by Steve Harman
Bill Gates reportedly once said if he was down to the last dollar of his marketing budget, he’d spend it on public relations (PR). Obviously, that’s a difficult scenario to imagine, but the quote reflects a growing awareness of the importance of PR at every stage of a company’s development. It’s not just a luxury for mega-corporations, like Microsoft, but something even the smallest companies need to get right to survive and grow.
The natural products industry is as healthy as ever, and with plenty of players competing for business, it’s also as hard as ever to stand out from the crowd. The companies most likely to succeed are the ones that can tell a compelling story about themselves and their products.
Nowhere is the need to stand out from the pack more obvious than at a busy trade show. PR has several branches, one of which is a company’s relationship with business-to-business (B2B) media.
Why Bother With the Media?
B2B media should matter because it matters to your customers. A 2016 survey found 94 percent of decision-makers in business use trade press as a source of information. It ranked higher than any other source of information, including events, sales calls and direct mailings.
The media amplifies brand messages and takes them to a wider audience than a brand can achieve on its own. Ultimately customers and potential customers are the most important audience, but most them won’t be at the event. Brands are best positioned to reach these players by working with the media. There are two ways to do this—advertising or giving journalists something worth writing about. Often, the most successful strategies combine elements of both.
Press Release—Get It Out Early and Get It Right
The centerpiece of a pre-show media relations strategy is a preview—a simple, snappy press release that tells journalists what’s happening at the company’s booth and why attendees should be interested. If brands have more information after the press release is launched, they can always issue a second release.
It’s important to get the preview out early—at least several weeks before the event. Many titles, especially printed magazines, start working on their coverage of big events months in advance.
When creating the preview, keep in mind who the audience is and what their needs are. Journalists are busy, and they receive dozens of press releases a day, so make sure to give them every reason to run a story ahead of the others, and no reason at all to ignore it. (Something that looks unprofessional or is full of typos is going straight into the trash.) They also need a “hook,” an “angle” or something that turns a message into a story relevant to their readers. This should deliver the “new” in “news”—whether it’s a new product, new research or something else that hasn’t been done before.
Finally, keep it simple. While some journalists have been working in the sector for years, many others are inexperienced. Don’t assume they have in-depth knowledge of the subject—avoid jargon and don’t go into unnecessary technical detail.
Journalists loved the fantastic press release, and now they want to come and talk to someone at the company. Whoever’s going to be doing the talking needs to follow a few basic rules:
- Prepare. Brand representatives need to find out as much as they can beforehand about what the journalist wants to discuss. It’s increasingly common for journalists to film or record interviews for their website, so ask them what the format of the interview will be.
- Know what to say. Before the interview, brands need to decide on three simple key messages and memorize them. It might be the brand can offer another news story to journalists who stop by the booth—in which case, it makes sense to have another press release available.
- Be careful. Journalists are keen to beat their rivals to a story, so they may ask numerous questions, trying to find a good “angle.” And, there’s no such thing as “off the record,” so work on the basis that everything said could end up online by the end of the day. If a brand doesn’t want something published, no one should talk about it, even informally.
- Be honest. If the company representative doesn’t know the answer to a question, he should never make it up. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know,” or “I’ll have to email that information to you.”
Working with the media can be fun and is one of the best possible ways to promote a project. Look at journalists as partners—by working together, they get a story and a brand gets its message out there. And, remember, there’s always expert help available.
Steve Harman is account director of Ingredient Communications (ingredientcommunications.com), which offers ingredient companies a free communications appraisal.