a link to a company blog post announcing a new, supposedly simplified licensing program. But the blog post, like the emailed responses, was mostly marketing jargon.

Even worse, the only comment on the post was a customer complaining that the vendors licensing agreements were hard to understand. In other words, the blog post the PR person referred me to hurt their client’s case.

If you’re actually trying to bamboozle major customers and can’t admit it, fair enough and  good luck. But I suspect there are other, more convincing answers vendors could give. For example:

  • “Yes, our licenses are becoming more complex, but that’s because our customers’ environments are becoming more complex. We’re trying to reach a balance between a fair return on our development and support costs and not gouging our customers. Let us explain the clauses you asked about…”
  •  “We recently changed our virtualization licenses because, with our software running on more physical platforms than we ever expected, our support costs were going through the roof. Virtualization is also putting more demands on our development staff to support features like dynamic migration. We need a price hike to meet these costs and maintain our margins.”
  •  “Yes, we are claiming the right to charge users of third-party apps who access our ERP application. And, yes, when we ask for those charges seems a little arbitrary right now. But we’re working with customers to figure out when it’s appropriate. Here are the questions we’re grappling with…”

Now, let’s look at the downside of refusing to respond or giving canned answers:

  • The reader hears only the charges against you, not your explanation.
  • You lose the opportunity to explain your position and make sure the reporter understands it.
  • You lead the reporter, and reader, to assume you have something to hide.
  • You leave more space in the story to talk about the accusations, not your responses.

I can hear you nodding now and saying “I agree, but I can’t get my boss/clients to listen!” If this is true, what would it take to convince your boss or client to fight back when things get ugly?”

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.
If you can't say something useful...

If you can’t say something useful…

Close to 80 percent of PR folks want reporters to interrupt their clients if the client isn’t doing a good job on an interview.

Those are the most recent results of my quick on-line survey about what reporter and PR pros should do to prep clients for interviews that will result in a quote..

“Be a reporter. Be tough. Ask tough questions,” said one respondent. “I like the idea of course correction, ” said another. Even one of the 13% who leaned instead towards the reporter “doggedly chugging along in hopes the source said they’d be comfortable with attempts at redirection.

For the record, I try – really try – to steer interviews onto more fruitful ground when they’re not going well.  After all, I need good quotes and insights to build my story. But I haven’t yet figured out a polite way to say:

  • “I keep asking specific questions and you keep replying with marketing blather.”
  • “I keep asking what your technology does and you keep describing the problem it solves.”
  • “I keep asking for industry trends and you keep giving me pap like `We’ll continue to respond to our customers’ needs.’”

The Morning After

After the interview-gone-bad is over, just over one quarter of respondents felt it was the reporter’s responsibility to tell the PR person the bad news. Another said it was up to the PR person to take further action, that it “was just one of those things and you try again on a future story.”

Who, if anyone, should force a do-over on a bad interview?

Who, if anyone, should force a do-over on a bad interview?

Of course, most respondents – fairly – said the onus is on reporters to tell them what they need. “I can’t know the interview was a bust unless the reporter gives me what he is looking for in advance,” said another. “If I know it’s about cloud computing in the healthcare industry, fine – my client will be prepared. But (if afterwards) a reporter says to me `I was looking for specific case studies of how real healthcare facilities are using this technology’ then…the reporter…just wasted my clients’ time.”

Many respondents were surprisingly reluctant to ask for sample questions, a standard part of my email newsletter (subscribe here) inviting PR folks to pitch their clients for stories I’m writing.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask (a reporter) for questions beforehand,” said another respondent. “We need to understand the angle, and why the reporter thinks our source is going to be valuable. But to ask for questions in advance is an indication of a lazy or clueless PR person.”

“As a PR person I rarely feel comfortable asking for that detail,” said another. “I’d only do that for someone I have a relationship with and who I know would do so. The key is to understand the type of angle(s) the reporters covering, rather than specific (questions.)”

Finally, several noted messy real-world realities that can doom interviews. “There are absolutely cases where you can prep to the gills, but the CEO will talk about whatever he/she wants and point the finger at the PR person regardless when things don’t pan out. There isn’t a ton of room for ‘I told you so’ in client services, and most of the time, they don’t take lessons learned. Maybe cynical, but true a good portion of the time,” said one.

And rather than care at all, “Most PR (people) are low level (account executives) who think their job is done when they coordinate the interview,” said another.

Earning a Second Chance

Many respondents somewhat wistfully said it would be nice if reporters would ask for another interview if the first went bad. To be honest, that’s probably not something I’ll take the time for.

Here’s an alternative suggestion: If your sense is an interview didn’t cut it, don’t send the usual “Let me know if there’s anything else I can provide” email. Instead, you tell me “I didn’t feel we got our message across as strongly as I could. Would you be willing for me to put together some tight quotes from an executive and, if those pique your interest, we can schedule another interview?”

If I felt your spokesperson did OK, that lets me quickly tell you. If they didn’t, it takes the onus off me to tell you what went wrong while giving your client a second chance.

Sound reasonable? Let me know in the comment field below and, if you haven’t taken the survey, here’s your chance to weigh in.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

No kisses needed for product placement. Really.

Days after Computerworld published my most recent story on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) a friend in PR called to thank me for mentioning his client.

A nice gesture, and probably standard operating procedure at many PR firms. But it was unnecessary, and represents the kind of thinking that actually makes it harder for PR pros to get their clients’ products placed in trade pubs.

A reporter isn’t doing a PR person a favor by mentioning their client or “placing” their product in a story. The PR person did the reporter a favor by connecting them to someone who had something worth saying, and thus made it easier for the reporter to write a good story.

By thinking reporters are doing them a favor by mentioning their clients, PR pros go about the pitching process all wrong. They tend to fall into a mindset of “calling in a favor” with a reporter to get them to listen to their client’s pitch, hoping something will stick.

They should instead remember that PR is a service industry, whose customers are not only their clients but the reporters and bloggers who follow their industries. PR folks should (and the best ones of course know this) build relationships based on trust, where they pitch only the clients who have something good to say and can say it well.

The tough part, of course, knowing when a client is a good fit. Ask yourself:

  • Have I carefully read the reporter’s description of the story and completely understand what they are looking for?
  • Do I have the courage to pitch only those clients who I genuinely believe are a good fit, rather than pitch someone with only a tangential relationship to the story and hope the reporter doesn’t notice?
  • Does the client have something new, interesting or relevant to say about the subject?
  • Is this client ready, willing and able to focus on what the reporter is writing about, rather than turning every question into an opportunity to pitch their products or services?

Yes, I know many clients haven’t developed a good story or the skills to tell it. That’s where the messaging and media training most PR firms offer becomes so important.

I also know many PR clients insist on being pitched even when they’re not a good fit for a story. If you have such a problem client, gather a list of stories for which they were interviewed in which they should have played a major role but got only minor billing, or were left on the cutting room floor altogether. Or, if you think a candid, gentle  (and complementary) one-hour feedback session from a former trade press editor would help, drop me a line.

But above all, remember that when a reporter mentions your client in a story, we do it only because they (and you) earned that mention. Now, it’s up to they (and you) to earn it.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Back when I was a kid, a consumer electronics giant named Zenith had a tag line “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” The message was, of course, that quality was designed in from the ground up, not an after-thought.

I got to thinking about that during, of all things, a conversation a PR veteran with an innovative East Coast agency about how they offer content marketing (the use of tailored content to move prospects towards a sale) to clients who come to them seeking more traditional PR services. Rather than try to sell and educate them on “content marketing,” this PR firm explains the benefits (increased Web traffic, more prospects filling out forms for gated content, higher quality leads) to their clients and uses content marketing to deliver them.

“Content marketing tactics are ingrained in our day-to-day PR work,” he said. This ranges from search-engine optimization of press releases and bylined articles written by their clients for trade publications to make sure they get the most attention. When a client asks for a “thought leadership” white paper or Webinar that’s designed to lead prospects to the vendor’s site, “we make sure we have something on (their) Web site that would nurture that prospect, and potentially turn them into a lead.”

He acknowledges this falls short of a full-fledged content marketing program, which would include the creation of personas for various target customers, content geared to their needs and tracking software to score them based on readership. However, it lets his firm deliver the “immediate gratification” of the boost in Web traffic and leads that comes from story placement in a trade pub (one traditional role of PR) with the longer-term benefits (which he says can take six months or more to appear) of content marketing.

This approach has value because:

It helps prove how content marketing works before asking a client to make a bigger investment in it.

It avoids the confusion around buzzwords such as content marketing vs. marketing automation, demand generation, account-based marketing, Web-based marketing, digital marketing, etc. to focus on the benefits.

It builds on, rather than try to replace, the agency’s traditional strengths and culture.

Perhaps best of all, it makes what could be “only” a PR agency a more integral part of the client’s overall marketing effort, and thus more valuable and harder to replace.

“We have seen increasing appreciation from our prospective clients, and ultimately our customers, that we understand content marketing, that we know it is important,” and that it trains its staff in everything from SEO optimization to the proper use of Web forms to not only drive visibility, but to “close the loop” with action that will help the client’s bottom line.

Zenith has long since faded, a victim of lower-cost foreign manufacturers. But this PR firm is building new services to offer when (and if) its more traditional revenue sources fall. I wonder how many others in PR are finding that “traditional” story placement is still important, and that content marketing is best sold as “built in” rather than a separate service.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Are We Scrubbing the LIfe Out of Press Releases?

When drafting a press release for a client recently, I highlighted a lot of the themes that would have made it a great newspaper feature. These included dramatic government budget cutbacks, a scramble for funds among richer and poorer regions, and how the vendor’s solution helped bring affordable IT services to all.

My client, as is their perfect right, told me to lay off the negative tone, which I did. But remember this is a press release, designed to get the attention of editors and readers who like drama and conflict. In these days when every vendor is a publisher, can we can really afford to keep press releases and case studies free of anything that smacks of bad news or negativity?

I know the job of a PR person or lawyer is to protect their client's image, and to ensure they don't look as if they’re taking sides in political (or any other) fight. But this isn’t the old days when a vendor could leave it up to a trade publication to use their press release as a starting point, and give the “real” (messy) story all the drama and ink it deserves. Trade pubs don’t have the staff or time to do that follow-up reporting these days.

So if you’re a vendor and you have a story that legitimately addresses a real controversy, are you hiding your light under the proverbial basket if you eliminate all the conflict? And when competing against bloggers who won't hesitate to tell the full story, where do you draw the line? Am curious to hear how you PR pros out there are handling this eternal conflict these days.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Management Vendor Gets Ink With SMB Survey

As I’ve written previously, if you’ve going to do a survey hoping to get ink make sure it generates some hard news. A recent survey by network management vendor Spiceworks did just that, asking if small to medium sized businesses are keeping their IT hardware longer than before. The answer: Yes, and about a year longer, to be  specific. That, and other survey results, got Spiceworks mentioned in Investors Business Daily, and Network World, and eWeek.
The lesson: Imagine the headline of the news story you hope to see featuring your name, and work the survey questions from there. Including some nifty graphics LINK highlighting the juicy stuff doesn’t hurt, either.

An added note: Spiceworks itself has an interesting business model, providing free network inventory and management software paid for by advertisers and sponsors. Spiceworks also lets users join buying clubs and tell vendors what they’d like to see in future products through its “Voice of IT” program. It’s yet another threat to IT trade pubs and those who serve them, such as PR agencies: Give away the content (in this case software) to aggregate customers, and plumb those customers for market insights at the same time. I assume Spiceworks also charges vendors who want to do custom surveys of that customer base. Wonder if they’re making any money, from what sources (advertising vs. selling research) and how many IT managers buy into this model?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.