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Technology companies seeking to establish themselves and rise through the ranks of start-ups typically focus on a tiny subset of the media market—the industry trade press. But after 30 years in the public relations business, I’ve seen articles in top-tier business publications like Fortune, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes do more for technology companies than any other media. The payoff from business press includes increased credibility among customers and partners; heightened visibility among potential investors and buyers; the ability to attract the right employees; and significant mindshare for a leg up on any competition.
Every company or organization begins as a collection of applied ideas. Going from ideas to reality is a gargantuan task, but thousands of people create new ventures, spinoffs, and intrapreneurial enterprises each year despite the difficulties involved. How many of their stories are ever told? Very few.
Getting widely-read publications to run articles about one company over another is not a democratic process. Like show business, it’s more about what you have to say, how you say it, and how professional and credible you appear.
What to say to the business press can be very different from the more conventional product or services story for a trade publication. Business editors want stories on innovative people and ideas, on evolving markets and partnerships, and on trends with local and perhaps global implications.
How a company communicates its story can make all the difference, like a first impression at a job interview. From editorial ideas and the information in a thoughtful, well-written, professional press kit, the busy writer or business editor decides yes or no in minutes.
Finally, the skill with which your public relations firm approaches the business press will determine how successful a PR campaign will be. Focus on the person who is actually pitching the article ideas. Junior or experienced? Articulate or obtuse? Able to connect to get through to the decision makers and get the idea across in two minutes or less?
Effective business press campaigns are driven by an active collaboration between a PR firm and the person who is responsible for the messaging of the company, the person with the vision. That is typically the founder, the CEO, or the COO—the person who business editors and reporters want to talk to. Top-tier business press cannot be delegated below the executive ranks.
When we have a story, the executive spokesperson must be able to respond quickly. Editors want to establish that the person and the company are sincere and credible. Facts about companies that are not publicly traded are harder to verify, so access to customers is often important.
Business press is not product driven. Editors are interested more in a new trend, unique in the field; or on whether the management of a company can discuss how they will grow it, sell it, or turn it in a different direction. An executive’s background can be fodder for a great profile. Of course, hard news is always the quickest route to a major story and the front page of business sections. A skillful public relations eye can help the client sort out the hard news from the feature story.
Mentions alone don’t give companies great PR value. The big story often comes after the PR firm works diligently to plant seeds to educate editors and writers about what each company is all about. When I represented Etak, an in-vehicle geographic navigation systems company, nobody had heard of such technology. Our business press campaign not only put Etak on the map, it allowed the company to reposition itself as a digital map data publisher. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation found out about Etak and bought it. Business press made the difference.
With large-circulation magazines, there is sometimes a three-month lead time for new articles, so plan in increments of a quarter to half a year before seeing the big story. Lightning can strike much sooner, however, if a company’s message is timely or through serendipity.
Business press is not a given. In our media-saturated landscape, the same rules for getting attention continue to apply: a) Get your story right; b) Say it with clarity, sophistication, and flair; and c) Pitch it skillfully like hell.