I am often asked: 'How important is the press?' 'Extremely,' is my reply. The media is often regarded as authoritative, informed providers of valuable, independent insights into current issues. Your customers, prospects, employees, suppliers, investors and competitors all read the press.
This is particularly true in IT - one of the most competitive industries around. Every company has to differentiate itself from competitors on product range, price, added value, service, quality of people, company culture or vision.
This is especially relevant to the channel, where competition is intense. It can certainly prove beneficial to have customers and employees reading articles about your company that explain your different approach to business.
There is a huge trade press community with magazines for every conceivable activity. If you do it, there's a magazine for it.
Other questions asked are: 'Why don't the press write positive things about me? Why have journalists got it in for me?' Relax, they haven't.
Its a cultural issue. In the former Soviet Union, television news would report on the success of the latest five-year plan, and bumper grain harvests.
News in the UK is very different.
Generally, the press is not interested in writing about projects going right. They much prefer writing about things going wrong. That is the kind of news that we, as a nation, are interested in reading.
So what is the point of involving a PR element in your business? Human activity is about interaction and communication. People love to gossip about what's happening around them. Likewise, the market will discuss your company regardless of your plans. So PR isn't optional - every organisation has a public image. What you can do is manage that image. Successful PR is the vehicle to raise your profile.
However, you shouldn't just go to a PR agency and say: 'Get me press coverage.' There's a smarter way to improve your profile. PR has to be an effective part of overall management objectives, taking responsibility for improving the way your customers perceive you.
The first step is researching and assessing where you want to be seen, and identify a target group of magazines read by your customers, prospects, investors, suppliers or employees. The majority of publications are ABC certified, so it's easy to get hold of a circulation breakdown telling you precisely who reads a magazine.
Second, work out what to say. Look at the news content of a magazine and identify the types of stories covered. Then, decide how to describe your company and explain what it does to journalists. Are you a reseller, a dealer, a systems integrator or a Var? What is different about your company? Journalists rarely have much time on their hands, so if it takes half an hour to explain your business, they won't be interested.
Likewise, don't talk jargon. The IT industry is good at inventing acronyms to describe absolutely everything. Technology journalists are good at getting to the heart of a story very quickly. Jargon just gets in the way and suggests you have nothing new to say. Instead, identify and talk about success stories. Small UK technology companies with innovative products or services can make interesting reading.
Third, make sure you have an interesting representative, one who journalists will go back to for comment and industry analysis. Certain public figures have the gift of delivering memorable lines in interviews. One of the very best in our industry is Larry Ellison, president and chief executive of Oracle, who will take time out to meet and entertain journalists and deliver memorable lines about the market, competitors or technology. The result? Oracle gets a positive press because journalists want to write about it and the market wants to read about it.
We obviously can't all be Oracles but if your press like talking to you, you've won half the battle.
Nigel Batterton is director of IT marketing communications consultancy PCM.
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