Ten Buzz Building PR Strategies for Software Up-and-Comers

Nearly ten years ago when I was part of the SAP public relations team, I remember sitting in the SAPPHIRE press room observing the various activities going on. One interaction stands out.  A marketer from a partner company had just dropped off his press kit (this was back when we still did paper press kits), and happened to see the name badge for a Computerworld reporter.

The marketer practically did a back flip and buttonholed the reporter into talking to him. The response from the reporter was not good. His body language said irritation. He didn’t take notes and he didn’t want a business card or a press kit.  He absolutely was not interested in what the partner company had to say. His job was to talk to SAP executives, analysts and a few customers. No one else mattered.

Ten years ago, tech pubs had budget and reporters had manageable beats – and they still didn’t want to talk to small companies. Now, the situation has gotten worse.  Far worse. Publications are cutting staff, or just going out of business, and are consumed about what drives clicks. Needless to say SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Apple or Google drive a lot more clicks than a small company – even one with awesome technology – that few have ever heard about.

So what is a marketer, like the one at SAPPHIRE, supposed to do to generate some visibility on a limited budget?  Here are 10 tips that do not include accosting busy reporters in the hallway at trade shows.

Do something interesting – Press releases about bug fixes or your partner program aren’t interesting to anyone, much less reporters.  Text mining software upgrades, even from a company like IBM aren’t that interesting. But text mining software that can understand emoticons, now that’s interesting.  An angle like that is out there. Work with your development team to come up with something with sizzle.

Make yourself useful – Complaining to reporters about how they never cover your company is sure to fail. You’ll get a lot further by demonstrating to reporters that you can be a useful knowledgeable resource about industry trends, or can provide timely comments. Are you tracking the editorial calendars? Publications are obligated to write up what’s on the calendar every month. Some smart ideas about how to address a topic just might get you quoted.

Groom customer spokespeople – Every company has customer references and can rattle off names of companies using their products. Your list is probably not that different from that of your archrival. The value to reporters comes when they can get the CIO or a senior IT manager on the phone, and he or she is quotable and can cite useful stats.  It’s hard work finding customers like this, but they are incredibly valuable when you find them.

Win awards — As Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Similarly, eighty percent of winning awards is just making sure you’re entered in the award contest, and that you’ve put together a strong, credible entry. While winning awards won’t necessarily lead to press coverage, reporters do notice such things and may opt to call you instead of a competitor.

Sponsor a study – This isn’t free, but reporters love to write up stories about studies. Look around for some topics that are timely and lack supporting data more or less in your space. Say, if you create developer tools, a study about the impact of Facebook and Twitter on developer productivity might be interesting.

Write, write and write some more – Publications and blogs are short of staff. This means they are always looking for content. You can fill the void with a steady stream of journalistic quality content. Leave the hype to your website. The point here is to get your perspective and company name out there on a regular basis. What’s more, this content can be re-purposed for your blog. Speaking of which…

Do you have a blog? – If you expect anyone to take you seriously, start blogging. Immediately.

Know what news is – It’s unbelievable how many marketing VPs seem to think that customer wins and partnership deals are of interest to reporters. They are not. Most publications have blanket policies of not writing these up, or it’s pretty much all they would be writing. Which would also cause them to lose all readership.  Be sure you’re putting out hard hitting news that publications can use.

Get on power panels – The company you keep can make a big difference. Like winning awards, getting yourself invited to participate in a panel with Microsoft and Google execs at a big trade show isn’t that hard. It’s a matter of pitching the show and conference organizers and putting someone smart from your company on stage. Reporters and bloggers attend these panels and write about them or make video blogs. Chances are your expert will get exposure.

Read, listen and comment – You can gain a lot of insights by reading what’s being written. Moreover, you can take advantage of commenting and social media functions to judiciously add your voice and perspective to the mix. Reporters and bloggers read comments thoroughly, so this is great way to let influentials know that you’re engaged.

This is by no means the exhaustive list of ways that small companies can drive exposure while staying on budget. By focusing on activities that work, you can generate the type of consistent buzz that drives revenue growth and helps you to steadily move up the food chain.  If you have some more suggestions and tips of things that have worked for you, please chime in.

Brian Edwards

Author: Brian Edwards

Brian Edwards is a talented business and technology communications expert with more than 25 years of experience in high-tech public relations and marketing.