High-Tech Press Releases "For the Rest of Us"

Copyright 1999 Jeffrey P. Geibel, All Rights Reserved

Reaching out to your pre-sales audiences with a public relations program is not as straightforward as it would appear. There are two special considerations that a technology company should keep in mind as it develops and executes their PR program - those concerns are keeping the bandwidth wide, and putting it all in hard copy.

You don't need to be a public relations or media professional to tap into a company's web site or press releases - many diverse audiences do just that, such as investors doing their research on possible investment targets, to say nothing of prospective employees, current employees and a host of others, the least of which may well be the media. Yet if you were to review most of what you see as high-tech press releases, you would notice that the bulk of corporate releases tend to fit a routine - they are either product, alliance or personnel announcements. In short, same old boring stuff. But boring isn't fatal, provided you understand the narrative. In many cases, to do even that you also need industry-specific, or technology-specific knowledge to make sense of some of the verbiage.

The reason for this is that much of what is generated is narrow-bandwidth materials. That is, they are understandable to only a few individuals, and often prove to be interesting only to the author. Considering the way many of them read - sometimes it seems that even the author was bored with the subject.

These materials exist because few companies ever perform communication due diligence on their press releases. In short, they fail to ask the most basic questions for any message that you send out:

> Who are we writing this for?

> What action do we want them to take?

> What understanding do we want to create?

Wide-bandwidth materials are written for the broadest possible range of audiences, and therefore do not make a lot of assumptions about the reader's technical knowledge or vocabulary. In other words, they are the high-tech press releases "for the rest of us" (with apologies to Apple Computer.)

This is not accomplished with pablum or hype however, but with a keen understanding of the both the technology and business-issue concepts and how to create understanding in a wide range of audiences. Audiences who at first will have a widely varying knowledge of your technology and business issues. To reach them, your press release style should be more akin to the features you would read in a business publication rather than Western Union.

Sad to say, many of the press releases obviously have no input from the sales and marketing staff. This is obvious because it is often impossible to determine from reading the releases the competitive benefits of the technology, the business problems that are solved, or why the customers bought that technology, product or services rather than the competitive offerings. At most, if customer comments are included they are often of the variety that are so bland that the comments are worthless. This is a dead giveaway that there is no specific strategy or use intended for the release, other than ‘to get it out there'. If there is no specific purpose for issuing the release, or it doesn't support a clear business objective - don't bother issuing it until you have one.

Let's return to the basic questions:

> Who are we writing this for?

You should be able to name the specific audiences, and your assumptions about their knowledge level of your technology and business.

> What action do we want them to take?

First, to read the release. Secondly, to understand it. Will they?

> What understanding do we want to create?

To comprehend the message you are trying to convey - in other words, where does this information fit in their universe? If it is the media, your comments should fit in with other developments in the industry and clearly spell out both your strategy and differentiation. If they happen to be a prospective customer, that comprehension could mean a sale. If they are a pre-sales audience, that comprehension could help them become a prospective customer. If they are a job candidate, that comprehension could be a factor in encourage them to contact your company - and so forth for each audience.

The second trait the high-tech pr program should have is to put all information into hard copy - which may seem to be something of a contradiction in the digital age - where most communication is done by email and telephone due to the ease of use and rapid implementation.

This ease of use and communication ‘in the oral tradition' has some definite shortcomings when dealing with the media, especially print media and the trade press. Many times, information is collected over a period of time (in one recent case, I was told a 5 month period.) Also, multiple copies often have to be sent. When it is decided to use this collection for editorial coverage - the whole package is forwarded to a freelancer (more and more publications are working with ‘virtual staffs'.) If your pr has been based on oral communication and ‘pitches' - and short on the substantive fact sheets, case studies, backgrounders and the like - you'll come up short in most editorial coverage.

Verbal communications, as a rule, can vary widely in their accuracy and are highly dependent on the chosen speaker at the moment. A wide-ranging pr program needs accurate, repeatable forms of communication, and should not be highly dependent on one or two key orators. A by-product of hard copy materials is that they can (and should be) be posted to the web for 7x24 access.

Whenever you hear that ‘we have relationships' or 'contacts' - and your media presentation is going to be heavy on the verbal and light on the hard copy - watch out. That's a shallow, quick-hit program. Any investment in pr should be a combination of ‘hunting' and ‘farming'. You ‘hunt' for the quick media hits and leverage any newsworthy items that you have, but you also have to ‘farm' - planting the seeds for future feature coverage and building ‘critical mass' awareness in the market. To neglect one or the other usually means that you'll be going editorially hungry sooner or later - and not getting the best over-all yield from your program.

Much of the success of a high-tech pr program comes from having a clear objective, generating superior content-rich materials that can create both industry positioning and technology understanding in a wide range of audiences, and professional execution. None of this is magic, but keeping the bandwidth wide and having abundant hard copy are two key elements for success every step of the way.

Copyright 1999 Jeffrey P. Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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