A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

A year ago, I moved into a new role leading a marketing team at a fast-growing software company. It was an exciting time. We were rolling out new branding, a new website. We needed collateral and marketing programs to generate those essential inbound leads. And we needed to implement a marketing technology stack to seamlessly measure our efforts and report results up to our CEO. It was a challenge, but one I felt comfortable leaning on my or my team’s experience to overcome.

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But then came a major release of our SaaS product and the need to do some public relations.

Some incredible new functionality was being added to our product, features that clients and sales had been asking for. I knew that we needed to get the word out far beyond our database of prospects and clients; it was time to do a major press release…

Although I’ve done many product launches and written a few releases in the past, I’d always passed it off to the PR team to work their ‘magic’. The honest truth is that I had no idea what they did once I handed it off to them.

Now I should mention that this fantastic new software company I joined (plug for Agility PR Solutions) sells PR tools and services and publishes tons of content about PR best practices and tips for media relations (this will be important to my story). So luckily I didn’t have to rely on Google.

A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

First I had to write a killer press release…

In the Monitor, Measure, Evaluate and Evolve webinar, Serena Erlich (@serena) suggested, before you start writing, start with keywords. I went through Google Trends and our Google AdWords account to find the best-performing keywords relevant to our release about Agility, our media database and distribution solution.

Search terms like “media database,” “media contacts,” and “media lists” were the most common. We also know, based on our most shared and viewed blogs, that the term “influencer” is HUGE. And based on some “learnings,” (aka happy accidents, aka expensive accidents) from my first release earlier in the year—that clocked in at 1000 words and cost a pretty penny — I decided to aim for around 400 words total. Serena also suggested including videos and images, so I created a short demo video showing the capabilities and grabbed a couple screenshots to include.

Then I had to figure out who could amplify my story…

Once I had a draft of the release and was waiting on approval from legal and execs, I got to work on how the heck to promote it.

One of the first things I learned about press releases was that, when it comes to international distribution, you pay per country, and depending on the vendor you choose, some countries are more expensive. I wanted to send to the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. To help control costs, I opted to use a trusted newswire with broad reach for my release to the U.S. and U.K., and to use our product, Agility, to distribute it across Canada, as well as to relevant journalists and outlets from the rest of the world.

I had a list of journalists who wrote about business but I wanted to micro-target beyond a general beat, down to areas of interest. I wanted to pinpoint journalists that write about business technology and software. Even more, I wanted to find people who had written about our competitors recently—and get them to write about us. Conveniently, the new features we were releasing helped me to do just that.

A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

Drawing from an archive of millions of articles and blog posts, our new keyword search capability lets you pinpoint journalists who have written about anything that matters to you. Right now, what mattered to me was our competitors’ latest product announcements, and terms like PR tools, and media monitoring software. What I found was a list of specialized journalists and bloggers likely to be interested in my release.

Next step? Further segmenting my lists…

From my marketing life I know that understanding your audience and segmenting them accordingly is critical to campaign success. I figured the same applied to pitching journalists. So I split my big ol’ list into two smaller ones based on personas:

  • Business technology writers interested in the tool functionality
  • Local or general business writers interested in the tech success story angle or its impact on our publicly traded parent company, Innodata Inc.

I used the Agility database to look at each journalist’s profile, and by seeing what they’d been writing and tweeting about recently, I knew exactly what they were currently interested in. Slotting them into a persona was easy.

And then to personalize my pitch for these micro-segments…

From years in direct marketing (a few too many to mention), I know there are three main factors for email success:

  1. A compelling subject line
  2. An appeal to a key pain point or a benefit the audience values
  3. Personalization
A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

I also had a slide from Katy Pollard’s webinar on media relations stuck in my brain: a journalist’s inbox filled with hundreds of lame, boring pitches.

I needed my pitch to stand out, and as this was the first time I was reaching out to them — it could be a make-or-break moment.

For the local/general business writers, I took a bold and somewhat risky approach. My pitch was about how I used our tools to find and do my research on them. I proposed that our tools could reduce the number of irrelevant pitches they received — and my targeted, relevant pitch was proof of that. Very risky, I admit, because if I was wrong, I could be inundated with smug replies from journalists all too happy to point out the irony.

A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

Ready. Set. Go.

The release hits the wire and — because I learned from Business Wire’s journalist’s survey that 61% of journalists say morning is the best time to receive a pitch—I schedule my email to go out at 7 a.m. to my lists in Agility.

A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

When I got in that morning, I saw I got a couple opens and clicks. After finishing my happy dance, I put a reminder in my calendar to follow up with them later in the week. Why wait? Because according to Steve Beale’s “Don’t be annoying” post, you need to give them time to read and maybe even respond before calling.

And now I monitor…

Now just because I’m mentioning monitoring at the end doesn’t mean that it was the last thing I thought about. I know how important it is to stay on top what’s being said about you, your industry, and your competitors— constantly. As I learned in this great post by Marcus Kaulback, media monitoring (a fancy word for listening) before, during, and after a campaign can help me be more effective as a beginner PR pro and as a marketer.

Using our self-service monitoring tool, I was able to quickly create reports that I could share internally to show the results of my release, results that are essential to earning my seat at the table in our data-driven and measurement-obsessed company.

A marketing vet’s crash course in public relations

I’ll continue to monitor this campaign and every other (and I’ll keep you posted on the results) because, as a marketer dipping my toe into the PR pool, I need all the help I can get, and monitoring is one way you learn.

Another way? Taking advice.

So any PR pros out there with tips and tricks for a newbie like me, I’d love to hear them. Send me an email and, hey, maybe your tips will get featured in our next PR insights webinar!



Dawn Smeaton

Dawn Smeaton

Dawn Smeaton is Director of Marketing at Agility PR Solutions. She graduated from Queens University in Kingston with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Marketing and Information Technology and has a certificate in Marketing Strategy from Cornell University. Dawn has over 15 years of experience in all aspects of B2B marketing, primarily in the software industry. She has worked in increasingly senior roles within Cognos, IBM and most recently as the Head of Marketing, Cloud Security at Trend Micro.


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