There's a company (doesn't matter which) I encountered the other day that had just won a top 100 slot from a magazine in its space. A press release on its site announced the award—and quoted the company President: "This demonstrates our success as vertical enterprise experts in solving the essential challenges that are of vital nature to our customer's business."
OK. You're the reporter—who-what-where-when-why-how tip-to-toe—who gets this release. Read it again. Not a Who What Where When or Why in the litter, is there? Just squealing blather with zero news value. Since it doesn't satisfy the basic requirements of any press item, how could it ever get picked up?
And since, at least in that release, that was the President's sole "sound bite," what a complete opportunity waste for the company.
(And remember, this was the company's own press release. That quotation—massaged, discussed, tweaked, reviewed and authorized—was what they considered their best shot.)
I'm not picking on them at all: they're not alone. In fact, that's what you'll find most everywhere you look—online and offline: who knows, you might have a couple lying around yourself.
Approach This Marketplace Like a Marketer
At issue is not how to write better press releases. The real problem, and what this example is meant to underscore, is that we have failed to understand the nature of the marketplace we're dealing with, and we therefore don't deliver the product it wants. As a result, we're not achieving the results we expect from that marketplace.
Let's apply a very basic market framework to the question. Let's ask and answer three fundamental questions:
1. What is the marketplace?
The marketplace comprises people who succeed by appearing to be experts, or expert chroniclers. They are under stress. They compete with other organizations, and with their own colleagues. They have to be smart. And they have to be smart very quickly.
Companies are all the time doing just what you're trying to do in that marketplace: get their attention and generate some coverage. It's a buyer's market. If you want them to pay attention to your product, it has to be the right product.
While the content distributed to each differs, the press and analyst communities have much in common. They are in a very competitive business. First to publish—for both the press and the analyst community—wins.
And those reporters and analysts run a risk every time they publish so their decisions are based on how well they trust the source. And they are much more likely to publish something that they can cut and paste into an article or column than something they have to write or retype. Time is everything.
2. What is the product?
The product is information, the form and content of which is tailored for each customer.
Quality PR is a customization process; it focuses on making sure the business editors only get business news, that your product analysts get white papers only on products they cover. And you focus on delivering the content according to customer specifications: some want email attachments, others want faxes, yet others some other method of delivery.
3. What value must the product bring to its market?
The core value is efficiency. The least-available personal resource for the entire community is time. And that time is primarily consumed with two things: research and writing—whether it's a weekly column or a commissioned market study.
When you bring something to them, you can either add to their burden or relieve them of some of it. If you want them to print something, they have to trust it: that eliminates research—fact checking, due diligence and so on.
And they have to get it into their story: that's writing. They want to feel confident that they can simply cut and paste from your product—which means that you have to deliver professional material that a professional reporter or analyst can use... as is.
Good Product Gets Good Value in Return
This is true online and offline. It's not just irrelevant releases that indicate a lack of market sensitivity. I can count on three knuckles the number of Web sites I've seen that have a targeted, login-based area for the reporters and analysts that cover them.
Is there anyone out there who thinks reporters are going to stop what they're doing to come to a Web site and look through press releases—especially those that are weeks and months and years old?
Delivering material in preferred formats can be done immediately—all you have to do is ask what each member wants. Developing a trusted relationship with these communities takes time.
Your success will be measured by the quantity and quality of relationships you establish. When you call your reporters and analysts, do they take, or at least return, the call? Do they call you for interviews, opinion, resources?
It will also, of course, be measurable in the simple increase in press and analyst coverage you get.
I invite you to look at your own press initiative and see how close it comes to this simple framework. Do you know your marketplace, and know how to reach each member of it? Are you continually building trust? Are you delivering only what people need, and only in the way they want it delivered?
Or are you shooting words like rock salt from a shotgun—hoping some of it will stick somewhere but resigning yourself to most of it becoming additional unread content on a Web site?