2021 SaaS PR Predictions

This time each year we work with our clients to put together predictions for the year ahead, and for the past few years we’ve been taking our own advice and creating SaaS PR predictions of our own. 

Looking back on a year that, to put it gently, went completely off track, I was surprised to see many of our predictions for 2020 panned out (on the PR front). This year, we saw fewer SaaS marketing execs using share of voice as their standalone metric to measure the success of PR. We also saw a much closer integration between our clients and their customers — so much so that we now offer to interview and write customer stories on behalf of our clients.

When I sat down to think about 2021, a few things immediately came to mind. Yes, some of those things are related to the pandemic and how it impacted the way we do work, but other trends were well underway beforehand.

Paywalled journalism means we must adapt 

It’s happened to all of us — you see an interesting story shared on Twitter and click to learn more only to be hit with a paywall. While it can be frustrating, paywalls actually make a lot of sense. Think about it: you pay for Hulu with no ads, you pay to join Dave Gerhardt’s Patreon marketing group, you even pay for access to workouts on Peloton — why wouldn’t you pay for unlimited access to news content created specifically for your interests? 

As talented journalists continue to fall victim to shrinking newsrooms, they’re increasingly turning to platforms like Substack to grow followings of their own. Most recently startup reporter Eric Newcomer left Bloomberg to start Newcomer, a subscription newsletter about startups and venture capital. Earlier in the year tech journalist Casey Newton left The Verge to start Platformer, and before that Fortune’s Polina Marinova Pompliano left to build The Profile. I anticipate many more will follow suit. 

Earlier in the year, I sent a few questions on paywalls to Travis Bernard at TechCrunch. He launched TechCrunch’s subscription platform ExtraCrunch just a year earlier. His newsroom faced a choice: broaden coverage to drive up advertising impressions and therefore dollars, or double down on a smaller, more engaged audience willing to pay. They chose the latter. 

So, what does this mean for those of us in SaaS PR? Get creative about what you consider an “outlet.” It no longer needs to be TechCrunch or Forbes to count as meaningful coverage for your brand. Encourage your client/boss to look past vanity metrics like unique monthly visitors. As journalists are building their audiences, these metrics may or may not be available. 

Build relationships with emerging publications (including podcasts), and get comfortable with explaining the value of coverage behind a paywall to your client. Sure, there are challenges (namely, sharing on social) but the inherent value is the already engaged, paying audience. And, ask your CFO for more room in the 2021 budget for news subscriptions. 

Speaking slots will become even more difficult to secure 

Now that Neil Patel, Jay Baer and Seth Godin can speak at 10 conferences in a matter of days — what’s left for the rest of us? I am halfway kidding but, if you think securing speaking slots isn’t going to get a lot more difficult in 2021, you should reassess your goals. 

  • Exhibit A) Many events well into 2021 are still going to be canceled, creating fewer overall opportunities.
  • Exhibit B) For virtual events, travel, and its associated costs, are eliminated. This means we’ll see the most well-respected speakers speaking more often.

Those two items lead to a lack of opportunity for anyone not already an established keynote. My advice? Keep your events/speaking team focused on small, local or industry-specific events to build your reel until events and speaking slots become more widely available, hopefully in 2022. 

Audiences wise up to newswires — kind of

For better or for worse, 2021 is not the year the newswire dies. In simple terms, newswires have value because we believe they have value. So, until your CEO stops forwarding you Google Alerts he has set for competitors’ press releases with the “why aren’t we getting this type of press” note attached, newswires are a necessary means to a “make the CEO happy” end. 

In 2021, marketing and comms leads will start considering the broad spectrum of places outside of a wire we can place releases. A company blog or, if you have some extra budget, a paid posting in a trade publication are valid options to consider, and can often have the same impact as a newswire posting (minus the syndications). 

While wires themselves are likely to remain a piece of your PR puzzle in 2021, I think most SaaS PR people will no longer find value in the “outreach” efforts offered by wire services. The claims they send your press release “directly to the newsrooms of all the top media publications,” while technically true are completely useless. And, candidly, in eight years of doing media relations, I have never seen a single organic story run as a result of this type of distribution.

Deskside meetings are *finally* put to bed 

This is one area of PR that has certainly been impacted by the coronavirus, and I think for the better. Speaking specifically within the realm of SaaS PR — desksides are no longer an impactful way to communicate with journalists. Now that desks themselves (at least the kind in large office buildings) are few and far between, deskside meetings have become a relic of our PR past. 

As we’ve learned over the past year, we can be just as impactful and collaborative without being in person. Instead of forcing a press tour to work because they’re what you’re used to, set availability for your executive or spokesperson over the course of a week. Slot in interviews as they make sense for availability and interest on both sides, and if the meeting requires a product delivery, send it ahead of time. Make sure to get updated contact information for the journalists, though, since they’re likely not in an office. (PS — phone etiquette changes when it’s a cell phone you’re calling. Proceed with extreme caution.) 

I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re looking forward to putting 2020 behind us. But, for a year that turned out to be quite challenging, it sure did teach us a lot — especially when it comes to communication. 

Never has it been more important to put time and effort into what you’re saying, who you’re talking to, and why you’re saying it. From communication to your employees on a shift to working from home to communicating to the world what you stand for, putting thought behind your words is never going out of style. 

What do you predict 2021 will hold for SaaS PR? Share with us on LinkedIn or Twitter

6 Questions To Ask Before Hiring a PR Agency (and Why!)

The search for a PR agency is no easy task — publishing an RFP, interviewing each agency and choosing which one is the best partner for your business and marketing goals. Whether you’re hiring an agency to support a long-term strategy or a short-term campaign, the right PR partner can make your life easier by being an extension of your marketing team. 

When hiring a PR agency, consider asking these six questions to separate the good from great. 

Why are you interested in working with us?

It seems so simple, but asking this question can give you an idea of whether the agency has researched your company. They should note specific reasons, like your product and company mission fits in the realm of their clientele. Bonus points if they notice your competitors in the news and see an opportunity to elevate your company as an expert among them. 

Many PR agencies work with SaaS companies. What makes you different?

It’s essential agencies understand their competitive advantage: What sets them apart from the hundreds of other agencies to choose from? How can they serve the specific needs of your company and marketing goals? If they’re working with other B2B SaaS companies, they should know the industry in and out and be able to share your story and build relationships with the media. Better yet, they should know how to tell your story through your thought leaders, whether that’s interviews, quotes or content (more on that later). Building those relationships on your behalf will be a key differentiator from one agency to the next. 

What commonalities do your ‘best’ clients share? What makes a client go from good to great? 

This gives you an idea of what your agency looks for in clients, and can help you understand how to be the best partner. A few things we prioritize at BLASTmedia include communication, participation, willingness to be bold and trust. Communication is a given, but it goes beyond answering emails and attending status calls. Brainstorming sessions, story mining calls with thought leaders and quarterly planning meetings all contribute to great communication. Participation is another key factor in a successful relationship. At BLAST, we use multiple client thought leaders as spokespeople for different topics in the media or an industry source for reactive opportunities. This falls in line with the willingness to be bold, too. Being bold in a media interview or when responding to competitor news can feel daunting, but the right agency by your side can empower everyone to confidently take a stance and share opinions. Trust doesn’t need a long explanation. It’s the most important aspect of a client-agency relationship. Without trust, nobody succeeds — it’s as simple as that. 

Can you tell me about your experience working with SaaS companies at a similar growth phase as us with parallel goals? 

Client case studies should be the main talking point for any agency when answering this question. They should have clear examples of past clients and their strategy for helping them grow. Ask them what went well in the relationship and what recommendations they would make to a company of your size. To go even deeper, the agency should note specific clients in a similar vertical to yours, such as martech or HR tech, and explain a specific project and why it performed well. If they’ve done their research, the agency should come with ideas on helping your company increase visibility in front of customers, competitors and investors.

What does your reporting look like, and what metrics matter to you as an agency?

You need to know how the agency will support your internal marketing goals through a steady report cadence. If you have a board meeting, the agency should provide key metrics for you to show the value they bring to the team. PR agencies with the most up-to-date tools on hand can provide a detailed look into your key messages, competitors and media feedback and provide recommendations accordingly.

What is your approach to PR when we don’t have news/press releases every month?

PR is much more than issuing a press release on Business Wire or PRWeb. At BLAST, our approach to a successful B2B SaaS coverage mix includes 50% news, 25% contributed content and 25% interviews and quotes from client thought leaders. You’ll notice only half of that is company news. We believe having this balanced coverage is key to successful PR because it positions your company as thought leaders on a variety of topics, whether that’s technical topics or business leadership topics for top tier media opportunities. Additionally, what’s the story behind the announcement? Agencies should know how to extend the life of a press release through thought leadership content, customer stories and securing interviews with one-on-one reporter outreach. When interviewing PR agencies, it’s important to get a sense of their approach and strategy for breaking through the noise and setting up your team for success.

Ready to hire your next PR agency? Contact Lindsey Groepper to learn more about BLASTmedia and our dedicated B2B SaaS PR approach.