There are a million things I don’t know. For instance, I don’t know anything about wheat genome research, Pokémon Go, or Deep Magma Drilling. But I can read about all of these and learn things that might help me create a storyline that gets my clients included in a broader industry trend piece that helps move their business forward.
For many of us, the challenge with PR is how do we tell the same story over and over again and keep it relevant and fresh. Sure, clients and companies introduce new products and technology. But unless you are Apple, Microsoft, Google or Facebook, most reporters don’t care when you burp out something that is marginally better. Looking for topics that are trending in the news and finding a way to have your clients contribute to the debate is a valuable strategy in terms of getting that high-profile coverage that CEOs love and that keeps the clients happy.
To do this, however, you have to understand exactly what it is your clients do, how their products work, and why it matters to a market that is probably chock full of other options. Before I started Connect2, I worked in house at companies and was routinely frustrated when the agencies we worked with didn’t understand some of the basic elements of our products, services or market. That’s a problem and helps support the stereotype that PR people only work on the surface and lack the ability to really understand what a company is trying to do and how its products relate to the overall market.
I was on a recent press trip with a reporter from a national weekly news magazine and he seemed genuinely surprised that I really knew what my client did and why it mattered. Over the course of the trip, I was able to start the conversation about what other clients were doing and see if I could find an opportunity to get a conversation going with either him or one of his colleagues. Because he trusted that I knew what I was talking about, he was willing to share the pitch with other writers at his publication. This level of trust is invaluable to the reporter and PR person relationship. If they know that the information we share is accurate, timely, relevant and largely unbiased, reporters are often willing to help—even when it’s a story they can’t cover.
So how do you learn about your clients’ technology without getting lost in the weeds? There are several ways and the first is to read. Read the content on their website, their blogs and more importantly, the coverage they already have in market. Next is to listen. Listen to podcasts, webinars and speeches and really pay attention during press and analysts briefings. Finally, you can ask. There is no shame is asking for clarification if you don’t know something. If you don’t want to ask a client, then ask a colleague or an analyst you know particularly well.
Once you have this base knowledge, apply all of these tactics to better understanding how your client fits within the overall industry, how it helps solve real-world problems and why it is different (better) than what competitors bring to market. Ask to listen into sales calls to hear from them why they think the products are important and why they value your company as a vendor. By doing this, you can elevate the conversations you have with your client, the media and the analyst community.
For now, understand what you don’t know and then figure out how to get in the know.