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Best of: Embargos and how to use them effectively

This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from July 2008. We welcome your feedback.

By Danny Sullivan

When a technology company approaches the date of a significant news announcement, the possibility of offering the story to media under embargo is often raised. For those unfamiliar with the term, it simply means giving selected media advance access to the news that you will be distributing, usually on the understanding that they do not publish anything until after your news has been issued. Although some publications have a policy not to accept material under embargo, the majority of news-oriented media tend to like them a lot and for good reason. Most editors and reporters that have to deal with breaking news are swamped every day with a deluge of potential stories, all of which demand on-the-day coverage. By receiving information on a news story in advance, they are able to conduct interviews at a time that is convenient for them and produce their article over the course of a few days, rather than in the fraught few hours available on release day.

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The importance of news

By Danny Sullivan

While much of the PR industry will refer simply to “news releases” as a term to cover the whole spectrum of outbound news flow, at inmedia, we at least choose to assign some level of importance to releases before deciding on the level of effort to placed against them. Attributing a level of media value to a release at the outset will ensure that PR resources are not being wasted on outreach that is never going to yield results.

A good example to illustrate this news value is the customer-win announcement. Companies love to be able to announce new customers and often feel that this should always be a newsworthy item among the media. And so it may be, some of the time. There is a huge difference between announcing a deal where the new customer is prepared to speak about the strategic decisions behind a purchase that has a significant dollar value attributed to it, and a deal where the customer is not prepared to say anything more than the fact they are “working with” the new vendor. The news value here is vastly different; one can reasonably be expected to be pitched for real coverage, while all the other can hope for is, at best, a couple of lines pulled direct from the release.

Sometimes this value-assessment exercise can be challenging. Companies often have an inflated opinion of the importance of their news, but taking a clear stance at an early stage helps prevent awkward questions after the fact. News that is simply an FYI to your market should be exactly that - a piece of information to be noted but without anyone making a great fuss.

Conversely, news that you know has real value should be explored to its fullest extent. I’ve had a few experiences in recent months with news stories that had definite value but that took a bit more than just sending a release to media to secure coverage. Follow up is hugely important; it can be amazing how often you speak to editors who claim to have not seen your news story, then checks inbox, finds it and agrees that it’s something they should be covering! For important news, you should never assume that simply sending the email will guarantee it is seen by your targets.

Another common experience is the editor who may have seen the release but “doesn’t cover news” so thought it was irrelevant and deleted it. For this situation, you need to be aware of the deeper issues that your news story addresses. If you are releasing a new product, why does it have the new features and functionality it does? Do they address a trend in the marketplace? Can this trend be explored as part of a feature?

Establishing the importance of news is a crucial exercise for any PR person to undertake for every announcement, helping both manage expectations and ensuring that effort is expended in the most useful areas.

Marketing in a downturn: how the best do it

By Danny Sullivan

We’ve written on marketing in a downturn a few times over the past couple of years - unfortunately, it’s a topic that is close to everyone right now. But I had to come back to the subject again after reading an excellent and insightful article by Beth Comstock, CMO of GE in BusinessWeek.

It’s very refreshing to hear such a frank discussion about how one of the world’s biggest companies is ramping up its marketing spend to capture more market share and position itself for the inevitable recovery. At inmedia, we have long advocated using the downturn as a time to increase the marketing volume rather than cut back, but all too often our words have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s understandable that companies look at marketing as something that can easily be cut back on when times are tough, but such a reaction fails to take into account the immediate opportunity that exists to gain a marketing foothold over other cost-cutting competitors, and does not look beyond the downturn to the time when they will need to be well-positioned to take advantage of the recovery.

Comstock’s example of Priceline outspending the competition to post an 82% increase in profits and improved market share should be enough to convince anyone that there is value to be gained from marketing in a downturn.

Some might say it’s easier for the biggest companies to remain bold during a downturn, but what about those whose revenues are a fraction of GE’s? I believe that the principle remains the same – going silent can only cause one to lose business and market share. The truth is that plenty of business remains to be won in a downturn, and canny marketing investment can help capture that business, while simultaneously ensuring a company’s readiness for the recovery.

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Measuring PR impact – it’s easy when the phone rings

By Danny Sullivan
Often, the hardest thing to measure in PR is that ultimate metric of success for a client: impact. What real effect has media coverage had on helping a company achieve its business goals?
The truth is that in many cases it can be hard to discover exactly what marketing tactic brought the customers to the door, but it is usually accepted that PR plays its role at some point in the process. The clear challenge in measuring the true value of media coverage makes it all the sweeter for us when a company experiences a positive business impact that can be directly attributed to PR.

When CRM software company, Sword Ciboodle, recently engaged in a round of media activity targeted towards the insurance sector, the results spoke for themselves. Coverage, both feature and news-focused, was forthcoming in a range of insurance trade publications but, more importantly, that very same month the phone began to ring.

Sword Ciboodle sales director, Murray Farquharson, was immediately aware of the very real impact that PR had delivered.

“Within a month of the media activity, we had three good insurance leads come in the door, all of which can be directly linked back to the coverage,” he said.

Getting this sort of impact for our clients is what we continually strive for and reaffirms our faith that PR is a vital component of the marketing mix of activities. And it’s even better when the client realizes a deeper value behind the results.

“The remarkable thing is that the leads came from a level of seniority within those insurance firms that it would probably have taken us more than a year to get to under normal circumstances,” said Farquharson.

Now we’re really talking impact.

The Pope and PR ethics

By Danny Sullivan

This is probably the first and last time the Pope gets a mention on this blog, but this week’s events in Africa got me thinking.

What got the Pope in hot water while visiting a continent ravaged by AIDS/HIV was his public assertion that the use of condoms could increase risks to public health related to the spread of the disease.

For most companies, there are countless topical situations that could be taken advantage of for the purpose of making a point. In some cases it might be appropriate and prudent to do so, and for others, definitely not. The events of September 11, 2001 are a prime example of the latter, where there were some who tried to capitalize on the fear generated around the attacks. But the majority of businesses rightly balked at such callous practice.

Many technology firms will unfortunately come across occasions when a global disaster or terrible event would provide a potential platform from which to illustrate their product’s capabilities, and how they might have prevented events from happening. But they just don’t. Our ethics help us to realize it’s better to say nothing in certain situations.

While I understand that the Pope has an agenda that he firmly believes in (as does the leadership of most organizations), I would have thought that someone within the Vatican’s PR department might have raised the point that certain subject matter might be better left alone when visiting the epicenter of that subject.

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