Generally speaking, in the tech world, tactical PR pros are in the majority. They closely embrace traditional PR practices dating back a half-century and live from one press release to the next, and rarely step outside those boundaries. That role has been historically acceptable to many large and small tech companies.
A strategic PR pro, on the other hand, works and collaborates with marketing, sales and engineering colleagues, as well as executives to map out a significant plan that buoys the company’s market awareness and visibility.
Every now and then, however, you run into a PR pro with both qualities, meaning a strategic planner and proven content writer who creates and publishes valuable articles supporting a well-planned PR strategy.
Enter the exec
In most cases, sadly, C-suite executives—who are generally not adept at strategic PR—play a hand in whether you’re tactical or strategic. Most often, company executives are constantly looking at the bottom line and on how to maintain a healthy stock price. They believe that getting mentions and stories in business publications like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times keeps their stock prices healthy and alleviates investor concerns.
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Those types of execs pressure their PR pros to get mentions and stories in the tier-one press. So, the PR pro spends endless hours trying to connect with those editors and convince them of their stories.
Unfortunately, this misled executive thinking most often isn’t effective. Plus, it continually hampers product marketing and sales growth, as well as keeps customers virtually in the dark. The reason: PR isn’t being used to communicate valuable product information to the right audiences. Worst of all, the PR pro finds it difficult to get business editors to respond to their story pitches. Stress, anxiety and frustration are the results.
In all fairness, there are those C-suite executives who are highly savvy about technology PR. They understand that a strategic PR initiative starts with the trade press to develop an industry technology leadership perception.
Once that’s achieved, those execs know that stories and articles in the trade press serve to keep tier-one press and market analysts well informed, as the basis for probable business articles. At the same time, the same PR strategy continuously supports their companies’ products and keeps customers up to date on their technology advancements and keeps investors happy.
They also know that strategic PR builds market awareness and visibility, as well as captures a larger share of voice. These execs respect PR pros who are adept at strategic PR planning and execution and rely on them to plan the right initiatives without micromanaging them.
With that background, let’s now look at the PR pro and profile how he/she is either tactical or strategic.
Let’s try this, that and the other
The tactical pro relies heavily on a number of PR activities on an individual and random basis, such as news releases, media inquiry responses, occasional press interviews, getting a spokesperson to speak at a conference and trying to get a story or mention in a leading business publication. In essence, this is the 1950s mindset of just getting ink or “all press is good press.”
On the other hand, the strategic PR pro first gets a complete lay of the land. This means he or she takes an audit of the company’s products and technologies, the competitive landscape, customer audiences, interviews, sales, marketing and company executives to determine the challenges and issues their customers face today and in the future. And then, along with his/her marketing peers, formulates a valuable, unique selling proposition and messages, and subsequently, a plan of action.
That organized plan of action deploys a number of different PR tactics, all woven and blended into the overall strategy. But all those tactics carry the same unique selling proposition and messaging. Depending on a tech company’s marketing and sales objectives, such a strategy can be led by a sustained byline article initiative targeting online and print trade press appropriate for a given technology.
What about those misled execs?
As alluded to earlier, there are inexperienced PR execs who falsely think that business editors are allies, serve as a branch of their PR, sales and marketing activities, and feel those editors and reporters are just standing by and eagerly willing to write stories about their companies. One such Silicon Valley PR exec says his strategy is to “call reporters, find out what they need and how our company can fit into their coverage. What do they want to write about and how can we position our executives to be included in your stories?”
Unfortunately, this faux strategy isn’t effective. Most business editors are too busy to answer phone calls or respond to email pitches. It just doesn’t work. It’s like trying to fit the proverbial square peg in a round hole. Published online articles on the subject even quote some business editors as blatantly saying about PR callers: “They’re the bane of my existence,” “I absolutely hate them,” and “They drive me insane.”
There’s a better way
A PR strategy is a much better way, not only to continuously and effectively communicate with business and trade media, but also to build a brand, plus sustain market awareness and share of voice.
Plus, a well-conceived PR strategy effectively drives the overall PR engine for a company. As cited earlier, the tactical PR pro puts out press release after press release. Not to disparage press releases; they’re important, but at times, they’re few and far between. Conversely, a well-executed PR strategy driven by contributed byline articles and op-eds produce a “consistent cadence of reputation-building media coverage,” as one tech company puts it.
This offers a number of benefits not only to the PR pro, but also to his or her company and to executives. For example, published byline articles are picked up by search engines to give business editors updated technology information. If developed properly, byline articles carry the “grist” that attracts business editors. They can get the lead for a business story and in so doing, probably come to your company for more perspective.
Also, content from published byline articles can be repurposed for social media or as blogs and published on your website, so trade or business press editors can catch up on your advanced technologies. In some cases, editors pull quotes from this public information for their staff-written stories.
But perhaps the best benefit is a high probability of generating a marketing-qualified lead from a potential customer. That individual read the article, appreciates that your company understands his product challenges, learns that your technology can help to resolve them, calls in to find out more and moves up the sales funnel.
Dan Garza is a marketing PR professional and veteran observer of Silicon Valley PR.