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Got Ink? Increase Company Exposure with PR

By Charles Erdrich, Vice President, Business Development, Avineon, Inc.,

Public relations, or ‘PR’, is often considered to be a part of the marketing mix that is nice to have, but not required. Technology companies typically focus so intensely on developing and delivering their products and services that their effort to create positive awareness about their company moves farther down on the agenda as time progresses. While many technology companies have considered instituting some degree of PR, they often fall short in developing a strategy and enacting a plan to execute PR tactics and ‘get ink’ in key publications.

Often, the responsibility for PR is performed by someone such as a marketing manager or director of business development, who already has a full plate. These individuals are responsible for myriad activities such as direct sales, opportunity capture, sales proposals and presentations, tradeshows, company events and a wide array of cross-functional projects. In such cases, it may make sense to hire someone with PR-specific skills or outsource the function. Whether PR is handled internally or through an external agency, there are several steps technology companies can take to ensure better industry exposure.

Press Releases
Press releases provide an outlet for issuing company news covering a variety of topics. Because press releases are company issued, they provide the added advantage of giving a company complete control over the message it releases to the public. This is not the case with other media interactions where a company often has little or no say about what is printed or broadcasted. Nothing said during a media interview is ‘off the record’ and reporters are free to decide what they print about an organization as the result of an interview with a company spokesperson.

Company executives, marketing and product management teams should sit down at the start of each year and plan announcements around ‘newsworthy’ activities scheduled to occur throughout the upcoming year. A good mix of news is desirable to showcase the complete health of a company and press releases should cover a combination of corporate, product, customer and community-focused news. Corporate activities that might merit a press release include personnel appointments or promotions at the executive or senior management level, partnerships or alliances with other companies, award wins, financial milestones, or new funding and upcoming speaking engagements for company executives or product managers at industry conferences. On the product side, the launch of a new product or service offering, or significant enhancements to an existing product should be announced. Substantial new customer ‘wins’ or customer milestones might also be announced in a press release with the customer’s approval. Mapping out potential press release topics will provide a steady flow of positive company news throughout the year to the media, customers and prospects.

Media Relations
Developing effective relationships with media outlets is key in maximizing a technology company’s media placements. Editors are inundated on a daily basis with e-mails and phone calls from companies vying for their time. It is first necessary to identify the best reporters and editors to receive the news. Editors will often have their ‘beat’ or coverage area listed on publication Web sites. Browsing through industry publications will also provide insight and help identify the reporters consistently covering different technologies or areas of expertise that fall with a company’s service area.

Publications also typically release an editorial calendar at the start of each year that outlines topics the publication plans to cover in each issue. Editorial calendars provide low-hanging fruit as publications have already narrowed down coverage to fairly specific topics. A company can usually determine, with limited correspondence to a publication’s editorial staff, if they are a fit for an editorial calendar opportunity. Be sure to review editorial calendars and outreach to a variety of publications, including trade, technology, business and local press to maximize company exposure among all media targets.

Once a company is ready to start contacting and interacting with the media, it is important to designate appropriate spokespeople. A large part of a company’s image is dependent on company spokespeople and their ability to turn sound bytes into business opportunities. Identify an assorted mix of company spokespeople who are comfortable with media interviews and can deliver a unified message, including members of executive management, product management, engineering, sales and finance.

A media opportunity, over which companies have complete content control, is bylined or contributed articles. Several publications accept and encourage industry experts to submit articles written under their name or ‘byline’. Publishing bylined articles is one of the best ways to position a company and its talent as an expert in the industry. A bylined article is not a sales pitch and should not read like a company brochure. In fact, publications often request that bylined articles be vendor neutral and not mention a company’s name. Material in bylined articles should be presented in a way that demonstrates the author’s expertise and covers issues, trends and industry predictions among other topics. Bylined articles also provide long-term power as a marketing tool and can be posted on a company Web site, e-mailed to prospects, utilized in sales kits, or incorporated into presentation materials.

Web Sites
When journalists are deciding to include a company in a story, the information found on a company’s Web site can impact their decision. Having the right information in an online newsroom can make or break media coverage. Online newsrooms should allow visitors to easily access company press releases, basic company facts and corporate information such as a company profile, executive biographies and company contact information, including streaming video of company footage and other interactive content that can also add value to a Web site. Having an up-to-date online newsroom allows writers to easily obtain the information they need. The Internet provides a great communication channel for which companies should take advantage to maximize their relationships with journalists and garner better media coverage.

Product and Service Launches
Successfully launching new products or services is a coordinated effort across multiple departments, including PR. Many companies will invest a great deal of time, effort and money to bring new software or technology services to market and it is vital to carefully plan and execute a launch using a strategic approach. Don’t wait until the last minute to develop a product launch plan. Ideally, launch planning should begin as soon as a product is given the green light from management to allow adequate time to coordinate all details.

Develop and stick to a timeline to help stay on task. Action items include tasks such as scheduling industry analyst product briefings, obtaining quotes from beta users and developing graphics, photos and marketing materials in support of the launch. Planning ahead will help increase buzz about a new product and provide editors with the components they need to cover the product.

In addition, build flexibility into a launch plan. Few product introductions go exactly according to plan and there are often distribution delays or development snafus. Brainstorm any potential challenges prior to the launch to ensure your plan provides a response for any number of things that might go wrong. Develop a crisis plan to outline actions to take in the event there are problems with the product.

A company’s ultimate goal in instituting PR can cover a wide range of possibilities – breaking into new markets, increased sales, attracting and retaining personnel, securing venture capital funding, positioning itself as a viable acquisition target, becoming known in the community, etc. No matter the end goal, an effective PR program aligned with corporate strategy will start a company down the right path to achieving success.

Charles Erdrich is Vice President, Business Development, for Avineon Inc., a provider of IT, geospatial, engineering and program management services for commercial and government clients. He is responsible for directing Avineon’s sales and marketing efforts, including capture and proposal management, federal sales, marketing and promotional activities and business development and strategic planning. Charles’ experience includes more than 25 years of program management, business development and systems analysis, engineering and integration for commercial and government clients. He has extensive management experience on large-scale, multi-disciplinary, technical services contracts. Prior to joining Avineon, Charles was Director, federal information technology programs, at the Titan Corporation. He is the recipient of numerous awards for technical leadership, customer satisfaction and business development accomplishments. For article feedback, contact Charles at cerdrich@avineon.com 

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