I’m sure it comes as no shock that not every tech PR campaign is destined to be a success. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say that some PR engagements never fully realize the potential that some clients (and their PR partners) may share. The result is often disappointment for all involved.
Not every past PR failure, however, is a predictor of future results. Failure is often the best way to learn and prepare for future success. Without occasional failures, how can you strive to improve?
What’s far less obvious is how to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again and then concluding that PR is irrelevant and ineffective in an increasingly digital world dominated by data analytics and marketing automation.
Here are some perfectly valid reasons why a tech PR campaign failure can lead to positive outcomes for tech startups and fast-growth SMBs.
Refine the messaging
Not every tech PR campaign has the right message in place when it launches. That’s not necessarily the fault of the PR firm or internal communications team rather it can come from a deeper problem a company has when articulating its key value propositions. As a tech PR firm owner working with startups as well as much larger tech enterprises, I can personally attest that sometimes the product marketing cake comes out half-baked and falls short of impressing a busy, seen-in-all media. Or there end up being too many cooks in the kitchen, to continue our culinary metaphor, and the result is a mash-up of ideas reflecting different internal agendas.
The best approach is to take the failure as a chance to improve your future messages. Find the right answers to customer needs, differentiate your offering from competitors, etc. Take a page from email marketing and A/B test your PR messages across various media outlets to see which approach works best. Only then will you figure out what each media outlet prefers to cover and begin to maximize the media coverage for each PR campaign.
Learn your story
As crazy as it sounds, there are times when a tech PR campaign falls flat simply because there are no use cases with strong customer testimonials. The media loves a good tech story but without providing a ‘human side’ to the story, it may lack the real-world relevance media prefer to cover. That’s why PR firms value case studies and customer testimonials — they capture your product or service from the perspective of a customer and lay the groundwork for a larger story arc.
Without a customer quote, the media will have to rely 100% on your word and talk purely about the technology; in the eyes of most media, that smacks more of product marketing and less of objective journalism. That approach can and does work if a brand new product is brought to the market and trade journals want to know more about it in order to inform their respective readership. Still, bringing a human element or real-world connection can give the journalist and her readers the ability to connect more emotionally with your offering.
While telling a story is every bit as important for effective digital marketing, telling a story with as much objectivity and fact-based language will go a long way toward convincing a journalist that you are not trying to pass off self-serving marketing literature. Arm your PR firm with the right content — case studies, testimonials, success stories — so they can find the best narrative to serve up to media outlets seeking stories that will capture the interest of their target audience.
Unfortunately, some technology companies view PR campaigns as an after-thought. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been told about a startup’s capital raise that reached 7-figures but they failed to pursue a PR campaign in advance of the round. The news media views capital raises from angel investors and venture capital firms as a trigger to discuss the broader topics about a company — customer need it aims to fulfill, addressable market, company growth plans, etc. In short, a failure to promote a capital raise or any other key company announcement when it happens will always be a recipe for lackluster media results. Timing can also impact how well a campaign performs for major marketing initiatives like trade shows. In an article we wrote about how to plan for trade show PR and media campaigns, we explain how the timing of your planning is critical to hitting key deliverables like winning attention-getting panel and speaking opportunities as well as early relationship building with key media outlets.
Learning to trust your a 3rd party tech PR agency takes a leap of faith in the form of both a financial investment and an ability to take advice that may run contrary to your nature. Failure can and often does come when a company won’t let the PR firm exert influence over its messaging strategy. Engaging a PR firm involves a total commitment to the practice of capturing and articulating your marketing messages that very often involve a different way of looking at and valuing your company and its offerings.
Many B2B tech companies are proud of their technology, and rightly so. But tech companies can become enamored of their technological prowess and fail to realize that what interests audiences of media outlets often involve a mix of technology and other angles with real-world implications. Or, in the case of a tech company interested in making a splash at a trade show where a much bigger competitor invariably captures most of the news, it’s possible a PR firm might advise you to make your announcement before the trade show starts to take advantage of the news lull before the show.
Trust is a two-way transaction, of course, and the PR firm has to earn it. But meeting them half-way will ensure your chances of success are greater in the future.
Listen to feedback
Failure can be a symptom of a problem a tech company is having with its ability to keep a PR firm or other internal stakeholders that matter, in the loop as decisions are made impacting the business. Executive new hires, product launches, major customer wins, strategic alliances, internal security breaches — all can have an impact on what a tech PR firm will address both in the short, mid, and long-term.
Say you have plans to take your fast-growing company through an IPO. What many B2B tech executives fail to realize is the sooner you make your PR firm aware of future marketing plans the better your chances of navigating the unpredictable media landscape. In fact, check out our article entitled “Communications Advice for Pre-IPO Tech Companies.” Not convinced at how important a sound PR strategy is for a successful IPO? Just look at how WeWork’s much-vaunted IPO crashed and burned in mere weeks with all the sensationalism of a supermarket tabloid story.
The fact is that many times these communication failures can be easily remedied. Start by arranging a standing weekly or bi-weekly PR meeting that involves key stakeholders from marketing. Then commit to identifying and setting up quarterly PR deliverables so that the whole team is aware and held accountable for their success.
The moral of the story? Embrace failure. It’s still one of the best ways to learn your best lessons and improve the performance of future PR campaigns.