PR Tips For A High-Impact Technology Launch

Technology companies gearing up for a new product launches know full well they’re adding to a crowded marketplace. It can be particularly challenging for B2B startups offering SaaS or other tech services to generate visibility when the category isn’t new. But no tech company can afford to overlook the power of public relations to create anticipation, credibility, and impact for a new offering. For the company, a new product launch is the biggest news in the world. How can they make it big to the people who matter?

Tap into the larger story

Increasingly, reporters in the tech, advertising and marketing space are less inclined to do traditional product launch coverage unless the company is a top gun. The media tend to focus on Facebook, Salesforce, and Amazon, among others. To be successful, tech PR pros need to tap into a broader, buzzed-about trend to make the product launch meaningful and timely. Why is the product or service needed? What pain points does it address? For example, a startup with a new software that detects manipulated images through machine learning can join the conversation about fake news stories, the growth of AI, or information security advances. And if you can tie your offering to one of the giants like Apple or Facebook, that helps, too.

Go the media exclusive route

If you’re not Adobe or Salesforce, driving embargoed coverage for a product launch can be difficult. Smaller companies and non-unicorn startups can consider providing a single media outlet with an “exclusive” on the announcement, meaning that they get the story first. Though there’s no guarantee, exclusive access makes the time and resources spent on the story more worthwhile for the outlet in question. An entire media sector may lack an incentive to cover a smaller company’s product under embargo unless the launch is massively interesting or the category is new. In some cases it’s better to drive one great story for a new product versus attempting to generate several and coming up empty handed. For more detail about the art of offering media exclusives, see this post about how to apply it in tech PR.

Get a partner involved

In the B2B world, product launches can get a big boost when a customer or beta user is on board to be spotlighted. Reporters will take even more interest if the client is a pilot partner, and the company has success metrics or positive reviews to share at launch. Partnering with a bigger brand in a non-competitive sector can be fruitful for a launch, since the smaller company can ride on its reputation coattails. Of course, strategic partnerships must be mutually beneficial, with the kind of “win-win” outcomes neither company could have gotten on its own. But a customer-driven launch can swiftly ramp up the news value of the announcement.

Adopt an influencer strategy

Another key element that drives news value is an influencer strategy. Journalists often like to speak to sector experts, either on or off the record, to understand the potential impact of a new product or service. If a company is launching its new product at its own event or at a trade conference, the influential community members can play a role in shining a spotlight on the event before a captive audience. If the product is truly worthy, industry experts will be delighted to create the buzz. Plus, if they’re involved at an early stage, top influencers can offer actionable feedback. And if there’s a visual aspect, as in the consumer sector, top business users can be tapped to create shareable videos. But keep them short – chances are that you have a mere few seconds to make an impact.

Save the sales pitch for customers

For a product launch, it’s tempting to slip into a commercial mindset that stresses features over function. But in most cases it makes more sense to build coverage by focusing on the bigger picture. The media approach and press materials should talk about the problem that it solves, generating data to make the case. Or the PR strategy may be to tell a story about the motives of the creators, or the obstacles they overcame. That’s likely to be more memorable than acronym-laden features or jargon about how groundbreaking the launch is.

PR takes a running start

We’re big believers in early preparation for any kind of product launch campaign. First, there’s the content factor. Note that any PR or content team needs to build in time to create compelling blog posts, bylines, and videos – all of which incidentally build SEO to support the launch. Media exclusives can only be offered to one reporter at a time, and we can wait days for a decision, especially during busy seasons.

Above all, a product or service launch isn’t a one-day event. Once launch coverage is secured, the story can be told more fully over time – through customer success, market impact, education events, and longer-term influencer programs – and the successful PR has only just begun.

7 Tips For Planning Global PR

Whether  launching a B2B technology service, a medical device or new consumer product, many of the rules of the (international) road remain the same. This month, for example we will provide PR support for the international debut of a health technology product at a prominent overseas trade show. Next month, we’ll be launching a social app that’s popular in Europe but unknown on these shores. Those are very different assignments but there are some common requirements.

Gather best practices.  It’s helpful to study key business categories, particularly those in regulated industries where rules vary by country and culture. Research the successful global debuts of companies in particular who have succeeded in pharma, technology, online advertising, and franchising. Note Subway’s secrets to success found here. Find common tenets and practices for guidance.

Choose your international partners wisely. The founder and CEO of international client Edible Arrangements compares finding the right overseas associates to getting married—it’s a relationship, not a sale. When searching for the right partner, Farid employs the “airport test” — if you were on a plane next to this person, would you wish the flight was delayed or lasted longer because of how much you enjoy spending time with them? If the answer is yes, add them to your short list!” For our company, being a partner in PROI, a network of independent PR firms, has provided us with strategic and tactical support.

Think global, write local? Best to avoid jargon when expressing key messages and get straight to the point. Translate press releases, announcements and presentations into the local language, and use images wherever possible. Hire an on-site interpreter if necessary. This is particularly true if the client news is packed with technical terms.

It’s a small social media world. The HQ-based team sets the strategies and defines the content. The local team adapts the content and implements the campaign. Therefore, they must be fluent in the native language/s, social media mores, cultural nuances and the target audience. It’s also key to set up a structure to match your social media needs. How often does your campaign need posts? Do sites need to be monitored 24/7 and just how many languages are there in each country you’re headed to?  

Consider the optics.  Assess a brand’s visual identity, including logo, and consider how the colors, shapes and even font choices could be perceived in other cultures. It’s also important to note how the senior officers will be perceived. If it’s an all-male team, 100% racially homogeneous, and all under 30 or over 60, it can hurt the public image of the business in many communities and cultures. Our experience favors working with local partners to gauge media and public perception and advise on presentation.

Study ethics and issues. Finally, when expanding internationally, know the hot-button issues and reputational threats specific to each environment. These include hiring and wages, manufacturing, environmental considerations and p0litics. Take a page from Walmart (yes, Walmart) which seeks to source produce for its food sections from local farms that are near its warehouses. Walmart has learned through tough experience that this practice is not only good for business, but helps build allies and good will.

Have a local presence. Even if it’s a small office, it helps to have a local address and place of business. More importantly, a qualified in-market executive who can serve as occasional media spokesperson will multiply opportunities and help enhance reputation in case of any kind of customer service breach or issue. Where possible, commit to the local business community with local philanthropy, small sponsorships, or volunteer Boards. The more you give to the local community, the more “human” your brand will become.

Anatomy Of A B2B PR Success

Sometimes a B2B PR team meets with a client to discuss a product launch and despite client enthusiasm for the project, they have a sinking feeling that there’s not really any “there there.” Other times, a team walks away buoyant with the knowledge they’ve got a hot story.

For client Findaway World, publishers of electronic and audiobooks looking to attract additional publisher and other business partners for its technology, the situation was somewhere in the middle. Not until the team got into the details did we realize that the company’s new  Navy eReader Device, or “NeRD” e-reader developed for use by sailors on U.S. Navy vessels, was a media live wire! Since the story was broken last week, media coverage has been intense, beginning with first-round announcements from WSJ, CNN, NBC, Engadget and dozens of others. Now in the second week of working the story, the team is seeing interest from even bigger press outlets.

Here are the elements that helped create a media juggernaut that hasn’t slowed down yet.

Storytelling works. Sometimes literally.  The U.S. Armed services is inherently interesting, for reasons of patriotism, politics, and technology, and there are plenty of military geeks out there in media-land. The NeRD background also had particular appeal as a feel-good item that has nothing to do with battle or casualty reports. It focused on providing the Navy with secure e-readers and a library of bestselling titles for personnel as a welcome diversion for lengthy stints at sea, invoking fictionalized accounts of long weeks spent in submarines or aboard other vessels that are fascinating to so many.

Go the extra distance. Few stories are just one-day affairs. The team doled out portions of the story ahead of release to certain writers with specific interest, then embargoed to the greater media list. Once the initial flurry of announcement press occurred, they dug deeper into feature reporters who wanted to explore other facets of the story and the company behind the device, Findaway World.

Well-oiled client machine. The agency team and the client worked to make sure the company execs were well-versed in every aspect of the product and the Navy partnership, resulting in better soundbites and more compelling interviews.

Expand the media reach. The team already had some excellent relationships with media covering publishing, business, tech, and e-reader beats; now they’ve built new relationships with journalists covering the armed forces and various other areas as well.

Plan for the next story. The success of the NeRD has spawned fresh story ideas for the team to explore as well as collaborative thinking with the client. Maybe e-readers for space travel?

Whatever Happened To The Big Tech PR Launch?

Some former colleagues in tech PR and I were talking recently about the “good old days” when nearly every tech launch included a splashy press conference. Maybe it wasn’t as theatrical as Steve Jobs taking the stage at MacWorld, but it was entertainment, complete with a dramatic unveil, executive presentations, and striking models who would help demo some kind of sexy new hardware.

Today, not so much. Oh, there are still the big, newsmaking CES press conferences and presentations, but even for those, media attend in assembly-line fashion, live blog the product specs, and move on to the next session. Few are standouts. Some of the most exciting launches at this year’s CES were either leaked in advance or launched through influencer outreach.

In my book, that’s a good thing. Lavish press conferences – and the pressure to fill seats with journalists, regardless of quality or commitment to the story – have always struck me as a lazy strategy. But launches have evolved, and there are learnings for PR professionals and communicators.

So, what’s different?

Media have changed, for one. They don’t rush as readily to a hotel room or auditorium to cover every new iteration of a smartphone or Fitbit. There are fewer working journalists to cover this kind of thing, and product reviews are produced by a handful of writers whose work is syndicated. The PR strategy for a new technology product needs to cater to journalists’ needs and most of all, show relevance.

Software trumps hardware. The more exciting innovations tend to be those that are less tangible and visual, which can make a dramatic unveil tricky. Google Glass notwithstanding, most of the attention is on newer technologies with a high cool factor or disruption potential but no actual manufactured product. As Yiren Lu points out in a fascinating New York Times piece about the gulf between the Silicon Valley old guard and the startup culture, legacy CE and enterprise companies are less interesting than the guy who might be the next Uber.

For PR and communications practitioners, it means the strategy needs to be developed earlier and it has to work smarter to create exposure among influencers like analysts and early adopters, not just traditional journalists.

Innovation isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes it seems there are fewer groundbreaking product launches because there are fewer groundbreaking products. Remember the iPad launch? That’s right, four years is a long time. Not every new product warrants a press conference or the hyperbolic claims that match, and that means it’s up to us to set client expectations accordingly.

Startup culture rules. Some “old-guard” companies like Apple and Google still command attention and can pack a press room. But today’s media track funders and founders. Early-stage companies, or those who adopt the startup culture, are more likely to win attention for a disruptive app or platform based on an idea or new way of communicating rather than a device or gadget.

Follow the money. When it comes to early-stage businesses, funding is credibility. And some of the money behind those startups is smart enough to know that these companies don’t need six-figure press events to win attention. The unveiling of the product or service isn’t the end of the PR program, it’s the beginning, of course.

Then, the real work starts.