6 Reasons Your Tech Company Needs PR

A high-impact PR program can be a technology company’s greatest asset – provided it’s well conceived and skillfully executed. In today’s frothy tech market, where the venture dollars are flowing and 32 new unicorns were created last year, PR can be a strategic weapon. Good will and strong community relations are also in demand as Silicon Valley is blamed for a host of problems, from data privacy threats to income inequality.

Still, the decision to hire a PR agency can be a controversial one for a cash-strapped startup. Mark Cuban famously advised against it for most early-stage companies, and for some it’s simply premature. Yet even if the PR program is executed internally, public relations and influencer marketing can help put a tech company on the map. For a more mature technology business, they can help build a competitive advantage. Here’s how any tech company can benefit from the right PR campaign.

PR educates customers and prospects

The typical B2B technology customer is an educated buyer who may research his purchase for weeks or months. Business software, for example, usually has a lengthy selling cycle and comes at a significant cost. If you make the wrong choice, there’s pain in switching. The earned media that results from targeted journalist relations and professional reviews can help attract educated customers and deepen their knowledge. Good content can overcome the tech “language barrier” that confuses prospects or clouds the relevant issues. Most valuable of all, inclusion in an analyst report can build brand consideration for months or years.

Earned media drives brand differentiation

Today’s tech categories are hotly competitive. Most buyers and business partners are selective about their relationships – and any purchase truly is a commitment. Visibility from earned media coverage and social sharing can differentiate a brand by aligning it with exciting ideas or communicating corporate values. This is particularly important for early-stage businesses that don’t have lengthy track records.For products, the implied third-party endorsement can work hard to elevate a solution within a sea of sameness.

News creates a market presence

The right PR plan means a new brand can grow a reputation as a major player – or an up-and-comer  — in a given category. That kind of visibility offers credibility and relevance to complement other marketing functions, as well as a solid foundation for growth. Most importantly, high-profile business coverage can help validate an emerging market and reinforce the stature of the startups who are leading change. Remember, even huge names in once-new categories like Uber and Lyft relied on good PR about their growth plans for recognition.

Expert content builds brand authority

Customers trust reviews and profiles from third parties, and such content often influences brand preference and product choice. Savvy business customers rely on earned media visibility and in-depth research from analyst reports, for example, before making a purchase decision. B2C customers also rely on articles and reviews, particularly the word-of-mouth experience that is shared on social platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram. Influencer marketing, another element of most B2B PR campaigns, can confer authority by association or endorsement. Even simple bylined articles and thought pieces can go a long way to inform customers and are typically more credible than other forms of marketing content.

PR supports demand generation

A great PR program can also drive demand and user acquisition – with some caveats. The kind of customer interest that comes from earned media and contributed or shared content isn’t as reliable as email marketing or sales promotion as a generator of website traffic. Yet a glowing profile or positive review is fully capable of moving a customer through the funnel.

Credibility is like money in the bank for brand reputation

I often tell clients that when it comes to earned media aspect of public relations, we trade a certain amount of control for credibility. Great PR, contributed content, and expert recommendations work to validate and build a reputation over time. When a problem occurs or a crisis situation hits, a stellar reputation and solid relationships are like money in the bank.

Crenshaw Clients Win Big In 2019

Crenshaw clients win accolades in 2019

Both our clients and our own team are busy clearing space on the trophy shelves of late. Earlier this week, we were delighted to be recognized for our work for cybersecurity provider F-Secure for Best Marketing B2B Campaign. Not only did Crenshaw Communications bring home a win from the PRSA Big Apple Awards, but several clients have claimed victories in the first half of 2019.

Arkadium and Greenhouse Software were both named to the Inc. Best Places to Work in 2019 list.

Arkadium is on a roll, having also garnered laurels as a 2019 Forbes Small Giant and for CEO Jessica Rovello, who was named as a Cynopsis Top Women in Media Corporate Visionary.

Both Lotame and Fractal Analytics were listed on the prestigious Forrester Wave™ 2019 evaluations in their respective categories of DMP and Customer Analytics, respectively.

Lotame and MediaRadar both took home a Stevie American Business Award and a Stevie Award for Sales & Customer Service, respectively.

Healthcare trade publication PM 360 named two Remedy Health Media individuals to its  ELITE 2019 lists, CEO Mike Cunnion as Transformational Leader and Brian Greenberg as ELITE 2019 Patient Advocate

Bizzabo claimed the Best Event Technology Solution win for the second straight year in the SIAA Codie Awards.

Uberall won for best Sales & Marketing Automation at the 2019 LSA Ad to Action Awards.

LiveIntent took home the Corporate Disruptor Award at the 2019 Marketing Edge Awards.

When The CEO Should Be The PR Spokesperson

Public relations teams and their agencies routinely urge leaders to build a public profile through social media and high-level content. But when should the CEO of a major company serve as its public spokesperson? How should a public role align with an organization’s business goals?

Research by Chief Executive magazine and the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations suggests that many CEOs don’t prioritize participation in a public conversation that departs from tangible business goals. Forty-four percent of 210 CEOs surveyed said their most important communication goal for 2019 was to sell the company’s products and services, and 60% said they were unlikely to speak out about any social issue. For those who said they did plan to speak publicly about issues, the most pressing topics named were data privacy, healthcare, and diversity and inclusion.

When asked which communications strategies they considered most valuable, social media and online influencers were chosen by 30% of the CEOs, nosing out original content distributed through their company’s own channels, which was named by 28%. It’s good news that corporate leaders are starting to appreciate the power of social media, but progress has been slow.

Some CEOs are masters of PR, for better or worse, like Elon Musk or Marc Benioff. And even those who aren’t household names have used social media to be visible and connected. Check out Brunswick’s list of the most connected CEOs, topped by Wal-Mart’s Doug McMillon. Being the steward of a company’s image and reputation comes with the job.

But most chief executives aren’t rockstars, and they don’t necessarily embrace a role as brand spokesperson. Many lack the time or commitment to deal with media.  They don’t trust the press, and they may be wary of social media and its risks. Or, as the Annenberg study suggests, communications goals and plans aren’t sufficiently aligned with business priorities.

Most professional communicators agree that a CEO with journalist relations and social media skills can be a great asset to any company, particularly an early stage tech company or an entrepreneurial venture. But we in public relations can do better at guiding our clients on the value of a public profile and the CEO’s own role in building one. Most importantly, the top leader’s role should support business goals.

No matter what a given CEO’s role, there are times in nearly every company’s history that call for the involvement of the a PR-fluent CEO. Here are some of the most common. 

To show leadership during a serious crisis situation

If the company’s reputation is in jeopardy, its CEO becomes the chief emergency officer by default. In a high-risk situation, a PR-knowledgeable chief executive serves as a visible and steadying presence. He or she may not necessarily deal directly with the news media, choosing to use social media channels instead to issue a fast response and to control the reaction. A truly critical event, like one that involves loss of life, major litigation, or a viral story like the United Airlines incident of 2017 usually requires an ongoing commitment by the company chief.

To announce a new strategy

It’s not always about crisis management. A new direction or shift in corporate strategy is best announced by the chief executive, who will confer more authority—and generate greater media attention—than other officers.  CEO involvement typically translates into valuable earned media coverage that may be used to communicate company direction for customers or partners through the megaphone of business or trade press and social media.

To launch a key product

Technology company CEOs often participate in announcements of new products at major trade shows or forums, even if it’s just to introduce a senior product executive who will then officially unveil the priority product and go through a features overview. The involvement of the top exec signals that it’s a priority launch and a move to watch.

To advocate in the face of government or regulatory scrutiny

There are risks to advocacy, but this is an area where business goals and social values can be tightly aligned. In my experience the PR-savvy CEO is typically the best advocate in times of regulatory review, where legislation may threaten the industry, or where it is needed.  A clear position on an issue, well articulated at the top, helps advance a company or industry viewpoint, and it offers crucial public support to allies, employees, and customers in what is often a lengthy PR battle.

To manage a corporate transition

It’s important to stakeholders that a new chief executive, or one who takes the helm in an environment of change or uncertainty, make his vision clear. A skilled corporate communications head will use the inherent news value of the change to generate media airtime, op/ed space, or owned content to communicate the company position, manage the transition, and pave the way for a new era of leadership.

To signal a cultural shift

The CEO acts as Chief Engagement Officer with company employees, particularly during a turnaround, and sometimes his role goes further. That was what happened when Dara Khosrowshahi was installed as CEO of Uber in 2017. The company had grown fast in part because of the hard-charging personality of founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, but the resulting culture became toxic. When Kalanick was ultimately forced out, Uber took the unusual step of going public with its message, using its new chief as messenger.  The relatively mild-mannered Khosrowshahi appeared in national television ads where he explained its new cultural values and vowed that Uber would be a “much, much better service.”

Beyond Publicity: What Your PR Agency Can Do

A startup or early stage company that’s considering a public relations budget may be wondering what PR entails. While earned media visibility is the bread and butter of many PR campaigns, they can do far more for an organization. Any PR program that only includes media visibility is inadequate. While winning media coverage can yield immediate gratification, public relations represents a long-term commitment comprising many activities. The PR team or agency’s prime directive is to manage the reputation of the brand – and it does that from many angles.

8 things PR does beyond media pitching

PR strategy

The agency will take any company’s broad or vague notions about what it wants from a PR program and translate it into a clear, tailored strategy, which will inform a set of specific tactics. The PR team should develop this strategy based on the business goals of the organization, and in collaboration with other departments, like marketing and sales. See this earlier post to find out what the best PR strategies have in common.

Brand perception audit

All PR tactics serve to build, bolster, or reinvent a company’s brand reputation. A PR agency can conduct a brand perception audit to establish a baseline on which to build or change reputation. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of the brand’s current image, PR can structure a results-oriented program against clear objectives. The brand perception audit may provide key insight that informs the overall PR strategy.

Messaging

Before any team member sends out a pitch or drafts a byline, the PR team creates a plan for the brand’s messaging that is a foundation for its storytelling. The messaging will guide the team through every type of outreach. PR is fundamentally the art and science of telling the story of your brand, so the messaging should be evocative, concise, and most importantly, an authentic reflection of the company and its most compelling differentiators. For tips on perfecting your PR messaging, see our earlier post.

Content and more content 

Having a PR team is like renting a team of seasoned writers, podcasters and video producers at the ready. PR people are some of the most versatile writers around, often ghosting bylines on behalf of client thought leaders and skilled at emulating an executive’s voice while baking in the right messaging. For more on writing stellar bylines, see our earlier post. While such content is meant to earn media coverage, PR pros also routinely create collateral for owned media like blog posts, white papers, social posts, and case studies.

Leadership events

Owned and operated business events like discussion panels are productive PR activations for building media and industry relationships, generating quality content, boosting thought leadership credibility, and yes – even earning media coverage. A great panel evening should have a provocative (non-promotional) topic, free food and cocktails, panelists from key media and influencers, and a plan for creating assets like video, bylines, blog posts, and white papers after the event. For a deeper dive on putting on stellar panels, see this earlier post.

Speaking opportunities

Industry conferences are vital venues for lead generation and networking, as well as for for building authority. PR teams can help brands’ executive spokespeople earn plum speaking gigs by pitching provocative topics that fit into event themes and the hottest conversations of the day. PR can also provide valuable support for both earned and sponsored event appearances, guiding media outreach and assisting with content. For PR tips on getting speaking engagements, see this earlier post.

Shepherding award entries

Here at Crenshaw, we have a PR specialist (who happens to be yours truly) dedicated to both conferences and industry awards. Industry award wins give our clients bragging rights and enhance credibility with a third-party endorsement that comes from besting the competition. The PR team helps identify relevant, worthwhile award targets year-round, and helps compose the entry essays — an art onto themselves. Award entries are expensive, time consuming, and challenging, so check out these tips for winning in our earlier post.

Media training

Inexperienced executives shouldn’t commit to a media interview or TV appearance without media prep. Even with deep expertise, executives can stumble on a thought or miss opportunities to deliver the right messaging. PR can train executive spokepeople to avoid the myriad of possible mistakes that can happen when facing the press. Media training can prepare spokespeople for challenging reporters, show them how to be relaxed and natural, help develop key phrases, and control the direction of the interview.

What The Best PR Strategies Have In Common

“Strategy” is an overused word, but in public relations or marketing, it’s a key to success.
Without the right PR strategy, a program can fall short or even fail spectacularly. Casual observers of the many ways PR generates earned media, like jumping on a breaking story, might conclude that planning isn’t a priority. Some PR tactics can seem like spontaneous ones that require only media contacts and sales skills. Yet that’s very rarely the case. The difference between a ho-hum PR program and one that’s great comes down to your plan, and that plan rests on strategy.

Here’s what the most successful PR strategies have in common.

They support goals that are specific

We’re often approached by prospective clients who articulate their goals in somewhat vague terms. They may talk about generating visibility for a tech startup, or a desire to position the CEO as a thought leader. Maybe the company has weathered some bad PR and it’s looking for a reputation lift. These are all fine objectives, but to develop a successful PR strategy, it’s our job to help the client set more specific and tailored goals. Fewer, clearer objectives always beat vague or sweeping ones. Think in terms of measurable brand preference, increases in website traffic, lead generation, or even specific deliverables, like speaking opportunities generated for the CEO.

They’re actionable

The best PR strategy is only as good as the execution behind it. A strategy is a road map of specific tactics chosen and tailored to support the organization’s goals. Your core strategy to differentiate and promote your accounting firm may be to position its partners as experts in personal financial planning, for example. Yet that’s meaningless until you have the media pitches, seminar opportunities, or content to support and show off that expertise. It’s also important that tactics are flexible and can be changed as the competitive environment or market trends dictate.

They involve tailored messages

Successful PR plans work to convey messages and stories that are – at least to a degree – ownable by the company or brand in question. They’re not borrowed from a competitor or taken from press release boilerplate. And as with key tactics, they’re reviewed and revised regularly to reflect changes or to incorporate trends or new developments. Here, less is more.

They’re informed by research

At times we underestimate the time and research required for a solid PR strategy that includes tight messaging and multiple media storylines. PR is much more than a one-way broadcasting of information or storytelling; with the right research, it works as a two-way channel by responding to or persuading the right audiences. Pure PR instinct is a beautiful thing, but it just doesn’t cut it when we have access to so much high-quality information that’s useful for tailoring messaging and targets.

They’re measurable

New tools make measuring outcomes far easier and more precise than in the past, but they must be in place in advance of program execution and included in the program budget. It’s curious (and sometimes frustrating) that marketers who wouldn’t dream of starting a new digital marketing program without a brand baseline, or measurable sense of brand preference in advance of spending on marketing, aren’t always equally focused on a reputation baseline before investing in a PR program.

They’re well resourced

One of the unhappiest outcomes of a client-agency relationship is one of disappointment when grand ambitions aren’t realized. Sometimes this is due to a poorly budgeted program. It’s far better to adjust goals and stage anticipated outcomes over a period of three to five years than to try to cram too much into a modest budget. In the case of earned media in particular, media coverage begets more coverage, so building momentum is key.

They’re in sync with other marketing and comms programs

Maybe full integration isn’t a goal, but simple coordination adds value and helps prevent different campaigns from fighting each other. A compelling piece of branded content like a white paper or op-ed article can get a prospective customer into the purchase funnel, where he is then wooed through drip marketing messages, for example. Or maybe a prospect is already in the system and he comes across a particularly convincing testimonial in a trade publication. It all works in concert.

They’re (reasonably) flexible 

A strategic PR plan will be adaptable to market conditions, competitive developments, or changes in the news cycle. Some degree of change is the rule, not the exception. PR can take advantage of that with monthly plan reviews and adjustments. An advantage of earned media over traditional paid advertising is that PR can often shift tactics or adapt messaging with minimal cost, although the earned media approach lacks the test-and-tweak flexibility of digital advertising.

They include a contingency or crisis plan

Similarly, it pays to think through potentially damaging scenarios and be prepared with a defensive strategy in the event of unexpected developments. The key here is often quick access to decision makers and a clear chain of communication. 

Dad’s Wisdom Makes Great PR Advice

For Mother’s Day 2018, we reported how mom’s wisdom makes great PR advice. Dads clamored for their say. Most of our fathers’ advice probably went in one ear and out the other — as a dad would say. As we approach Father’s Day, let’s stop and recognize how a dad’s sometimes patronizing, always wry nuggets of wisdom can be applied to the practice of public relations.

7 Dadisms that make great PR advice

“You’re not going out dressed like that.”

Dad was trying to say that you don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention, and the same goes for brands. Even if the executive spokesperson — usually the CEO — is naturally charismatic and confident facing the media, she should never venture into the public eye without media prep. Only counsel, simulations, and practice can prepare an inexperienced spokesperson for possible adversarial, ignorant, or inexperienced reporters. For PR tips on successful media training, see our earlier post.

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”

It’s not ER, it’s PR. If a prominent tech reporter paints your company in an unflattering light, sometimes there’s nothing the PR team can do to prevent the fire. While we all sweat it while it’s happening, there’s no crying in PR. Time moves fast, and a good PR agency will advise action in proper proportion to the damage, always with an eye on the long term image of the brand. For a deeper dive on dealing with a negative PR situation, see our earlier post.

“I’m not sleeping; I’m resting my eyes”

While dad was surely sleeping at your piano recital, the news never does. Brands cannot afford to ever be napping, especially when mentioned in a negative light – or in a full blown PR crisis. Much of the time, a company spokesperson needs to address a crisis, especially if at fault. But there are also times when it’s the best tactical move to reserve comment. See this earlier post for a PR guide to strategic silence.

“My house; my rules

One of the all-time dadisms isn’t so cut and dried when it comes to the PR agency-client relationships. It serves no one if the PR agency are “yes men,” bowing easily to a client’s ill-conceived idea. Being honest with a client in a difficult situation is not only mandatory, but the key to a trusting, transparent relationship. To learn how to tell a client they are wrong, see our earlier post.

“Don’t spend it all in one place”

Certainly, money was a touchy subject with dad; but imagine how charged the subject can be with clients and agencies. Companies naturally want to maximize PR activities for the budget, but sometimes the wish list will exceed their resources. In the agency-client world, PR pros sometimes have to remain steadfast about sticking to budget limitations, and will need to advise the client what tactics are expendable: which award entry to omit, what research survey can wait, or which release to not put out on the wire.  

“Nobody said life would be fair”

PR people cannot control the media. Sometimes, a journalist may write a story that contains minor inaccuracies (which are not necessarily the reporter’s fault) or misrepresentations — or inexplicably jump an embargo. Stuck in the middle of an unfair situation, the PR team must sometimes absorb the criticism for such issues while simultaneously struggling to correct errors. Either way, PR pros tend to develop a thick skin while enduring the ups and downs of the media relations game. Dad would say it’s “character building.” For tips on maintaining media relationships under pressure, see our earlier post.

“A little hard work never hurt anybody”

Wise words from the man of the house. If you’re considering a career in public relations, be prepared to juggle and hustle, and don’t expect a 9-to-5 existence. There is no unplugging or auto-pilot in PR; one must constantly work to perform for clients and build long-term, fruitful relationships with media. The news has never moved faster — nor has been more competitive than it is today. PR is hard work, but winning results can feel amazing.
Little did we know, father was a sound PR practitioner. We at Crenshaw wish all the dads out there a happy Father’s Day!  

A PR Intern’s Guide to Agency Lingo

If you’ve scored your first tech PR internship this summer, congratulations and welcome to the *dark side (some jargon already!) You’re about to be thrust into the fascinating world of public relations –  where people naturally speak their own private language with various business slang and PR lingo. To get ahead of the game and save yourself some assimilation time, here’s a primer on current PR/biz jargon – at least the kind we use in New York tech PR.

PR intern’s guide to agency lingo

*Dark Side – Okay, we in PR take offense to this shady designation. When a journalist decides to transition to public relations, they may say they’re “going over to the dark side.” Truth is, it’s not that dark. PR people and reporters work very closely every day, and are very much in the same business of storytelling.

Air cover – PR pros are not top guns, paratroopers, or bombardiers; air cover refers to media visibility that supplements or helps support more substantial stories — or even other departments’ initiatives. The PR team might pitch some less tailored info about the company for general brand visibility ahead of a new product announcement or a big funding announcement.

Earned media – Interns need to learn this term first, since it’s among the things clients expect from their agencies. As opposed to paying for advertising (or maybe in addition to it), PR pros earn media coverage by pitching stories reporters want to write, and readers/viewers want to see.

Phoner – When we set up meetings or interviews with clients and reporters or analysts, sometimes it’s an in-person discussion, but more often people are too busy for face time, so we arrange a “phoner.”

KPIs – You will see this acronym on proposals or client briefs. It stands for Key Performance Indicators, and it’s how we show we’ve met client performance goals or met a commitment for deliverables.

Boilerplate – If a client asks you or a colleague to create a new boilerplate, they’re not talking about cooking or heating. It’s the final paragraph of a press release that contains background on the company in question. Actually the term originates with metal printing plates of prepared text that were distributed to local newspapers.

Heads down – This phrase does not refer to low self-esteem. But if one of us is up against a deadline and intensely working on a single project, she (usually an upper level person – AAEs don’t have the luxury of such proclamations) will announce that she is “heads down” – meaning give a wide berth and don’t bother her until she arises from her bleary-eyed, hunched over position at her desk.

In the weeds – Particularly in the world of high-tech PR, it is easy to get trapped deep in the details when writing PR content like a byline, white paper, or a media pitch. This refers to the often esoteric, deeply technical aspects of our clients’ offerings. You don’t want to drag tech journalists too deep into the weeds; that’s what industry analysts like Gartner are for. It’s our job to translate the dry, mechanical details into digestible narratives for broader audiences.

Pre-pitch – A new PR intern may know what a media pitch is, and may even know what an exclusive is; but a pre-pitch is an early outreach to media contacts before a piece of news has been officially announced.

Bump! – As a verb, PR people will “bump” a deliverable up the chain of command to get final edits or approval. Often used with a gleeful exclamation point (because the PR pro is so pleased to get a task off her list), it’s a speedy one-word proclamation.

Flag – In your first week working in a PR office, you’ll notice everybody flagging. Huh? Back in my day, flagging meant failing a test – getting an F. But PR agency people often need to flag media stories for clients, either because it may have a negative mention of their brand – or in preparation for reactive media pitching. “Flagging” is also used in media training as a technique to emphasize certain responses to a reporter’s question.

Evergreen – Journalists, marketing, and public relations pros often strive to create a specific type of content that will remain relevant for the long term — evergreen content stays fresh because they cover topics and angles consumers will always be interested in, as opposed to more obscure, timely themes.

UVM – A dewy young intern may think UVM is a prominent college, but UVM refers to the number of unique visitors per month that a news website receives. Interns will hear this on day one and see the acronym constantly when completing coverage recaps or compiling media lists.

Crossing the wire – It sounds like an explosion is imminent; but it’s a routine practice of putting a press release out via a wire service like PR Newswire. “Crossing the wire” comes from a bygone era when news services communicated via electrical telegraphy.

If you’re a new tech PR intern, study the above terms to prepare for that first day. But, sorry to report, while you’re mastering PR office lingo, you will simultaneously need to master the lingo of technology. In our case, it’s adtech; get ready for an acronym tornado: DMP, CDP, iOT, OTT, DOOH… but that’s one for another post. See this earlier post for tips on how to go from PR intern to permanent hire.

Did I miss any interesting PR office lingo? Let us know @CrenshawComm.