Whenever I interview a candidate for the B2B tech/services team, I always look for someone that possesses specific characteristics. They have to be solution-focused, driven, creative, curious and thick skinned. Yes, these are all blanket characteristics that anyone would want in an employee and team member. But, after being in B2B PR for more than 12 years, I know that team members with or without these traits can make or break a PR program.
And that’s because there will be many, many B2B PR challenges ahead, no matter the client or the industry. And clients turn to us to solve them. Many of us have learned tried-and-true solutions after years of experience and the luxury of swapping war stories (and successes) with colleagues. The successful B2B PR professional takes his or her experience and calls upon the traits above to solve problems and get results.
If I look over my career in B2B PR, there are certainly common challenges we experience and fantastic solutions that the SHIFT team has implemented. For example:
Lack of Referenceable Customers
This is probably the biggest challenge we face, especially in certain industries like IT security, fin-tech and healthcare. Not having a customer that a reporter can interview often kills business press features and vertical-based coverage.
When faced with these challenges, we often recommend a few things. First, speak with the CEO about discounting the price for certain customers in exchange for PR. Second, offer to speak directly with the customer’s PR team so that you can give them the opportunity to tell you the ideal PR angle for their company. Third, recommend a customer award program with terms and conditions that give your client permission to tell stories based on submission entries.
If your client is in one of the industries named above (or a similar market), these suggestions may not work. Instead, focus the PR program on rapid response. Build relationships with reporters by giving them unique, specific commentary on major breaking news (no sales/marketing messages and no FUD). What really works here is giving the reporter unique data that demonstrates the issue they’re writing about or the larger trend. What you may find is that, over time, your client has built up enough credibility and goodwill with the reporter that he or she will entertain a trend article without a customer. This takes time, so set that expectation.
Another work around? Have your client partner with a non-profit on an initiative, work with a senator on legislation, or find another third party to help round out a story in lieu of a customer.
Saturated Market with a Clear Leader
In B2B PR, contacting a reporter about a client in a hot space with 20 competitors and a behemoth leader is extremely difficult. More than likely, the reporter has heard all the differentiators and benefit claims before. They’re skeptical (as they should be) and tired of the noise.
If this sounds familiar (and the behemoth leader isn’t your client), fear not. Step number one is to better understand what everyone else is saying. Use tools like CrowdTangle and Sysomos to monitor conversations involving your competitors and influencers. Then, map those topics and trends using IBM Watson. This is an efficient way of seeing overused key words and finding the story that no one else is telling (or spotting an up-and-coming trend). Push back on any client that wants to tell the same story or describe their company in the same way and give recommendations for what will actually break through.
Second, use that data to spot breaking news and trends. Be the first to reach out to a reporter with a unique angle on a news story you know he or she will be writing. Again, no marketing messages and no FUD – it has to be truly unique insight. Often times, the behemoth leaders don’t comment on breaking news (lawyers and policies can get in the way) and it’s the scrappy companies that get the ink. Naturally, this helps with overall brand awareness and over time, reporters will mention your client alongside the biggest competitor.
Noise and Overstretched Reporters
When I first began working in B2B PR many years ago, publications had a gaggle of reporters with very specific beats. It often felt like every tech topic had one dedicated reporter writing on the subject every day. Times have changed and individual reporters now cover a huge variety of B2B topics. For example, the same reporter writes on everything from Google’s breaking news and the latest messaging app to disaster recovery and data center virtualization. At the same time, he or she has the pressure to post articles on topics that readers will click on and share socially. In other words, when faced with writing about Facebook’s foray into augmented reality or the latest in SD-WAN, they’ll more than likely chose the former.
This doesn’t mean that your B2B tech client won’t get coverage unless they are Google, Facebook or Apple. It just means that you need to get creative, especially for business press (remember those traits?). For example, consumerize your program. Start by thinking about the end consumer – that might be an employee or your client’s customer’s customer. How can you create an angle about them in order to jump on a topic that is more relatable and sexy? Another solution is to tie your client to the hottest new trends. Have a security client? What do they think about Pokémon Go? Does your client work in the HR space? If so, do they recommend using virtual reality for remote workers? Obviously, don’t stretch too far here – a reporter will not be amused if you try to tie your client to something that is way too far removed.
Lastly, and this should go without saying, always be aware of upcoming news from major tech players. It’s never a good idea to launch a B2B company or technology on the day of Facebook’s developer conference, for example. Your clients are looking to you to know these events and avoid those dates when creating PR plans.
As someone that has been working in B2B PR for more than a decade, I can say that it’s fun, interesting and rewarding. But it will challenge you to find solutions around roadblocks every single day. If you rely on your creativity, curiosity, drive and thick skin, you will no doubt find a work around.