“Sorry, we don’t cover vendor news.”
“We only accept vendor talks as sponsored content.”
“If you would like to contribute an article, our Brand Voice team has information about that.”
These common responses are familiar for anybody who works with a software vendor on its communications team. All too often an innovative solution that fulfills a market demand is met with resistance and a lack of desired media coverage because of the concern that any coverage amounts to advertising.
Our jobs as communications consultants at RH Strategic is to cut through that perception and offer valuable stories to media. But how do you shift the focus away from the name of your client’s company and shine the light on their message or on your brand’s ability to legitimately solve a problem? Here’s a few tips I’ve learned during my career working on some great enterprise software PR programs.
Have a real story
Your iterative, incremental product update is not news. But the trends behind the market demand that drove the feature request is an interesting story. Build a package with market research, a customer story about the transformation the solution enabled and an analyst reference and now you have a story that an industry outlet will want to run. Factor in some original research, economic impact data or an emotional human story and now you can transcend to top-tier media as well. We tell ourselves that we are story tellers, and this is our opportunity to show it.
The concept of newsworthiness is a radically different calculation for each outlet, each industry and each day. Deciding when to pitch can be just as crucial as what you are pitching. Ensure you have all of the approvals, spokesperson availability and final materials at the ready before hitting send for the first time.
When writing a press release or product announcement, consult with the subject matter expert and dig into the development process or the technology that had to be developed to support the new features. It can be difficult to find the story behind the story, but it is often there. And if it’s not? It’s time to consider if this should be a blog post and not a press announcement.
Use a customer voice
When we pitch a story for our clients, we seek out the best-possible expert for that story. But often the best way to shed the vendor stigma is to shed the vendor voice. By enabling your customers or partners to be your public evangelists, you can quickly break through into coverage.
Customer case studies can yield two types of coverage: straight-forward problem/solution/results or lessons learned from fixing a problem. By creating a story of how your customer changed a process, developed a new product or solved a problem using your solution, media prefer to hear the insight directly from that customer. We have found success by using a pitch that is as short as three sentences:
- Intro: Here’s the trend/universal problem.
- Solution/learning: Here’s the customer and the learning/process/result they experienced.
- Call to action: When can you interview the customer?
This results in the ability to tailor the specific angle to an outlet should you secure the interview and it lets the writer control the interview and story. Using customer voices works with CPG companies as well. While launching a new device for a global software company, we developed an integrated content strategy that utilized real-world examples of “makers” and “doers” using the device out in the field for their photography, film making or even surfing adventures. At a global manufacturing company, we created a pro staff program to ensure we had a consistent flow of content from evangelists we could use to tell great stories.
Pitch resources, not just sources
Whether you’re creating a speaking proposal or pitching inquiries, we have found it helpful to identify the SMEs within your organization or your customers that have expertise with the topic. Recently, we were approached by a writer who was working on an AI story. Instead of using a source from our client who had only a high-level understanding of the specific topic, we were able to connect the writer with a source at an external company who is actively pursuing a PhD in that specific topic. The benefit is that the writer gets a valuable source that is not trying to work a key message into the conversation. This is a great way to build up the pitch karma points for the future.
When drafting a speaking proposal, seek out the engineers or development lead behind a topic. For one client, we worked with the software engineers behind a globalization effort to present on localizing software at a DevOps conference. This is a great way to showcase the true technical acumen of your client and attendees don’t feel like they are at a 50-minute infomercial.
Take it to social media
Sometimes the best way to tell a story is simply to tell it. Encourage the development of a blog post or video tutorial. Oftentimes, having visual elements can be enough to entice a writer into asking for the full information or a conversation with your client. By writing a blog post, you can bring in external stats and resources and potentially drive engagement around the topics you are trying to share.
Once the blog post draft is complete, but before hitting the publish button, you should do one last round of outreach and submit the topic as a contributed article to your industry and trade media outlets. A significant number of outlets want to see the full draft and make decisions based on that content, so it expands the outlets you can pitch.
As you can see, these tactics are imperative to not just create a storytelling program but also help your brand or your clients become a valued voice in a crowded chorus of monotone corporate announcements.
It’s not about pitching your entire media list every idea you have. Offering value to your and your target publication’s audience is crucial to an effective content program. To shed the stigma of the vendor label, all you have to do is change the perception of what type of content a vendor can provide by offering newsworthy, interesting or impactful information and ideas.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.