For a start-up in the Valley – and for just about any technology company out there – a product launch is a major milestone. Many elements are working in tandem to get the product ready for prime time. In marketing alone, landing pages, data sheets, whitepapers, videos, presentations and demos are being produced at a furious rate – usually while the message is still being hammered out.
On the PR front, things are moving quickly too. And sometimes businesses fail to understand the complexities of getting the story out in a smart, coordinated way. Here are the three ways that we typically see product launches go wrong.
- Not allowing the PR team enough time to do their job – More than once in my career I’ve found out about a “really important” product launch a week before the news was supposed to go out. Whoa! This is typically a 4 week process, amigo. Before we can even pick up the phone and dial your favorite reporter, we need to know the story. What’s the hook? What’s interesting about this product? What problem does it solve? How is it different from what’s already out there? What does it mean for the industry? We need time to craft that story – driven by your main message – and then we need to time to create a press release that lays it out in a digestible way for media and other stakeholders. And if you’ve ever spoken to a journalist, they are busy folks. It can take time to get on their calendars. Allow at least a week or two for your team to get those meetings scheduled. Oh, and did you plan for any spokesperson prep sessions? A few dry runs with your PR team to make sure that you can handle any “gotcha” questions is invaluable as you prepare for this important event.
- Not having a clear, compelling message – What do you want people to say about you when they hear your product or company name? Something memorable and interesting and easy to understand. Too often the message is determined by committee and it’s watered down to a place where all the department heads (engineering, sales, marketing, CEO) can agree. But does it work? Will people buy it? Understand it? What if you said it to your mom? Even technology products should communicate their value in simple, understandable ways. Use analogies that everyone can understand.Consider the 2008 Macbook Air launch (remember Steve Jobs putting the Air into an envelope?). The message they wanted everyone to know was “the World’s Thinnest Notebook.” The media ate it up. Yes, it was Apple. Yes, it was Steve Jobs. But the message was elegant and simple and crystallized the importance of the product for users. Had it been a Microsoft launch do you think the message would have been as clear? Somehow I think it would have a bit more muddled. And if you don’t tell your story well, how can you expect the media to tell it better?
- Not having an engaging spokesperson – Many executives are risk averse when it comes to talking with the press. They try to diligently answer questions and silently pray the (painful) interview will quickly end. Their responses are dry and usually too focused on product functionality – speeds and feeds. This is a big mistake for startups who hope to get a second interview with this reporter. Your spokesperson needs to have a point of view on things and be willing to be a little controversial. That does not mean disparaging people or trashing other products or saying something tactless just to get a story. Whomever you put in front of a reporter should be trying to build a relationship where they are considered a trusted source, so have an informed opinion on events happening in your market – whether that’s how Slack is performing, the Dell-EMC deal, autonomous cars or backdoor encryption.Sometimes the CEO has the right title, if you will, but not the right charisma. Find the person in your organization who can best tell your story, frame the context and will devote the time to doing it right. The company spokesperson needs to be authentic, human, real. Make a joke. Don’t sound like you are reading your message from a cue card. No wants to feel like they are just getting “the company line” all the time.
There are other ways to torpedo your launch with the media; these are just the ones that I see most. Any experiences with product launches you’d like to share?
Senior Vice President