On August 29th, Sarah Rice (Head of Communications, MXit) gave a talk entitled "Media Training for Startups" for the Silicon Cape. This was followed by a Q&A with Sarah and Michelle Atagana of Memeburn. Both were full of useful, practical, advice. I find LukeW's notes from the talks he attends very useful, so I thought I would try writing notes for the talks that I attend. Below are my notes from Sarah's presentation. (My notes from the Q&A)
Sarah Rice has 12 years experience in the PR industry. She was MD of Sentient Communications until 2011, then took 22seven to market, then joined MXit as Head of Communications.
- Companies, especially new businesses and startups, often ask: why bother?
- The ultimate objective is to sell more stuff. If your goal isn't selling more stuff, spend your money elsewhere.
- Being the "best kept secret" is a recipe for fail.
What is PR?
- Much more than logo and catchy tagline. It's awareness, education, and recognition of what you do, and of your sales staff.
- PR people act as interpreters.
- Business people, especially management, speak from their bubble, and in their language. Staff, customers, and suppliers don't care about spreadsheets and sales targets!
- Think about communicating retrenchments as an example: the tone and pitch is very important.
- PR people act as a bodyguard.
- They sit outside the message and speak to the major drivers.
- Good communication provides a buffer zone when things go wrong: gives you time. When a crisis / disaster strikes, it will show you how good your PR is.
- PR is like fertiliser for your business.
- It's not Direct Marketing, Sales, or Telesales.
- It's about a slow, sustained, burn.
- Question from the crowd: how do you measure the effectiveness of your PR?
- By perception over time.
- Audit via sales team, customers, clients.
- PR strategy must support the business goals.
- PR is communications.
Where does the media fit in?
- Think about what you send to where, which channel to use, what actions the users take.
- Increase engagement on an existing channel, break into a new space, convince a corporation to sponsor you?
- When does traditional media make sense?
- When it's news.
- there's a persistent idea that the media is indebted to help SMEs. Not true! They owe you nothing. They exist for their readers, to share relevant, interesting, and meaningful content.
- When your agenda and theirs cross
- When it's news.
- What do we have in South Africa?
- Financial print, Weekly print, radio, online, TV (small market)
- Our media is not deeply technical, so blogs and user-generated media is useful.
- What's happening in the world of journalists?
- They're understaffed. Newsrooms aren't like the ones on TV!
- They're covering lots of stories over many different spheres.
- The older generation have tended to go off into PR or consulting.
- The young generation are there, sometimes with little experience, no resources, and high pressure. They're stressed!
What is news?
- Things that have these qualities.
- relevancy: which media are you pitching to?
- timeous: must be happening now.
- proximity: must be local, South African.
- emotion: e.g. feelings of tech industry about recent Apple vs Samsung trial
- prominence: link yourself to a big name?
- conflict: not great for pro-active PR, try and avoid.
- solid information.
- Question from the crowd: do tech people read print media?
- Banks, yes.
- Finding where your competitors is a good guide of where you should be.
What to do: You
- have a clear: action objective, message, story (are you the opinion leader, the first, better?)
- support your message with proof points, stats.
- have one good story rather than several
- you must be able to explain yourself and your company quickly, confidently, and easily.
- Question from the crowd: if your company is chaining, how should you handle it? It's a pivot, but we need to keep the old business going and solvent, and have the new one.
- Rebrand with a new name, as a spin off of the old one. Let's you keep the same name for the old one, and gives you a new name linked to the old one's reputation.
- You can't have an angle without proof points.
- Dogfooding is not a story!
What to do: Them
- Read the publication
- who are the journalists?
- what do they like, what do they do? Will your story interest them?
- journalists fear no-one reads them. Tell them that you've read their stuff: it's a complement.
What not to do
- Don't be an asshole!
- don't edit their stuff, don't try and do their job for them.
- Don't bring a marketing spin
- Don't give misleading info
- Don't be too cagey, and be honest. If you can't discuss something say why.
- If you're not the social type, send someone who is!
- Stories with some difficulty, troubles, are more interesting. It's okay to be a little vulnerable.
- Think about the narrative. There are many ways to tell a story; tell it your way.
- The best way to connect is by telephone.
- prepare for the call
- have a reason to meet and connect again. Most people will agree to meet for coffee.
- focus on the relationship, and the coverage will follow
- Lots gets lost over email
- We haven't invented the sarcasm font yet!
- PR is a long relationship, a business journey
Writing an article
- Press release
- write as a thought / opinion leader, not as a marketer.
- the big question is "So what?" Answer it!
- See jennigay.co.za for good advice on Press Releases.
- If you call them in, shop around. Look for good chemistry with you, an understanding of the market, honesty.
- Hiring a freelance writer can be a good option.
- don't let them send out the press release, though. Do it yourself to build the relationship.
- The hourly price can vary, but about 6 hours for a press release, about 10 hours for an OpEd is a good guideline.
When it goes well, it's exciting.
Slides from Sarah's talk: Media Training for Startups [pptx, 1.1MB]