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

How to share coverage behind a paywall

We live in a world with information constantly at our fingertips. And while users prefer free access, we continue to see a rising trend in paywalls used by top publications like The New York Times, Business Insider, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Just last year, 76% of US newspapers published online had some form of paywall in place.

A paywall, or a barrier to access news articles without payment, comes in many forms. Some publications are inaccessible to readers without a monthly subscription, while others allow readers to see a set amount of articles before requiring payment. Learn more about PR, paywalls and why publications use them here

People agree to paying for access to top outlets because: 

1. This model existed before any online presence of a publication ever did, and therefore, consumers easily justify the logic behind paying. 

2. The quality of the reporting, brand equity, tier-1 stature of the outlet, and even the power of individual journalists who possess significant social media followings, lend credence to a publication charging for views. 

But what does that mean for PR? First, let’s understand the pros and cons of a paywall. Simply, a paywall means the audience reading the coverage is highly engaged, trusts the outlet and is likely to interact with a quoted vendor, either directly by Googling the name or through referral by clicking a link in the article. The con? It’s harder to share SaaS coverage when gated. 

Your PR team likely subscribes to various publications so they should be able to capture a screenshot of the coverage and/or create a PDF. Once you have both, you should:

  • Summarize the piece for readers in a blog post and then share the link letting them know it’s behind a paywall. 
  • Share the coverage link as-is on social but highlight the part showcasing your organization. 
  • Monitor the publication’s social media to see if any tweets and/or further story promotions occur. Be sure to share across your brand’s channels since it adds validity to your coverage.
  • Use the PDF’d version or screenshot in other marketing and email campaigns.  
  • Leverage coverage and/or the publication’s logo in sales decks, product and investor presentations, as well on your website.

You can also obtain a license for distribution if you prefer not to pay a monthly fee, or become a subscriber of the publication yourself. I get it. Paywalls can be frustrating, but remember the audience is very engaged and trusts what they’re reading. Be sure to share coverage behind a paywall just like you would non-gated coverage. It pays dividends by enticing new prospects and further increasing the loyalty of current SaaS customers.

Check out this ebook for tips on maximizing your media coverage. If you want to amplify your SaaS brand’s story and thought leadership angles to earn coveted hits both behind a paywall and not, contact Lindsey Groepper.

PR and Paywalls: Why Media Publications Gate Content

You may also like:

Digital paywalls don’t have the best reputation. For many years, publications have offered their digital content to users free of charge, but this is no longer always the case. The change in accessibility comes with a price: only 16% of readers currently pay for a subscription, with others saying they won’t pay because they can find news elsewhere for free. 

But is the perspective that digital news should be freely accessible realistic? If print coverage in a magazine were secured, wouldn’t the expectation be readers first purchase the issue? 

While there are hard stances on both ends of the spectrum, the truth is paywalls are a normal part of media relations that both PR reps and spokespeople in media coverage should understand and expect. 

Paywalls as a Media Trend 

A media paywall, meaning a barrier to access news without payment, can manifest in various ways. Some publications are entirely locked down without a monthly subscription, while other outlets run a freemium model, offering a set amount of viewable articles before requiring payment. 

Paywalls exist because quality journalism costs both time and money. If your go-to source for news doesn’t have a paywall, there’s a chance it will soon: the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reports 48% of US outlets in 2019 had a paywall, which is ten percentage points higher than in 2017. From this sample, 94% of digital-born outlets still operate on a free model, while regional newspapers adopting subscription models for digital news at higher rates.

Ironically, if you want to learn more about paywalls, you’ll likely have to look behind them. Fortune reported in late 2019 (with a Paywall) how all Condé Nast publications were pivoting their model. But the COVID-19 pandemic, and other natural disasters, caused many media giants to drop their paywalls to provide necessary information to a larger audience, a topic which Adweek reported on (behind a paywall). 

Why Paywalls Make Sense for Media 

The channels from which we receive news have changed. While newspapers, broadcast and magazines were once the pinnacle, digital media has become the standard. This pivot has dramatically affected journalists. Pew Research Center reports newsrooms have shed half of their employees since 2008. This startling statistic proves how sustainability in media is a difficult and complex venture. 

Earlier this year, BLASTmedia spoke with Travis Bernard, Senior Director, Membership at TechCrunch to uncover how the publication incorporated paywalls via Extra Crunch. His perspective is of quality rather than quantity: instead of ramping up advertising, the publication doubled down on a smaller but more engaged audience. The subscription audience includes startup teams, entrepreneurs, founders, investors and others who want Extra Crunch’s content.  Whereas TechCrunch.com is focused on metrics like unique users and engagement, Extra Crunch offers the publisher new insights around, “layer of conversions, conversion rates, reads by subscribers, and engagement time for subscribers.” 

How Brands Benefit from Gated Coverage 

Media coverage secured on a publication with a paywall is just as important as coverage secured on one without. There are many reasons why media coverage is important, from boosting thought leadership to increasing a website’s Domain Authority, and paywalls don’t negate these. 

Subscribers to gated publications have shown they are committed to the outlet to the point of opening their wallets. Simultaneously, editors with a strong subscriber base can dedicate more time and resources to quality journalism and content. In turn, this means brands that secured coverage on these outlets know they are part of a higher-quality opportunity. 

While paywalls are changing the media landscape, it’s not the end of media relations or opportunities for quality coverage. Now is the time for PR pros to foster stronger relationships with editors to meet the higher expectations available for quality journalism. For guidance on amplifying media opportunities (both gated and not), check out our ebook: Maximizing your media coverage.