Yesterday, my colleague, Julie Sarpy, and one of her partners, had a great conversation about PR with our resident channel-focused PR guru, Gareth Pettigrew. Julie shared her extraordinarily detailed notes from this meeting with me and I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you. There is some very useful information included here – from a Top 5 best practice recommendations to some very practical advice on what you can reasonable do with limited resources.
Top 5 PR Best Practices from Cisco
1. Executive sponsorship: PR is great way to increase your companies visibility. You will need executive sponsorship in order to do it. Executives need to be committed to PR from the get go. Work with the senior executive team to see if it’s something you want to explore. It’s not best executed as part of the tactical marketing mix. It’s like pushing a rock up the hill. You need to go to top of the hill and let the rock roll down. Marketing managers can’t drive PR. People listen to senior execs. First, develop the idea of what you want to achieve on a PR front and then go to exec before starting to execute it. Doesn’t necessarily have to be the CEO, but someone at the top who reports into the CEO.
2. Trusted advisor: You will need to find a resource who can be a trusted advisor..someone with specific skill set in PR and make it a long term commitment. Someone who really understands your business to help you identify a strategy on the PR front and can execute it for you. Be cautious of engaging with large PR agencies. If you’re a small fish in a large pond, you won’t get the attention you deserve. Look for small consultants (one man shops in your local area that you feel comfortable with) or former journalists due to tremendous turnover in the publishing/media landscape in the past few years and these people have tremendous skills and can be had at a cheaper price than a large agency.
3. Don’t boil the ocean: You need to be very focused with what you’re going to achieve. Tell a complete story of how the core technologies, e.g. unified communciations and data center, work together. Don’t try to do too many tactics..focus on doing a one or two things really well & gain momentum in time.
4. Measure Success: How do you know what success looks like? What are your goals? Raise awareness in the local market so you have an easier time finding prospects or getting customer leads? If your goal it to be featured 5 times a year in local publications (TV, newspaper, etc), then make sure you meet this goal. Be specific with where you want to get coverage, what topics you want people to be talking about, etc.
5. Sum of the Parts: PR has changed dramatically in the past few years. PR is a lens through which you can improve what you’re doing across broader corporate initiatives. First, customers…focus on customer references to drive success stories. Second, get involved w/ local charities and spread the word about it. Finally, social media…find someone with social media expertise and have them create dialogue and discussion about your company, products and services. The former journalist could play a pivotal role in guiding your social media strategy. Link PR content you develop on Twitter, Linked In, Facebook, etc.
What can you do if you don’t have the money to hire trusted advisor?
Scale back ambitions. Take advantage of the real low hanging fruit: Make sure you work with vendor partners to leverage their PR templates. When you get new certifications at Cisco, make sure you use the templates and get Cisco to approve it. Candidly, it won’t produce much media coverage. Post to newsroom and/or corporate website. Make sure there’s a drum beat of those press releases on a regular basis.
Look at customer reference initiatives. When does a customer become newsworthy? It becomes newsworthy on the PR front when the deployment is complete and the customer has seen real tangible benefits…not when the deal is signed. You need to focus on post-deployment success. Write a story that is interesting and relevant from a business impact perspective. The holy grail is measurable impact on the entire business (ex. 30% more cost effective to run and the sales staff could dynamically reach 40% more customers or allowed them to do “xyz” – what they could never do before). Nirvana: Owner of small business who can now do their job but still spend more time with their grandkids….bring it down to a much more human level. When a customer signs a PO, normally they are ready for a customer success story 6-9 months down the road.
Bring on someone to work as a contractor on project by project basis based on results. For instance, you get $2K for developing our PR strategy and writing a news release. You’ll get $3K for having x number of hits on this article. Make it commission based.
How can you build a PR network if you already have customer references? How do you get the word out?
Technology trade press: Pick the outlets that are familiar to you (Network World, eWeek, etc.) and find a reporter that regularly writes on customers or focuses on the specific technology. Send an email pitch outlining what the customer is talking about and they are often willing to talk with you.
Local press: Look at the local paper and make sure you find the business reporter. At most local papers, there is no technology reporter…only business reporters, so you have to focus on business benefits. Send them a pitch and often they will reach out to you.
Try develop relationships w/ beat reporters. Find the true experts and reach out to them.
Comment on blogs: If you have a very well spoken expert, like your lead engineer perhaps, have that person comment regularly on stories of a business or technology blogger.
Thoughts on leveraging local business journals?
It’s a tough slog. If you do have a dedicated PR resource, that becomes a realistic target. The challenge you face is there have been so many cut backs in these publications and it’s usually a general business reporter who is completely overwhelmed. It’s hard to get published in these journals.
How do you measure the success of a PR campaign and at what intervals do you measure?
Measure how your are doing versus your peers in specific technology areas. You could identify the three key messages you want to get across. Measure yourself not only on the volume of coverage you get but the quality of coverage (feature stories, getting inserted into broader technology pieces, the tone of the message, etc.). Measure it quarterly.
What social media sites are most key for business?
Don’t boil the ocean. You need to have a holistic strategy and dedicated resources to drive a conversation across social media. It will never work if you’re only putting events on these sites. If you had a collaboration spokesperson, as an example, to engage in discussions around this topic, track five journalists and comment on their stories/blog postings, engage as an industry expert and build a Twitter community to engage for 20 minutes 3 x a week, you will see some traction. You need a commitment like this to really get a response.