I’m sure it’s no surprise that not every technology PR campaign is destined to be a success. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that some PR engagements fail to realize the potential that some customers (and their PR partners) can share. The result is often disappointing for those involved.
However, not all past PR failures are an indicator of future results. Failure is often the best way to learn and prepare for future success. Without occasional failures, how can you strive for improvement?
What is much less obvious is how to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again and then concluding that public relations is irrelevant and ineffective in an increasingly digital world, dominated by data analysis and marketing automation.
Here are some perfectly valid reasons why the failure of a PR campaign on technology can lead to positive results for start-ups and fast-growing SMEs
Refining the message
Not all technology communication campaigns have the right message when launched. This is not necessarily the fault of the PR agency, or the internal communications team, but can stem from a deeper problem: the ability of a company to articulate its key value propositions. As the owner of a public relations firm that works with start-ups as well as much larger technology companies, I can personally attest that sometimes the task of delivering the communication comes up half way and falls short of impressing a busy media outlet that has already seen it all. Or they end up with too many messages in the newsroom and the result is a mix of ideas that reflect different internal agendas.
The best approach is to take failure as an opportunity to optimize future messages. Find the right answers to customer needs, differentiate your offer from the competition, etc. Take an email marketing campaign and do an A/B test of your PR messages in various media, to see which approach works best. Only then can you find out what each media outlet prefers to cover and start maximizing the media coverage of each PR campaign.
Knowing your story
Crazy as it may seem, there are times when a technology communication campaign is not successful simply because there are no cases with solid client testimonials. The media loves a good story, but by not providing a “human side” to the story, it can lack the relevance that the media prefers to cover in the real world. That’s why public relations firms value success stories and client testimonials, capture their product or service from a client’s perspective, and lay the groundwork for a broader story.
While telling a story is just as important to effective digital marketing, telling a story with greater objectivity and fact-based language will go a long way toward convincing a journalist that he or she is not trying to “sneak in” self-serving marketing literature. Provide your PR firm with the right content – case studies, testimonials, success stories – so that it can find the best narrative that can serve the media, which is looking for stories that capture the interest of its target audience.
Improving the timeline
Unfortunately, some technology companies see public relations campaigns as secondary. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told about a capital increase of a startup that reached 7 figures, but they did not manage to carry out a communication campaign in anticipation of the investment round. The media see capital increases from private investors and venture capital firms as a trigger to discuss broader issues about a company: the needs of the client, the objectives of meeting the company’s growth plans, the market it is targeting, and so on. In short, not promoting a capital increase or any other key company announcement, when this happens, will always be a recipe for mediocre results. Timing can also affect the performance of a campaign for major marketing initiatives, such as trade shows. In an article we wrote about planning trade show public relations and media campaigns, we explained how timing is critical to achieving key results, both in gaining a spotlight and speaking opportunities, and in establishing early relationships with major media outlets.
Starting to trust
Learning to trust a public relations agency is an act of faith, both in terms of financial investment and ability to receive advice, which may be contrary to its nature. Failure can, and often does, occur when a company does not let the PR firm influence its communication strategy. Engaging a public relations firm involves a total commitment to the practice of capturing and articulating marketing messages that very often involve a different way of viewing and evaluating your company and your offerings.
Many B2B technology companies are proud of their technology, and with good reason. But technology companies can become enthusiastic about their technology expertise and not realise that what interests media audiences often involves a mix of technology and other views with real-world implications. Another example would be the case of a technology company interested in making an announcement at a trade show where a much larger competitor inevitably captures most of the news. A public relations agency would most likely advise you to make the announcement before the trade show begins, and thus take advantage of the shortage of news before the show.
Trust is a two-way transaction, of course, and the PR firm has to earn it. But meeting them halfway will ensure that the chances of success are greater in the future.
Listen to the feedback
Failure may be a symptom of a problem with the technology company’s ability to keep the public relations agency or other important internal stakeholders informed of the decision-making process affecting the business. New executive hires, product launches, major customer wins, strategic alliances, internal security breaches, all can have an impact on what a technology PR firm will address in the short, medium and long term.
Let’s say you have plans to take your fast-growing company public through an IPO. What many B2B technology executives don’t realize is that the sooner your PR agency is informed of future marketing plans, the better your chances of navigating the unpredictable media landscape. Not convinced of the importance of a good PR strategy to the success of an IPO? Just look at how WeWork’s much-vaunted IPO crashed and burned in just a few weeks with all the sensationalism of a supermarket tabloid story.
The reality is that, many times, these communication failures can be easily remedied. Start by organising a weekly or fortnightly PR meeting, involving the main marketing stakeholders. Then commit to identifying and establishing quarterly PR results, so that the whole team is aware of and accountable for their success.
The moral of the story? Accepting failure. It remains one of the best ways to learn the best lessons and improve the performance of future public relations campaigns.