When you shouldn’t go large

Technical PR, Engineering PR, Industrial PR, Manufacturing PRIt’s an extremely common problem in technical PR and marketing to want to make everything as big as possible. E-mail list? Let’s get thousands of recipients! Blog? Let’s get thousands of readers! Press release anyone? Let’s send it to every journalist in the world! Including Richard and Judy!

I always advise clients that this just isn’t the way. Quantity is only better than quality if you are sending out SPAM Viagra e-mails. And even then a small list of very gullible people would be better than a large list representing a cross section of society.

So, when I read Seth Godin’s most recent post on the subject I was delighted to see that someone agrees with me. Seth reported on an experiment he conducted in which 200,000 Twitter followers resulted in only 25 clickthroughs. These aren’t great statistics, it has to be said. He then published a graph, describing viral transmission of ideas, about which he said the following:

“The curves represent different ideas and different starting points. If you start with 10,000 fans and have an idea that on average nets .8 new people per generation, that means that 10,000 people will pass it on to 8000 people, and then 6400 people, etc. That's yellow on the graph. Pretty soon, it dies out. On the other hand, if you start with 100 people (99% less!) and the idea is twice as good (1.5 net passalong) it doesn't take long before you overtake the other plan. (the green). That's not even including the compounding of new people getting you people. But wait! If your idea is just a little more viral, a 1.7 passalong, wow, huge results. Infinity, here we come. That's the purple (of course.)”

It’s clear from what Godin is arguing that the most important thing is the idea – not the size of the distribution list. This applies in PR; if you send a strong press release to 20 journalists you will get more coverage than a weak one sent to 200. It applies in e-mail marketing; a good newsletter sent to relevant readers can get a fifty or sixty per cent open rate while a poor one sent to a massive list will struggle to hit ten per cent. And it applies in social media, where you are far better of with a small list of followers, friends or fans who are genuine stakeholders in your industry than a large list of less relevant people.

The bottom line is targeting. You need to go to the right people at the right time with the right story. It’s strange but I said this for the first time sixteen years ago as a student and I’m still saying it over a decade later as a consultant. I think I’ll leave ‘going large’ to McDonalds.


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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.

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