It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to get press coverage:
Too many companies make costly media campaign mistakes because of a lack of understanding for how press actually works. Journalists constantly get calls from businesses asking for press coverage, I know because I used to be one. This approach is completely wrong and won’t get you the results you’re after. Press coverage is for achieving goals not getting famous.
I recently gave a talk to a full-house at Factory Berlin, a business club fostering innovation in the heart of the city known as Silicon Allee, where I shared some essential press tips for startup founders, scale-up leaders and investors who did not have formal training in marketing related press campaigns. Since there are common challenges that startups and scale-ups face, here’s a brief recap so you too can benefit from what was shared.
Issues that need to be addressed before launching media campaigns:
* Mission-critical prerequisites
* Campaign planning
* Elements of a press kit
* What to wear for media interviews
* Campaign review process
* Hiring agencies
Understand the difference between journalism and marketing.
“Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.
— American Press Institute
“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
— Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK)
The journalist’s job is to document events that they have witnessed and ensure reports are honest, balanced and fair. Meanwhile marketing is a business management activity that often involves persuading a consumer to take an action.
Can you see that the two are not the same and that a journalist will never view ‘news’ as ‘marketing’? Journalism is a neutral description of events. So if you want to get a story into the business press, you’ll need to think like a journalist and share your story.
First set specific goals that you want to achieve.
Press is going to help you take your brand message to the public. It makes absolutely no sense to waste your team’s time and energy (and possibly even budget!) going after coverage if you have no clear goal in mind for what you want to achieve with it. First you need to figure out what’s the point. Then after you know what you want to achieve through press you need to set Key Performance Indicators or KPIs to measure the success of your campaign.
Here are some typical campaign goals — do you want coverage for:
* Brand visibility and reputation
* User acquisition
* New product release — increase sales
* Partner interest
* Talent recruitment
* Investor interest
Knowing what you want to achieve will also help you select the journalists and publications you’ll target for coverage. For example, if you’re a technology company you might contact industry press to announce a new product or service. Meanwhile, if you’ve already had seed funding and are looking to attract VCs for series A, you might focus on the business and financial press to share news about your international expansion.
It’s also important to remember that press works best as part of a strategy that integrates activities.
Elements of a press kit:
Don’t ask for coverage — offer to share your story.
Journalists need information to tell your story and a press kit is how you’re going to give it to them. Don’t wait until the last second to try and slam something together. A press kit is a pre-packaged set of promotional materials that provide information about a company, cause or person. In business environments press kits can also be referred to as a media kits.
Lay your strategic foundation in advance of your news needs by having a strong press section on your company’s website. This allows you to then then create an engaging story-specific press release for each big development you announce without having to repackage the same basics that are always provided to all news outlets.
If you’re very early stage, at least publish your contact details for press inquires. If you don’t have a designated member of staff overseeing it yet, then you can at least use something like email@example.com. Just make sure you monitor the box or forward emails to someone who will open the requests regularly.
Have at least these basics prepared and ready for all press inquires:
* Chief Executive and/or Founder bio sheets
* Company FAQ sheet
* Media assets (logo etc.)
* Press officer contact details
* Press releases
You can also open the conversation long before you will want coverage by offering yourself as an expert resource. This means if a journalist is writing a story on your industry or about your competitor, you might get called to provide analysis or balance to their story with expert insight.
When you’re ready to contact the press directly for some outward-bound press action, having a press section on your website will also serve as an organized foundation for your campaign because all the basics are already packaged and ready for use.
What to wear for media interviews:
When in doubt, ask your interviewer for fashion suggestions.
During my years as a journalist I witnessed many unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions getting caught on camera. Besides causing embarrassment, they grab focus away from the quality of the information being shared. When I worked for Bloomberg News in London we’d actually brief scheduled interviewees on ‘dos and don’t’ in advance to help them avoid common mistakes. You can also avoid these mishaps and not lose your audience with some pre-interview preparation.
Context counts when it comes to clothing — look at these variables:
1. Your employer
2. The news outlet
If you’re a startup founder being interviewed by industry press, business casual is probably your look. If you’re not sure what would be suitable, always ask your communications team and/or the interviewer what they think is appropriate so you won’t feel silly during the interview.
Wear pockets & belts:
Many interviews will require you to wear a microphone attached to your shirt. It’s called a lapel or collar mic because it should attach to your shirt collar. It can also clip to ties, buttons or folds but be careful you don’t want to risk having your mic fall off during the interview.
For the ladies avoid shirts with lots of ruffles, frills or plunging necklines because they not only interfere with a lapel mic but they are distracting in general. Anything that is distracting takes focus off your message. Avoid distractions.
If you’ll be wearing a lapel microphone, like the one featured in the photo, you’ll also need a place to put the battery. This is where men have it easier. Men’s suit jackets come with inside pockets which are great hidden little places to hold the battery. Men who aren’t wearing jackets will be wearing trousers and the pack can hook to the waistline instead.
Unfortunately, all the ladies reading will know that women’s suits do not come with convenient pockets on the inside of a suit jacket. When I worked for Bloomberg News, this was probably the biggest warning we’d issue to women — wear something with a pocket or belt that can hold a battery pack.
What’s your color?:
Color counts. Don’t wear green, white or black for TV interviews. Green is the color of the chroma key screen — anything can be superimposed on it and if you wear green you just might end up blending in with the set.
White glows and becomes the most noticeable thing on a TV screen. Choose oatmeal or cream colored shirts instead. As for black clothes, they are too harsh and can suck up all the light. The safest color on TV is blue. Pastel shirts also usually work well.
Solid colors look better than patterns. Stripes dance around on the screen and are distracting. A final thought: make sure your clothes don’t display any visible logos or brands unless of course it is your own logo. They are also a distraction.
Socks and shoes show:
Feet are probably the most commonly forgotten element by interviewees. Make sure you polish your shoes and clean the soles in case they appear in the picture. Don’t forget to also keep your socks simple — the color rules also apply here. Additionally, men and women should be mindful to make sure that they wear high socks under trousers so that your skin doesn’t show when you sit down or if you cross your legs as has happened to this recent guest on CNN International’s Quest Means Business program as illustrated by the photo.
Make-up and hair help present a polished image:
Not all news organizations have a Glam Squad. You should arrive for your interview prepared with your own make-up bag. Some outlets have a staffed make-up room to help you. Bloomberg does but your local newsroom might not. For ladies: natural is best. Avoid glossy products. Apply powder to your face, nose and forehead to avoid shininess from the glare of lights. Also watch your hair. A common problem is having hair fall across your eyes and then needing to be be constantly flicked away. This is very distracting.
As for the men, many guys don’t wear make-up but I would say that a little powder to help avoid shiny skin does help. Powder also helps calm the shine on skin that might show around a rising hairline. If you feel weird don’t worry. It can always be washed off immediately after your interview. Men should also check their hair in the mirror to make sure you don’t have a cowlick sticking up. If you do, it will move around as you talk and that’s distracting.
Campaign Review Process:
Don’t get drunk off your media buzz — follow through and review!
Don’t forget to go back on those KPIs you set during the campaign planning stage and do your analysis. This will help you determine if you met your goals. It will also show you your Return on Investment (ROI). One fast and simple method for quickly looking at ROI is to do a content analysis compiling the stories that were published about you.
Also try to always explain findings in money terms. For example, calculate the value of sales or new user acquisitions recorded during your campaign.
Some questions always need to be asked at all stages of a company’s life.
Seven questions to always ask when hiring agencies:
1. Am I comfortable working with an agency that also represents my main competitor in the same geography, on the same issues, at the same time?
2. If so, am I also comfortable with having the same account manager at this agency as my main competitor?
3. Do I need specific industry or sector experience?
4. What geography do I wish to target?
5. Ask the agency: do you represent my main competitor?
6. How many clients exactly like me or similar do you (the agency) represent in the same geography currently?
7. Will you (the agency) need to hire additional support if this job goes forward? This is critical because if they need to bring in extra resources this means your fee is going to cost more to cover the price of outsourcing or hiring new staff (above the agency’s already built-in profit margin).
There are times when it does happen — for example, a smaller specialized agency might need to partner with another in a new geography especially when using a different language is involved but you should be told during the job pitch and you should know the full billing terms up front. Cost terms should cover, for example, guidlines for the price of items added after the job is in progress.
Here’s an example from my personal experience. When I was Global Head of Strategic Marketing for Hong Kong Telecom’s international arm, we needed to make a high profile announcement sharing our new acquisition of a Greek network security startup. For this, I made sure I was involved selecting the partner agency — all the way to giving the final approval on their inclusion. This is because my company’s reputation was at stake and I needed to be sure we had the best people onboard.
Your company is your baby — be involved in these big public facing decisions that have such tremendous impact on your business. You can also always ask agencies to meet the team that would be working on your campaign in advance. This is normal and completely appropriate. You are paying a lot of money for this work — be proactive and do your due diligence.
It’s also important to not assign control to an agency. Always have someone with marketing experience in your team manage them to ensure that the your company’s goals remain the top priority. It sometimes can happen when agencies put their business priorities ahead of client’s needs — stay away from this — remain in control of your business.
And finally, say no to PR extras that won’t help you achieve your goals. If you hire a PR company to run your campaign they will usually sell you everything you ask for. But sometimes you don’t need EVERYTHING. Again, remember you have to be strategic and define your goals before engaging with PR agencies or journalists.
Press coverage highlights what’s great about you, it can’t compensate for a bad product or service and it won’t give you what you have not got. In fact it can and often highlight big problems, if you’ve got them.
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Cambridge MBA | Marketing Consultant | Speaker | Author | Ghostwriter