WHEN SHOULD YOU START YOUR PR PROGRAM?

Starting a Hi Tech PR ProgramWe’re in the landscaping and gardening business. Much like a landscape architect and a new homeowner, when a PR agency and new client join forces at the right place and the right time it can be a thing of beauty. Visions are turned into plans and strategies, recommendations are made and goals are set, and finally proper execution begets colorful, consistent coverage. With care and nurturing, our seeds take root, grow and thrive year round, through fair weather and foul.

All too often, clients look to PR for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, or have unreasonable expectations. A simple way to determine if your company is ready to begin a formal PR program is to consider following questions:

  • What market are we addressing?
  • What are the larger trends driving this market?
  • Who are my prospective customers and what pain points and problems are they experiencing?
  • Does my solution address these problems in a new and different way?
  • If so, does my underlying technology offer an “unfair advantage” to my company vis-à-vis the competition?
  • Does our management team fundamentally believe in our mission?
  • Can we get third party validation?
  • Do we have the financial runway to get product out the door, or reach profitability?

If you can answer these questions successfully, a well-executed, on-going PR program can dramatically boost your chances for success and make sales easier. As a marketing tool, PR continues to provide the most bang for your marketing buck in these tough economic times. If not abused, it can alter or control messages, perception, and market momentum.

Where Do You Start?

Creating believability is a crucial aspect of establishing a differentiated position. Other competitors may boast of first-to-market bragging rights, but at the end of the day, sales and customers are the measures of success. If your product is behind schedule, or you lack customer credibility, a creative PR program may provide “air cover” for 12 to 18 months, but after that, “product honesty” must kick in.

Remember, PR can’t get your product out the door, and there’s no substitute for customer validation. Part of your initial PR process should be spent determining where you fit in to the “product honesty matrix” before determining the best timing to implement a PR program or launch.

A PR program must then be built on a positioning strategy that clearly differentiates your company from real and perceived competitors. Positioning requires taking a “snapshot” of the market, competition, and customers, and an understanding of how you fit into the picture. It requires identifying those aspects of the company and product that are unique and matching them against market perceptions.

An important part of this initial phase is to arrive at a “Whole Product” definition of your company, its products and service offerings. Whole Product refers to your core products, plus all the intangible elements that further define the company and product line and provide competitive differentiation. Examples of these intangible elements are quality of service, support, a well-articulated product strategy, channel marketing activity, partnerships, warranties, training, and so forth.

We often recommend that PR efforts unfold in two phases:

  1. Planning and education
  2. Execution and evangelism

A solid, strategic PR approach will help determine the right positioning and key messages for your company and its product or service, and translate those messages into highly effective print and Web-based collateral. The planning and education process involves intimately understanding the company’s differentiators, studying the competition and its messaging, and refining your key messages by testing them, in advance, with industry analysts who can be trusted under NDA.

Once the right message has been developed, and to properly execute the program or launch, we look for several industry analysts and at least one customer who will act as a reference for the media. With this customer reference in hand, a product or company can be launched with a complete and credible package of analyst support, one or more customer references, and strongly differentiated messages.

Following a launch, you can then dial in other PR programs to maintain momentum and continue to mine editorial opportunities and evangelize your mission.

A well-known PR pundit once said, “PR is a process, not an event.” We like to say that you can lead a horse to water, but you better remember what a wet horse smells like. Going to market too soon and without the right ingredients for success can be a recipe for disaster. However, much like landscaping and gardening, if you have the right plan at the right time with solid execution and patience, you’ll soon be rolling in tall clover.

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