The New Rules of PR for Technology & Software Businesses

September 23, 2009

How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly

The web has changed the rules for press releases. The thing is, most old-line PR professionals just don’t know it yet.

Because the rules for relating to the public have changed so slowly over the past ten years (since the web has allowed people to read press releases directly), practitioners who learned based on the old rules have been equally slow to change. In fact, most old-school experts have refused to change altogether. It’s time to step it up and consider the promise Web 2.0 public relations holds.

Do you want to:

  • Reach your buyers directly?
  • Drive traffic to your website?
  • Achieve high rankings on search engines?
  • Attract buyers who are looking for what you have to offer?
  • Move people into and through the sales process?
  • Compete more effectively?

Then read on. But be prepared to alter the way you think about press releases.

The old rules of press releases

In the old days, a press release was—shockingly—actually a release to the press.

Before the web, everybody knew that the only reason you issued a press release was to get the media to write about you.

Ye Olde Press Release Rules

  • Nobody saw the actual press release except a handful of reporters and editors.
  • You had to have significant news before you were allowed to write a press release.
  • A release had to include quotes from third parties, such as customers, analysts and experts.
  • The only way your buyers would learn about the press release’s content was if the media wrote a story about it.
  • The only way to measure the effectiveness of press releases was through “clip books,” which collected every time the media deigned to pick up your release.

No More.

The web has transformed the rules and you must transform your releases to make the most of the web-enabled marketplace of ideas.

Why you need to learn the new rules

Today, savvy marketing professionals use press releases to reach buyers directly.

While many marketing and PR people understand that press releases sent over the wires appear in near real-time on services like Google™ News, very few understand the implications for how they must dramatically alter their press release strategy in order to maximize the effectiveness of the press release as a direct consumer-communication channel.

The media has been disintermediated. The web has changed the rules. Buyers read your press releases directly and you need to be talking their language.

This is not to suggest that media relations are no longer important; mainstream media and the trade press must be part of an overall communications strategy. In some businesses, mainstream media and the trade press remain critically important and, of course, the media still derives some of its content from press releases.

But your primary audience is no longer just a handful of journalists. Your audience is millions of people with Internet connections, and access to search engines and RSS readers.

The new rules of press releases

  • Don’t just send press releases when “big news” is happening; find good reasons to send them all the time.
  • Instead of just targeting a handful of journalists, create press releases that appeal directly to your buyers.
  • Write releases replete with keyword-rich copy.
  • Create links in releases to deliver potential customers to landing pages on your website.
  • Optimize press release delivery for searching and browsing.
  • Drive people into the sales process with press releases.

OK, now that you know the new rules, you need to change the fundamental way that you use press releases. I’ll share with you some specific strategies for leveraging the once lowly press release into one of the most important direct marketing tools at your disposal and, in the process, teach you how to drive buyers straight to your company’s products and services.

Let the world know about your expertise

Every organization possesses particular expertise that has value in the new e-marketplace of ideas. The web has made it easy for organizations to publish that expertise in various forms, including press releases, which allows companies, institutions, and non-profits to function much like traditional publishers. Organizations gain credibility and loyalty with customers, employees, investors, and suppliers through content. Smart web marketers now think and act like publishers in order to create and deliver content targeted directly at their audience.

As organizations of all types begin to behave like publishers, many are adapting to the rigors of the publishing business and learning the editorial process. At the same time, new rules are emerging as online publishing continues to mature.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, all organizations are searching for the elusive key to success. Well, look no further! Content, even in the form of a “mere” press release, will unlock success in almost any product category, even in highly competitive industries where smaller players are beset upon by larger, better-funded competitors.

Example of the new rules of press releases in action

Let me tell you a story.

I speak regularly at conferences and seminars. In the Fall of 2005, I was preparing a keynote speech called “Shorten your sales cycle: Marketing programs that deliver more revenue faster.” To be honest, I was kind of procrastinating. Facing a blank PowerPoint® file, I decided to hit on Google in search of inspiration.

I entered the phrase “accelerate sales cycle” to see if there was anything interesting I could use in my presentation. The highest-ranked listings for this phrase on Google were from WebEx™, a company that provides online collaboration services. What was most interesting was that the links pointed to press releases on the WebEx site.

Then I went over to Google News and checked out the same phrase—“accelerate sales cycle”—and sure enough, WebEx also had the number one listing with a very recent press release dated September 28, 2005: “Application Integration Industry Leader Optimizes Marketing and Sales Processes with WebEx Application Suite.” The press release, about a WebEx customer, had been sent through PR Newswire and had a direct web link to the WebEx site to provide additional information.

WebEx also provided links in some press releases directly to free trial offers of their services. How cool is that?

WebEx provided me with a great example of a company that had optimized the content of press releases to include relevant terms such as the one I entered, “accelerate sales cycle.” This is a terrific—and real—example of the new rules of press releases in action.

Reach your buyers directly

Under the old rules, the only way to get “published” was to have your press release “picked up” by the media.

We’ve come a long way. The web has turned all kinds of companies, non-profits, and even rock bands and political campaigners into just-in-time and just-right publishers. Organizations—the new publishers—create press releases that deliver useful information directly onto the screens of their buyers.

Until recently, nobody ever thought of companies as publishers; newspapers and magazines published the news. But that’s all changing. Self-publishing web-style has moved into the mainstream and organizations large and small are doing the publishing… via press releases.

As you are making this fundamental shift, what should you write press releases about? Big news is great, but don’t wait. Write about just about anything that your organization is doing:

CEO speaking at a conference? Write a release.

Win an award? Write a release.

Have a new take on an old problem? Write a release.

Add a product feature? Write a release.

Win a new customer? Write a release.

Publish a white paper? Write a release.

Get out of bed this morning? Okay, maybe not… but you are thinking the right way now!

Publish your press releases through a distribution service

Publishers also recognize that simply creating compelling content is not enough; it has to reach interested readers. The best way to publish press releases is to simultaneously post a release to your own website and send it to one of the press release wires.

There are a number of options for wire distribution of press releases. The benefit of using a press release distribution service is that your release will be sent to the online news services such as Yahoo!®, Google, Lycos®, and many others. Many press release distribution services reach trade and industry websites as well. In fact, you can reach hundreds of websites with a single press release. Take a look at the various services and compare them yourself.

A Selection of the Larger Press Release Distribution Services

Business Wire

PRWeb®

PR Newswire

Market Wire

In order to get your press releases to appear on the online news services, you just have to get your release onto a basic press release “circuit” offered by a press release distribution service. The services also have many value-added options for you to consider. Compare options and in making your choice remember that your goal of sending press releases using the new rules is search engine marketing, so choose a distribution service that gets your releases to as many places where consumers see them as possible. Thus, the newsroom and geographical reach offered by a service is less important than ensuring that your releases are included on major online news sites.

RSS feeds from online news sites display your press release content

Many press release distribution services also offer RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds of their press releases, which they make available to other sites, blogs and individuals. What this means is that each time you publish a press release with them, the press release is seen by thousands of people who have subscribed to the RSS content feeds. And online news services such as Google News have RSS feed capability too, allowing people to receive feeds based on keywords and phrases. So each time your release includes a word or phrase of importance, people will receive your press releases directly and in near real-time.

Simultaneously publish your press releases to your website

Post your press releases to an appropriate and readily findable section of your website. Many organizations have a media room or press section of the website, which is ideal. The press release should be kept live for as long as the content is appropriate, perhaps for years. For many organizations, the press release section of the website is one of the most frequently visited parts of the site. Check out your own website statistics. You may be amazed at how many visitors are already reading your press releases.

When the press release is posted on your site, search engine crawlers will find the content, index it, and rank it based on words and phrases and other factors. To achieve high rankings, pay attention not only to the words and phrases, but also to other search engine optimization factors such as the URL used, the words in the headline and first paragraph of the release, the title tag, and metatags. Don’t use image files for text, as the words cannot be read by search engine crawlers. You should also create your own RSS feeds of your news stories on your site. Use a standard off-the-shelf RSS feed generator so that interested visitors will be able to subscribe to your press release feed directly.

The importance of links in your press releases

Particularly because your releases may be delivered by feeds or on news services and various sites other than your own, creating links from your press releases to content on your website is very important. These links, which might point to a specific offer or to a landing page with more information, allow your buyers to link from the press release content into specific website content on your site that will then drive them into the sales process.

However, there is another enormous added benefit to including links in press releases. Each time your press release is posted on another site, such as an online news site, the inbound link from the online news site to your website helps increase the ranking of your site. This is because the search engines use inbound links as one of the important criteria for the page ranking algorithms. So when your press release has a link to your site, you actually increase the ranking of the pages that you link to—yours.

Focus on the keywords and phrases that your buyers use

First, determine who your target audience is and figure out how they should be sliced into distinct buying segments. Once this exercise is complete, identify the situations in which each target audience may find themselves. What are their problems? What keeps them awake at night? What do they want to know? What words and phrases do they use to describe these problems? The answers, by the way, may be very different from the way you would label them. Don’t get trapped by your own jargon; think, speak, and write like your customers do.

Drive people into the sales process with press releases

Savvy marketing professionals understand that Sales and Marketing must work together to move prospects into the sales pipeline. This is especially important in a complex B2B sale that has long decision-making cycles and multiple buyers that need to be influenced.

The good news is that press release content drives people into and shortens the sales cycle for any product or service, especially ones that have many steps and take months or years to complete. Here’s how you can make this happen:

Understand your sales process in detail.

All sales processes are definable, repeatable, and understandable, and effective marketers use the web to move people into and through the process. You need to get together with salespeople, sales management and product managers to understand exactly what happens in the sales cycle. You should answer questions such as: How do people initially find your company or product? What words and phrases do they use? Understanding the process in detail allows you to understand how in the process press releases can be used.

Segment your prospects.

Consider press releases based on the buyer persona, perhaps by job title or by industry. Prospects are much more likely to enter the sales cycle by clicking a press release that talks about solving their problems.

Create thought leadership content to sit at the top of the sales funnel.

People in the early stages of the sales cycle need basic information on the product category, especially “thought leadership” pieces. Don’t just write press releases about your company and your products; be a thought leader and write about the industry and higher-level strategic issues surrounding your product or service.

When doing initial research, people don’t want to hear about you and your company; they want information about them and their problems.

Provide content that is compelling enough to get people to “raise their hand.”

In your press releases, deliver something of value that you can trade for a registration form. A link from your press release to an informative white paper, online event (such as a Webinar), or online demo will help move your prospect further down the sales process—and, in exchange for the right content, the prospect will happily “raise their hand” to express interest by filling out a form. Remember, you’re still not ready to sell a product or service (yet); you are still relationship-building. (By the way, these links will also help raise the search engine ranking of the pages you point to.)

Measure and improve.

Measure what content is being used and how. Understand through web metrics what’s working and constantly tweak the content to make it better. Meet regularly with salespeople to gain insights into the sales cycle and how your press release content helps, and can better assist, the process. The web is iterative—you can and should make adjustments on the fly.

If the media does write about your organization, GREAT!

I have focused on how press releases are an effective way to communicate directly to your buyers. However, journalists still read and rely on press releases as they write stories. While you must work to craft releases targeted at your market target, your press releases should also make it into the hands of media professionals. The good news is that your efforts to communicate in a language potential buyers will find useful will not be lost on the media either; clearer, more effective press releases will make sense to them too.

And hey, if your releases generate a story about your organization, wonderful! Don’t forget to link to it from your site and to purchase the online and print reprint rights for the article so you can promote it to your buyers, who may not have seen the story directly themselves.

Don’t just wait for the media to talk. If you craft and deliver your press releases effectively, in today’s web context, you will reach your constituents directly.

Prepare to be a maverick

If you’ve read this far, thank you.

But now I must warn you: Many people who adhere to the old rules of press releases will fight you on executing this strategy. If you are a marketing professional who wants to reach your buyers directly through press releases, you will likely encounter resistance from corporate communications people. They will tell you the old rules are still in play. They will say that you can only send press releases when you have “big news.” They will say that you need quotes in your press releases from respected third-parties such as analysts and customers.

But the old rules are old news. Press releases are being read by millions of people who are not journalists and billions of dollars of successful sales results.

If you face a stubborn old-line PR person in your organization, you may need to prepare a case for why your organization needs to adopt the new rules of PR. You will need to be a maverick.

Don’t give up. There’s no doubt that in the web economy, press releases drive action and make those who create them successful.

So you want to go viral?

When I wanted to get the ideas on The New Rules of PR into the marketplace, I knew that the best way was to use thought leadership, a technique that is taught in Pragmatic Institute’s Effective Product Marketing™ seminar. Many technology companies use thought leadership when they create white papers, Webinars, and podcasts or when executives speak at conferences. Rather than sell your company’s products, thought leadership sells your organization as a smart player in the market that people will want to do business with.

Thought leadership is great, but one of the most difficult aspects is getting your white paper read or attracting people to your Webinar. I used viral marketing techniques to promote The New Rules of PR and smart technology marketers can learn from my experience.

In mid-January, I published the freshly formatted complimentary e-book The new rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly on my site and also on my blog. I also sent a link to a few friends and colleagues. Since then, I have been happily watching the wave of interest from this little effort and I am amazed at the metrics. If the results that I’ve achieved are any indication, web content, particularly in the form of e-books are one of the best viral marketing initiatives that exist.

Within hours, hundreds of people had downloaded the e-book. And in the next several days, several alert bloggers picked up on the availability of the e-book and posted links. Over the next three days, the e-book generated just over 1,000 downloads per day. I was thrilled at the response. The power of a half-dozen bloggers telling the same story is tremendous. And how cool is it that on the web you can measure the results?

But that was just the beginning. Several days later, two-heavy hitters jumped in. Seth Godin wrote about the e-book in a post called “What would David Do?” Then Steve Rubell wrote on his blog, Micro Persuasion, a deliciously controversial post “Direct-to-Consumer Press Releases Suck.” There’s nothing like a negative viewpoint to drive viral marketing!

In just the next three days,15,000 people downloaded the e-book. And with the wide reach of Godin and Rubell now adding to the momentum, several dozen other bloggers posted their thoughts on my e-book The New Rules of PR and since then more bloggers have picked up the thread.

The CEO of PRWeb (who I did not know) read the e-book and asked me to comment in a press release about trackbacks in press releases.

Here are some links and following trackbacks will lead to others:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/01/what_would_davi.html

http://www.micropersuasion.com/2006/01/directtoconsume.html

http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2006/2/emw349374.htm

As I write this, it is just a few months since the release of my e-book. When I first posted it, there was precisely one hit on Google for the phrase ”new rules of pr.” Two months of viral effects later there are well over 1,000 hits on Google all pointing to my e-book. Amazing. Over 60,000 people (and counting) have downloaded the e-book. Not bad for a little e-book that cost virtually no money to write, produce and promote.

When I felt that things were waning, I added to my own momentum by issuing a press release announcing that the e-book had reached the 50,000 milestone. This effort yielded even more results. And to cap off this effort, MarketingSherpa named this campaign to the “Viral Marketing Hall of Fame 2006,” one of 12 campaigns to be selected.

Think about how you can leverage some aspect of your company, market, or technology, then create a thought leadership piece (a Webinar, white paper, e-book, podcast, or something else) and then try to get the viral buzz going.

Categories: Go-to-Market

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