I haven’t bought a newspaper for months

Technical PR, Engineering PR, Industrial PR, Manufacturing PRAt PRefect Towers we recently found out that 93.2% of people making B2B buying decisions go online to research their purchases*. Furthermore, I personaly haven’t bought a newspaper for months. Actually, that’s a lie. I work in PR, so I at least scan most of the nationals everyday. But as a believable statement it’s not bad. How many people do you know who could easily do their jobs without getting newsprint on their fingers? Working in technology PR, I meet software engineers who could get by with Silicon.com and The Register alone. And Blogs of course, we would all die without Blogs now wouldn’t we?

This creates an interesting problem for B2B media relations specialists. We know we must continue to address the trade, national and regional print media and take advantage of the growing influence of the online media. After all, decision-making is a highly complex process and the print media remains part of it. A range of factors can influence how we buy on a B2B level, from the number of people involved in the decision to how close to the point of purchase we are. We also have to consider what kind of buyer we are selling to (visionary, mass market etc), what level of education they have, knowledge of the product and any factors unique to the commercial sector. To have any influence through media relations requires some serious thought about how these factors can be effected by our efforts with the print and online media.

When we decide which media to address with which message, we should consider how the customer group interacts with that media, if at all. To address the entire spectrum of the decision we need the print and online media. But each serves a different purpose at a different stage and requires different tactics and content. This is true not only because some of the people working on these sites have different agendas but also because the medium on which they publish is fundamentally different

Today a good campaign has different pro-active and re-active strategies for influencing the online and print media and in turn influencing their readers. As its foundation this involves providing the right content to attract professional and influential non-professional-communicators who work in the online media. By non-professional communicators I mean both Bloggers and administrators of genuine online communities. These online communities could simply be news groups; Engineeringtalk’s UKEPR (United Kingdom Engineering Public Relations) community for technology PR practitioners is one such group. Alternatively, they might be groups of people referring to a single point of information when making buying decisions. In the food and pharmaceutical industries a good example is RSSL’s (Reading Scientific Services Limited) e-mail newsletter service. This appears to be impartial and doesn’t feature extensive news from the company itself, instead focusing on news from the industries it serves. In doing so it has established itself as a sufficiently influential point of reference that, as a PR person, I am often referred to it by clients who perceive it to be a media outlet like any other.

As Blogs become more and more influential, particularly over early adopters and visionary customers, good PROs adapt their techniques for approaching Bloggers. A straightforward product press release isn’t going to be all that effective, indeed many Bloggers will regard a traditional elevator pitch sell-in as ‘too-professional‘. Many will not be available during working hours because, for most, Blogging is a hobby.

Bloggers love their subjects and are inspired by them, so the best way to communicate is with passion. You need to share the passion and be able to discuss honestly your client’s relationship to the rest of the market. If it’s a technology Blog it helps to provide products for evaluation, just as one would with a consumer technology magazine. It is also well worth remembering that the coverage you obtain isn’t going to remain at the top of the Blog for long, so it will be of value to your client to suggest ways of maximising its value while it is there.

In contrast, many other online communities are run as marketing tools. The two organisations I mentioned above, Engineeringtalk and RSSL aren’t charities. They are profit-making companies who, very intelligently, incorporate a community creation element into their marketing plans. And because the plan is working, for both of them, it will always be difficult to convince them to incorporate PR material into it. However, because it is a marketing plan, offering them something to further that plan, in the shape of material that is genuinely useful to their online communities, should be a compelling proposal.

Once we have attracted the journalist, Blogger or community administrator we must ensure our content is optimised in such a way that it is influential to our two online audiences - readers and search engines. The key to attracting the former is interactivity, either literally, in the form of downloads, or intellectually, in the form of useful information that will get repeated. The same research that tells me that 93.2% of buying decisions are researched online also states that 36.8% are researched and completed online. Given that many purchases can’t be completed online, this suggests that a significant proportion of those that can be are. This is all the more reason to ensure our online content is as interactive as possible - to help complete the buying cycle by drawing the reader to your Web site.

One method of attracting our other audience, search engines, is including embedded links in press material, although these are unpopular with some news sites. Another is phrasing and constructing content in a way that can be easily found in a search. Distribution is the third factor - most PROs are used to selling in stories verbally or e-mailing or posting them to journalists. Some of us are even old enough or specialised enough to remember sending faxes. However, when we have gone to the trouble of creating our embedded links, we would be wise to consider e-mail distribution mechanisms that don’t remove them as part of the distribution process. When writing this article, I spoke to five leading media databases that feature e-mail functionality and three said that their mechanism would remove an embedded link.

However, if we do manage to get the embedded link featured in our coverage (evaluation metrics anyone?) and our coverage featured in the right place and our clients stakeholders reading it, we can put our feet up. The job is well done and it’s time to read the paper - something I haven’t done for ages.

*From The Role of Search in Business-to-Business Buying Decisions produced by search engine marketing firm Enquiro.

Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

2 comments:

Bob Geller said...

Wow, an extremely well thought out and written article.

I concur with most if not all of your points.

I have blogged on some similar themes.

There is a challenge to the PR profession when the audiences we want to reach are increasingly getting news from Meta sites like POPUrls (see my post Heavy Meta), with little apparent concern for who actually wrote the articles or from where they originate

Richard Stone - Stone Junction said...

Thanks Bob - let me know the URL for the Blog where you wrote Heavy Meta and I'll take a look.

Richard