Over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed reading a number of vendor prediction pieces about how the data storage industry will be shaped over the coming 12 months by various technologies and market trends. However, I haven’t seen these executives share any new year resolutions – and I, for one, think that there is certainly scope for a tweak or two in the industry, particularly when it comes to PR and marketing. So I have taken the initiative and put together a few suggestions for in-house PR and marketing professionals looking for new year resolutions ideas.
1. Bring creative agencies together on a regular basis
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ the saying goes… but this is not always the case. I have often found that bringing together separate teams that are working on a common project can lead to the development of ideas that a single team may not have come up with. Irrespective of how creative a group of people are, sometimes their specialisation in a particular aspect of the comms mix, e.g. social media, PR, or advertising, means they can miss a number of angles or different approaches to a given project. Going back to my cooking analogy (which, for those of you who know me well, will be a great source of laughter) it’s a little like with chefs: if one only cooks, say, Indian food, they might not be aware that you can use eggs to make fresh pasta. By the same token, an Italian chef might not know which type of flour should be used to make naan bread. Neither has shortcomings in their fields they are simply not aware of the full potential of what they are working with. So it only makes sense that if comms heads brought their PR, creative, marketing, design, etc. agencies together a couple of times a year, their companies would benefit from more creative and, possibly, more (cost-)effective campaigns.
2. Bring sales and PR teams together once a quarter
Along similar lines I strongly believe that bringing the external PR team and the local sales team together once a quarter can make a drastic difference to a vendor’s PR, starting with its customer reference programme. Most of the time sales teams are more concerned with hitting their numbers than helping secure case studies. However public reference stories help increase and consolidate a company’s credibility and reputation which, in turns, helps sales. Getting PR and sales together will also ensure that any questions the latter has on the process or any concerns they have on the amount of work such a project would put on the customer’s plate, are addressed. At A3 Communications we have regular calls with our clients’ sales teams, and we always come away with a few very good nuggets from these meetings. Whether it’s information on a new user, on an additional sale to an existing customer, or on the way the product is being deployed in an innovative way, it’s worth setting aside a couple of hours on a regular basis for the PR agency and the sales team to sift through the progress the latter has made since their last meeting.
3. Get personal on Twitter
It’s called ‘social media’ because you are supposed to socialise on it. I’m not talking about getting together with a few of your local followers down the pub (although, in pre-Covid times, that happened much more often than you might think) but about interacting with people. And ‘people’ is the operative word. While I’m not against corporate handles, e.g., @Accenture or @BMW, it’s hard to interact with a faceless entity. You can’t really have a conversation with Unilever, but you can with one of its marketing or product development people. So, while tweeting news around a new product or details of where you will next be exhibiting has its value, this year try to use Twitter to engage in conversations with some of the journalists, bloggers and analysts that matter to you and to your company’s customers. Both sides will benefit from this ‘upgrade’ in comms and no, saying you don’t have time is not an excuse. Next time you leave your desk to make a cup of coffee, don’t stop to chat to a co-worker. Make your drink then head straight back to your laptop and spend five minutes on Twitter instead.
4. Speak in tongues, all at once
At A3 Communications we cover a number of countries for our clients and send out press releases in multiple languages, all the time. However, because announcements are usually tweaked right up to a few days before they are scheduled to go out, the final version sometimes cannot get translated in time to be distributed at the same time as the original one (which is usually in English). The issue here is that today, many journalists across the world keep an eye out for relevant news, meaning that if a press release goes out in English first and then in Dutch a couple of days later, a Dutch journalist might not use the translated version because it’s old news. So, try to have announcements finalised at least five days before the distribution date: that way you will have time to get the release translated and approved by a native speaker within your company or PR agency, before the news is scheduled to go out. The result will be a more polished and professional-looking launch.
5. Have relevant CXOs come to Europe more often to speak to the local influencers
Across Europe, face-to-face briefings with journalists, bloggers and analysts are much more common than they are in the USA in normal (non-COVID) times, of course. While a Zoom or phone interview is valuable, in-person briefings will help you build stronger, long-lasting relationships with your key targets, and are more likely to result in coverage. So, for your next major announcement, add a day of face-to-face briefings with your CXO in each country you do PR in. And, the more often you do this (provided the quality of the insights is high), the more likely it is that a journalist will be happy to catch up over a quick coffee with your visiting spokesperson, even when they don’t have hard news to share.
6. Make boilerplates clearer
It may be found at the end of your announcements, but the boilerplate is arguably one of the most important elements of a press release. It should concisely summarise who the business is and what it does. Your targets need to come away with a clear understanding of where in the market you sit, who your customers are, and why you are worthy of the industry’s attention. All too often, companies’ boilerplates are unclear or flooded with jargon and buzzwords (more on this later), and leave the reader more confused about who the company is, than before.
7. Make websites clearer – get to the point
In a similar vein to the above, it is sometimes remarkable just how difficult it is to understand exactly what a business does from an initial look at its website. Too much flash may be distracting, too many buzzwords can be confusing, and too much text will mean visitors get bogged down and give up. So, in the new year, set aside some time to review your website from the point of view of an outsider, for example a customer, a prospect, or a journalist. Is it obvious what issues you address? Are you talking issues and benefits, or just speeds and feeds? Can a visitor easily understand the relevance of your company to them?
8. Remove bottlenecks – PR and social media move fast!
The news cycle is quicker than ever. PR and social media move rapidly, and comms teams that cannot keep up are left behind. Say your PR agency brings you an opportunity to comment on a breaking news story, for example a high-profile datacentre outage, and they need to take your company’s comment out to relevant targets within a few hours tops how many layers of approval are required before you can give your agency the green light? Or perhaps a journalist needs answers to a list of questions about your product launch immediately, before the embargo lifts in an hour does your PR team have access to a spokesperson in their time zone who can provide the answers straight away, or does it need to wait until corporate headquarters is online? Many data storage vendors develop products that eliminate IT infrastructure bottlenecks why not apply that logic to their comms teams? A few ideas for consideration: ensure you have media-trained spokespeople in all geographies, and that your agencies have direct contact with them. Get all your executives on board with comms activities, from reviewing press releases to social media posting. And last but not least, plan in advance to allow plenty of time for delays or curveballs.
9. Share information off the record! Yes, sometimes it’s OK
Every comms professional can recall that sinking feeling when a spokesperson let their guard down and shared something confidential with a reporter, believing that because of the informal setting, or the easy relationship between them, it would be off the record. I have seen it happen a couple of times myself. In one particular incident, the CEO was chatting casually with a reporter while queuing for the buffet table. The following day a story appeared including some of the confidential information shared by the CEO the day before. It is not surprising that, as comms professionals, we are naturally nervous about this. However, with that said, sharing information off the record is not always a bad idea. With trusted analysts, bloggers, and reporters, disclosing confidential information on a major customer win or company roadmap for example, can help them gain a greater understanding of your company, improve their opinion of your business, and deepen those important relationships. Just make sure that before anything confidential is shared, they understand it is for their ears only and that they agree!
10. Use less jargon
Let’s diarise time to ideate on leveraging our snackable content… While jargon serves its purpose, it is far too often overused. Such language can be at best confusing and at worst make your interlocutor or reader switch off and quickly forget your conversation or message altogether, wasting everyone’s time. Thankfully, there is an easy fix. When proofreading your copy, put yourself in the shoes of your target audiences and make sure your choice of words is understandable and has the right context. Be intentional about the language you choose.
While I am very aware that most resolutions have the lifespan of a house fly (around a month, if you were wondering), I strongly believe that adopting even just a couple of those I suggested above would improve many IT vendors’ PR results. In-house comms teams just need to make sure they keep them going for longer than I probably will stick to my resolution to avoid black liquorice! And with that, I wish you all a very happy new year!