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Public Relations for Product Launches

Part II of the Series: 10 Ways to Untangle Your Product Launch

When I was a young writer working for the Entrepreneur Media Group, one of my tasks was to write new product and company launch articles for two of their magazines and their online community. I was a voracious consumer of press releases in those days. I would read every release that crossed my desk searching for something interesting to share with our audience.

That was well before Web 2.0.

At the risk of exposing my advanced age, the year was 1994. That was also the first year of NAFTA, Bill Clinton had just ended his first term, movie tickets cost $4 and Weezer released their debut blue album. Good times. There was no such thing as Facebook or LinkedIn. There were no blogs–we were all writing dead-tree indie ‘zines.

In other words, press releases mattered a lot more than they do today. Writers like me actually read them and put them into articles.

Today, you cannot afford to simply rely on press releases. Press releases have to be part of your long-term corporate public relations campaign. If you are a hyper-growth company, “long-term” might mean six months. Other companies need to think 18-36 months ahead.

Product Launch as Inflection Point

While explaining the ins-and-outs of a corporate PR program is well beyond the scope of this post, the general goal of your PR program should be to raise awareness and build trust in your company. A product launch is an inflection point in the history of your company that provides many opportunities to develop your reputation and even overcome bad market perceptions.

Product launch public relations is one of the most frequent PR activities most hyper-growth companies pursue. Because it is a significant inflection point, it can be used to support a number of marketing and sales goals:

  • Promoting a new product launch as we’re discussing in this series
  • Raising awareness of the depth and expertise of your company
  • Correcting perceptions about your company that you may feel are less than accurate
  • Increasing the knowledge of your products among your employees, customers and partners
  • Driving wider adoption of your products in your base or in new markets
  • Providing a critical plank in your enablement, nurturing and top-of-mind-awareness (TOMA) programs

Public Relations Tactics for Product Launches

A good public relations campaign is really more about relationships and nuance than it is about any specific tactic. But since we’re talking about building your product launch plan in this series, I’m going to outline the most important consideration that I think you should incorporate into your product launch PR steps.

Where Should I Look?

Before you begin, realize that the consumption of your PR content is not that different than the consumption of your other marketing content. Two important rules still apply: you need to go where your market already is because they won’t come looking for you and you need to hit them with 27 touches.

The good news is, you have a lot of opportunities to consider. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started. Your industry will have it’s own unique areas to consider as well.

  • Issuing a press release about your new product is essential. Perhaps you should consider a series of releases related to the new product, webinars, case studies, white papers and more.
  • Can you wiggle your way into some product surveys for magazines and analysts?
  • Your new product undoubtedly involved some sort of innovation, right? Can you contribute articles that relate to your super-human development efforts and complex thinking?
  • Can you talk someone from outside your organization into writing a clever article of how-tos that feature your product?
  • Ghost write some articles for your R&D team to supply industry publications with new content.
  • Get your evangelists and sales reps to start blogging and tweeting.
  • Develop an ROI related story for industry publications featuring statistics. Here’s a dirty little trick. If you can get one publication to mention one of your stats (e.g., “XYZ software saves 20%), then you can start quoting that stat as if it was fully vetted by a third-party (e.g., “According to Industry Pub, our software saves 20%…”) Sure, it’s circular, but who is going to research it out that far?

Using PR for Demand Generation

One of the biggest choke points in your demand generation efforts is probably a lack of education in your markets. Here are some ways that PR can help you get new leads.

  • Getting more links back to your site for traffic and SEO
  • Promoting case studies and white papers which will drive new clicks and hand-raisers
  • Featured articles that promote the thought leadership of your executives and employees
  • Promotion of free offers, ROI calculators, surveys and other demand generation tools
  • Promotion of a contest or social media campaign that drives viral effects for your product launch

Should I Hold a Press Conference?

Yes, you should. I’m assuming that your product release is critical to your company and important to the market. If not, why are you releasing it? A press conference allows you to meet with journalists, editors and analysts in person (or voice-to-voice) and brief them on details that would otherwise be missed.

A press conference sounds really difficult. It isn’t, really. The hardest part is usually getting your executives to participate. Today, a lot of what you want to do in a press conference can be handled virtually and without a lot of expense. Here are some tips for you to hold a successful event.

  • Treat it like any other event, road show or webinar. That is, focus on value for your target audience and apply all of your promotional muscle.
  • Don’t just invite journalists and analysts, invite customers, partners, vendors and your mother-in-law. More people means more buzz.
  • Give everyone plenty of notice and if you can, try to time the event with the editorial calendars of your most important publications.
  • Design press packages. These can be electronic but they need to look good and professional bold and sexy. You should include background information, product details, literature, photographs or other graphics, statistics, customer quotes and more.
  • Make sure your executive team is available. They will need to be coached. You will need to make appointments on their behalf. You probably even need to buy their plane tickets and book their hotels if necessary, because executives aren’t good at details.
  • Book interviews with key journalists and analysts with your executives throughout the day. Make them feel like an exclusive group with access others don’t have. If they can’t make it, schedule a private web briefing just for them.
  • Your team should split up that night and each take out one journalist and two customers for dinner. It will sweeten the deal for the journalist and they’ll appreciate your candidness by being willing to let them grill a real customer all night.
  • Record the briefing and put it all online, but only after the live event happens. You want to maintain the air of a “scoop” and some exclusivity for the event itself.

Avoid These Mistakes

Product launches are busy times filled with many opportunities for mistakes. Let me help you avoid some of the bigger ones that seem to happen all the time.

  • Failing to leverage the results. If you manage to get some good ink, spread it around. Send articles to other analysts. Send them in your direct mail. Blog them, because link love is the universal currency of today’s social and SEO. Put them in your newsletter. Ask and order reprints because the publication will make some money and be more likely to write about you in the future. Quote the articles everywhere.
  • Being all about “you” and not about “them.” Most companies write about how great their products are from their own perspective with their own jargon. Instead, you need to write about the benefits for the customer and the market. Make it interesting with real life examples. You know who does this really well? Microsoft. Take a look at this cloud article. That doesn’t really look like PR flak, it looks like research. (Hat tip: Ricardo Villalobos, the best product evangelist on the planet).
  • Writing something that is basically unpublishable. I almost titled this mistake, “targeting the wrong editors,” because it is basically the same thing. Know your publications inside and out. Don’t assume that everyone will be equally interested in your message. If you do, you will waste your ability to pitch to them in the future
  • Assuming journalists know anything about you at all. Journalists are busy. They aren’t surfing your site and interviewing your customers hoping to find someting interesting. Even if they know you, they may not be up to date with your current offerings. Maybe they scanned a press release, but they don’t know how it relates to their readers. Take time to nurture them like you would your prospects so they know you and the company background already.
  • Letting product people do your job. Product people are great interviewees, sources and bloggers. But don’t let them write your press materials. Take what they give you and rewrite it to suit your goals, drive interest and improve readability.

I hope this was a helpful list to follow when considering your public relations options in your next product launch. When we next return to this series, we’ll talk about one of my favorite topics of all time, lead nurturing playbooks for product launches.


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