I planned Our First Half-Day Training Event and Here’s What I Learned
BLASTmedia recently hosted our very first Elevate Day — a half-day training event that gave our employees the opportunity to learn about new strategies in the world of PR and content development, tap into their creative side, and learn about the SaaS investing landscape from VCs themselves.
Think somewhere between Dreamforce and a The Office-style whiteboard presentation.
We used Elevate Day to hone in on topics that we identified a need for extended training around due to market changes and evolving best practices, as well as trends we saw in a recent training benchmark survey that asked employees to self-report on their confidence level around certain skills. Each employee could choose their Elevate Day track from a number of session options in each training category to personalize the day to their individual interests.
Here are the top three things I learned (outside of making plans for unexpected weather!) at our very first Elevate Day training event:
The media landscape is changing more rapidly than we could have imagined even five years ago.
Who and how I pitched last quarter could completely differ from who and how someone else at the agency is pitching this quarter. That’s why it’s so important to knowledge share across your agency — and Elevate Day made that glaringly clear. As I listened to various sessions, I saw so many people sharing tips and tricks about new approaches they’re taking due to shifts in how reporters like to be pitched or shrinking newsroom staff. Let’s just say…Elevate Day motivated me to keep this knowledge-sharing alive and well in our agency.
This conversation also reinforced the importance of tapping outside experts for their perspectives and advice. Outside of the investment landscape, we also talked about why PR sometimes gets a bad rap and ideas on how to position what we do to potentially skeptical execs or VCs (from VCs themselves!) — a conversation we face head-on regularly.
It pays to make time to learn
It’s easy to say that you want to make time to learn, but hard to actually set that time aside. Elevate Day showed me firsthand how important it is to not only create an environment of continual learning, but also to design opportunities for individuals to step outside of their norm to learn. That’s why we strategically planned the day during our regularly scheduled “No Meetings Week.”
Clearing our schedules and walking through the doors with our minds focused on soaking in everything the day had to offer made it so much easier to absorb new information and ask probing questions. I also noticed that stepping outside of our norm for a half day of learning helped boost the energy at the office and encouraged more creative thinking across the board!
Have a favorite learning event you’ve participated in that you’d like to share ideas from or want to speak at BLAST? Shoot me an email at email@example.com!
We’re bringing back our media connections series, and we thought what better way to kick us off than with Alex Konrad, senior editor at Forbes. He’s worked at Forbes for 10 years, covering venture capital, cloud and startups. Additionally, he edits the Midas List, Midas List Europe, Cloud 100 list and 30 Under 30 for VC. You might have also caught him in a Hulu documentary 👀
While Alex covers what some consider a ‘sweet spot’ in SaaS, he can’t cover every startup story. We sat down with him to discuss his PR pet peeves, how he comes up with story ideas, and what topics he’s hot about right now.
How do you choose what you write about? What elements make a company interesting to you?
Alex: One important thing to remember is that a good company does not equal a good story. Sometimes the best stories are because companies are not great, and sometimes great companies don’t have a great story. It’s OK not to have a great story yet, but it can be difficult to force it if nothing is interesting or dramatic.
As reporters, we’re looking for a compelling narrative that speaks to a bigger lesson, trend or warning. We must think about each company we look at and consider if it embodies something bigger. What is the exciting narrative? That might be a David vs. Goliath story, overcoming the odds as a founder or someone with a surprise second career or a quirky passion.
A fun story I once wrote was about a midsize tech company at the time called Appian. It’s not the most exciting company in the world, although it did go public, but its CEO is an elite board game designer and has designed and commercialized multiple board games. Every year he goes to the world boardgaming championships. Going with the CEO of a public company to watch him compete and understand his leadership style from his board-game play was the kind of thing any reporter would want to do once. It’s a good example where the story might be more compelling than the business itself.
I noticed crypto and Web3 were common themes in your stories last year. Is that a personal interest, or is that a macro trend that performs well that led to stories written about that?
Alex: Journalists want to write about the hot-button topics of the day because they want to write useful information that people will plausibly read. There are topics that I’d love to spend more time on, but it’s hard to find my angle or justify why people would care about them.
It is a business. We have a lot of autonomy at Forbes, and in some newsrooms, there is a lot of trust in a reporter, but it’s never a good feeling to spend a lot of time on a story that only a few people care about. At Forbes, we’re not judged by our pageviews, but still, if you create something, you want it to matter.
With something like crypto, we at Forbes try to follow the money, especially me as the venture capital editor. If that industry has lost its mind about a topic, I need to have a point of view on it, explore it and look where the money is flowing. It’s not necessarily a great thing, but it’s meaningful, and if you’re a founder, or you work in the tech industry, or you want to learn about it, you need to know what that buzzy topic is on some level.
Are there any other tech trends or technologies that you’re personally interested in right now that you think will be a focus in 2023?
Alex: I am looking at AI, where we recently published a feature explaining the field. I wrote a cover story a couple of years ago on UiPath. I’ve written a lot about work software companies like Slack, Notion, Asana and Canva. The future of work is always exciting, and how generative AI could play a significant disruptive player in many of our workflows is compelling. I’ve enjoyed meeting companies that are trying to build on top of these tools.
Climate is something my team is interested in. There is more appetite from investors to put money into climate startups again. There is a bit of a sense of urgency by some people in the industry that now is the time to work on solutions there, but at the same time, climate companies face a high bar for success: they’re capital intensive, and historically we haven’t had that massive breakout climate tech company. So we might be cautious about not overhyping or over-promising.
I continue to write a lot about representation. We love looking at underrepresented founders doing great things or companies coming from unexpected places. Our 30 under 30 summits have spent the last few years in Detroit, and now it will be in Cleveland. We love at Forbes to try and break out of the bubble of Silicon Valley and New York.
Are there any other hot spots you’re seeing companies come out of that you’re interested in?
Alex: I think Seattle will become more relevant in the future, especially with this passion for AI. They have the Allen Institute and smart folks coming out of the big tech companies.
I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the European market. I haven’t done all the homework, but all the signals point to Paris being a surprisingly great place for entrepreneurship. I’m open to looking at other areas that are outside the so-called west of Europe and the U.S. as well.
What is the best channel and time to pitch you?
Alex: Emailing me politely during work hours is the best chance of success. I don’t appreciate when people try to gain creativity points by reaching people in unusual methods like my personal social media accounts. I don’t like cold calls because my day is usually chaotic. If I’m getting a call from an unknown number, I’m only answering it because it might be a source on a story, and for it to be a non-super time-sensitive pitch or hail mary pitch is inefficient for me.
I have a lot of empathy for PR professionals, but there are a lot more PR people than journalists. It’s hard for me to feel we owe a response on every pitch. I can spend a whole day just responding, and I still wouldn’t get to every pitch in my inbox. That said, I try to respond to exclusive offers because I know the person is waiting for my response before going to someone else. I will be very unlikely to respond to something that misrepresents anything. For example, we recently had an exclusive offer sent to my entire team. That’s not going to make us feel good that we all got the same email, so that will put them on the untrustworthy list.
Otherwise, emailing me a general pitch and sending a follow-up email is reasonable, but I will not have time to respond if I haven’t responded to one follow-up. Unfortunately, sending three more messages doesn’t make anyone happier.
I know that’s difficult because I know some clients want PR professionals to have a hard answer, but I would encourage my friends in PR to be that go-between for the journalists and the client and feel empowered to speak on behalf of the journalists and say, “It’s a pass from Alex, calling him isn’t going to improve the situation. We should graciously move on.” There have been times when I’ve been hounded to get a hard no, and it’s not helping anyone. The goal for a pitch should not be just to get a hard no.
What are other pitch pet peeves?
Alex: The relationships I value the most with PR professionals are the ones where they can guess how I think and act as a go-between between a client and me on an idea. They can anticipate when something won’t be a good fit or, at most, ask whether I think this will be a fit for someone else on my team.
One other pet peeve is if I go out of my way to pass on something or explain why something isn’t going to be a fit, an unfortunate number of times the person feels like they’re in the middle of a live conversation with me and can bring up something else. Given asynchronous communication, that is not the case. Now you’ve sent me another email, and you expect another response. What it’s doing is training me not to respond because if I politely pass, you’re going to pitch another client, and it’ll take more time out of my day to help you.
The last thing I’ll close on is conveying that the best relationships are back and forth. Some folks have brought me great stories in the past or tips, and then it does feel more like a back-and-forth. Other people feel like we’re old friends because they’ve pitched me for years unsuccessfully, and I’ve tried to be polite back, but we’ve never met. They’ve never actually helped my career, so the idea that we’re some partnership is misguided. I’ve helped them by passing or doing whatever to check a box, but no box on my end has ever been checked off.
That’s something to remember: unless we’re writing a big exciting story, agreeing to meet is not a win for us. What comes out of the meeting can be a win. Just the act of going to a meeting puts us in the red. We’ve invested time in this that we could have used elsewhere, and we need to deliver on that eventually. Earlier in my career, I agreed to a million meetings. I didn’t do a good job of converting those meetings into conversation-starting stories, so now I am more thoughtful about why the meeting would be helpful.
Do you have a list of go-to sources that you reach out to? How did those people build that relationship with you?
Alex: Companies and people who punch above their weight or are willing to give us a perspective that isn’t the known public perspective are ones that I will remember, and I am more likely to trust them generally in the future.
Let’s say we’re looking at AI, and we’re talking to all these huge companies. A small startup says, “You may not want to write about my small AI startup today, but I used to work at Google, and I can tell you pretty confidently the behind-the-scenes of how Google is approaching this.” OK, so maybe you’re a source on Google’s AI perspective, and then as your company gets bigger, I’m more likely to think of you and know you’re legit and potentially cover you down the road. But you have to give me something to trust you when you want something.
People think that meeting has built a relationship, but the journalists want something to come out of that relationship. My best go-to’s are people who are sources. They tip me on things. I’m writing a story about X. Do they know anyone with inside info about that topic? They’ll say yes or no, honestly. They won’t try to shoehorn a client in. There are a few people in my head, whether VCs, founders or PR professionals, who are good at understanding that flow, so I go to them first.
Are there other things that make a pitch stand out to you?
Alex: I’m looking to be surprised. I’m looking for something contrarian or that teaches me something that will get my attention. Any facts that speak to that compelling, personal story might be interesting to me, or any breadcrumbs that can allow me to think that this speaks to a bigger story. If a pitch was basically like:
Hey, we’re a climate tech company, and we’re doing this alternative to carbon capture. It’s very early, but we worked at the leading carbon capture startup, and we got disillusioned that it’s not effective.
Communicating that in some way might interest me because it’s a two-for-one. I can learn what you’re doing, but I’m also interested in why carbon capture is not working. They can punch above their weight. That’s something we look for.
So, a founder’s background is a defining factor?
Alex: It’s helpful if they’re compelling. If they’re not relevant, then you need to try something else. The more companies can be evaluated beyond just how much they’ve raised, who their backers are, and what scale they’re at is going to be important. The reality is few companies will pitch us, hey, you’ve never heard of us, and we have $100M in revenue — and if they do, they’re often 30-year-old private equity-owned companies that will not excite our readers either.
Can you give us an overview of your editorial process?
Alex: It’s very different based on the type of story. If it’s a quicker, exclusive story, I can call the shots on whether or not it makes sense, and then I get approval from my editors. Forbes trusts its reporters a lot to know their beats and understand what’s story-worthy.
Once you get into stories requiring travel or more time, there will be more dialogue between the reporter or several reporters and our editors. John Paczkowski leads our tech team. He used to run the tech and business reporting at BuzzFeed News, and before that, he was at Re/code with Kara Swisher and that whole crew. He’s very smart and plugged in, so as the story gets more ambitious, I’m more likely to be dialoguing with him. We also have a deputy editor under him, Katharine Schwab, who might be editing our stories and who works closely with John. Typically, I tell them I’m planning to write this online story, and I’ll need an edit. And if I’m saying I want to fly to Europe and meet every company in Paris, that would require a much larger conversation!
Do you have a monthly or quarterly story quota?
Alex: We do not have any hard quotas at Forbes. As a best practice, my team aspires to write at least once a week. We want to put points on the board and don’t want any pent-up pressure that we feel we haven’t published in a while. We also want to stay in the conversation with our sources and the topics we care about.
Publishing a story is the best way to get more people on that topic to reach out to you. That is our goal. It can often not be the case. Leading into the holidays, I got married and went on my honeymoon, and I went two months without publishing a story; this week, I plan to publish three stories. So it can vary.
Forbes likes to think of itself more on the once-a-week cadence, which is very different from the daily places or multiple times-a-day places. It’s also very different from the New Yorker, where you show up every three months, I assume, with a 30,000-word magnum opus. Our stories never get longer than 3,000 words, so it’s a bit different.
Where do you find the idea for most of your stories?
Alex: Most of my stories are not pitch driven. Often the pitch-driven stories come from an existing relationship. For example, a VC I’ve met before with an underrepresented background has a new fund. As they talk about their announcement plan with their PR representatives, they say, “I know Alex at Forbes; let’s see if he’s interested.” It’s a warm intro-type situation where I’ll give real feedback.
It may occasionally be the exclusive offer, or it may be that I come back a year or three months after a meeting and say, “I want to write about this company now.” That’s what happens with the bigger stories. For example, take the cover story I wrote on Flexport. I met with the CEO five years before that. I think I had a catch-up a year before the story that came from an inbound from their agency. A year later, that holiday season, the supply chain was top of mind, and I knew I could reach out to that agency and say the time is right to spend more time with him. They were very helpful in making that happen.
Teaming up with your competitors seems counterintuitive, both amid economic uncertainty and as part of your marketing strategy. But seeking out category collaboration can fuel powerful results when used strategically to educate your audience, build brand awareness and garner high-level media coverage.
Category collaboration: A contradiction in terms?
The idea of working cooperatively with your competition — termed “co-opetition” in Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff’s 1996 book on the subject — has often included partnerships formed specifically to foster innovation, fund research and development and share needed supplies. Look at Samsung and Apple, for instance: Samsung supplies Apple’s iPhone screens while still selling its own smartphones. Pharmaceutical rivals Pfizer and BioNTech collaborated on a COVID-19 vaccine.
But beyond supply chain or research concerns, this cooperative approach can apply to SaaS brands’ marketing endeavors, too.
Even amid concerns of a global economic downturn, Gartner predicts SaaS spend will rise to $195 Billion in 2023, up 17% from 2022. Businesses are still investing in SaaS, even in these tumultuous times — and SaaS companies need to keep their foot on the gas. Partnering with other savvy competitors ensures you’re building your category the smart way.
Category reinforcement through collaboration
You might be picturing collaboration as trading sales sheets and working together on battle cards — that’s not what I’m advocating. Back up a few steps to the top of the marketing funnel. In the early stages of category creation, you’re advocating for your solution and, more broadly, trying to maximize a prospective customer’s knowledge of the problem you solve. When you’re evangelizing for your category, you’re working to promote awareness, educate your audience and gain their trust.
Acknowledging and working with your competition on these educational campaigns provides prospects with further proof that the problem you’re solving is an important one. Competition validates your category as a legitimate space and your offering as a potential solution to a real problem.
Take the layups
In his book “Founder Brand,” marketing consultant Dave Gerhardt frames marketing as a momentum game: You take the small wins to build to bigger wins. During a basketball game, the teams can’t worry over every 2-pointer. When your opponent shoots a layup, you don’t panic about losing the game. They’re moving the game forward, and your team will score soon, too.
In the marketing realm, sometimes you’ll have to take the layups. Remember that as much as you like to win, your competitors do, too. Those minor wins offer some opportunities for lower-stakes collaboration, especially in areas where you and a competitor agree. Every win contributes to a developing storyline around your company and adds to your authority in the space.
From a thought leadership perspective, your competitor’s efforts can — and probably are — helping propel your deals forward. A prospect might read a competitor’s article that also speaks to all of your marketing talking points and builds a case for a solution. During a prospect’s research phase to find a solution, they may reach out to your company, rather than (or in addition to!) the competitor, to solve their problem.
In my own experience, I’ve seen clients share a “great piece on the industry” that came directly from a competitor’s thought leader — another opportunity for collaboration to move the game forward.
Release the scarcity mindset
Here’s the biggest hurdle preventing competitors from collaborating on informative, category-strengthening opportunities: a misguided notion of scarcity. Just as one layup for a rival team doesn’t spell disaster, press coverage for a competitor doesn’t mean your company loses a chance at its moment in the spotlight.
Opportunities to amplify your brand abound, but when every vendor in a given industry contradicts the next, journalists struggle to offer their audience a clear picture of what’s happening in the space. Collaborating with competitors to offer impactful, vendor-neutral insight amplifies your message and provides something substantial to the media (and then, your prospects). This collaboration can be as simple as agreeing on a particular market trend you’ve both identified.
Meet the demands of increasingly complex B2B sales cycles
The B2B customer journey has become even more complex. Forrester’s latest “B2B Buying Study” found that 63% of purchases involve more than four people, and the average number of touchpoints jumped from 17 to 27 in just two years. Buyers seek information from myriad sources during their customer journey — from case studies and peers to industry experts and vendors.
Today’s buyers want to connect with something beyond a vendor. They’re looking for answers — and you can help them by teaming up with your competitors to tell your category’s broader story, and choosing intentionally to focus less on selling and more on educating. This approach offers prospective buyers more value and equips them to make buying decisions that meet their needs.
Is your main competitor really the villain in your story?
A final obstacle to embracing competitor collaboration is, of course, whether or not your main competitor plays the villain role in your brand’s story. After nine years of working with hundreds of SaaS clients, I can confidently say this scenario is rarely the case.
Most companies working with a PR agency, for example, do so for several reasons:
They’re chasing a mindset shift among their desired prospects toward their solution category.
They’re trying to raise awareness about the problem their products solve.
They’re attempting to elevate a conversation to the board level to gain executive support (and budget approval) for their solutions.
Your competition’s not out to affect or diminish these efforts, and in fact, collaborating with those in the same space could give these endeavors a boost.
How to get started with category collaboration
Diving into competitor collaboration may feel daunting, but the process starts with a mind shift that includes thinking of your competitors as your peers, not your enemy.
Leverage your existing network. Who do you know, and do you think they’d invite a conversation? Connect with competitors on LinkedIn, and interact with their posts. If their company does something cool — give them props! If their CEO makes a bold statement, and your CEO agrees with it, help them continue the conversation.
Ask a peer to join you for a virtual coffee (not to exchange trade secrets, but to get to know each other). Connect at trade shows, and use the time to find common points of interest or concern in your industry. Have a story no one’s talking about, but you agree is pivotal? Talk about it jointly on your blogs or in the media, and see what happens.
Finally, invite a competitor thought leader to co-host a webinar with you or join an episode of your podcast. You’ll have an opportunity to flesh out points of view and garner more significant interest in your category. Each of these connections offers an opportunity to grow your own reach and your category’s visibility when you work proactively to create a cohesive choir of voices in your field. When evangelizing for your category, a rising tide can really lift all ships.
Whether you read them all or only caught a few, you want to take advantage of the SaaS trends and learnings in the blogs below. Here is a countdown of our most-read blog posts of 2022:
#5 Why PR Works for SaaS
Longer sales cycles and fierce competition have led SaaS companies to focus more on their brand. Building awareness through clear messaging is vital for SaaS companies to withstand competitors. This blog shares three reasons why PR works for SaaS brands.
#4 What Is Non-traditional PR?
As a SaaS PR agency, we leverage various channels to secure our clients meaningful coverage. In this piece, we break down non-traditional PR, including podcasts, software company blogs and video coverage, to show how capitalizing on non-traditional PR tacts is critical to successful campaigns.
#3 4 Pillars of B2B SaaS PR
For SaaS companies, PR doesn’t only help with building your thought leadership; it impacts an entire SaaS business, from recruiting to fundraising. This post covers the ‘Four Pillars’ of B2B SaaS PR: investors, employees, partners and customers.
#2 We Canceled All Meetings for 1 Week, Here’s How It Went
#1 How to Set and Measure PR OKRs: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
Drum roll, please. Coming in at number one is our blog on setting and measuring PR OKRs. The debate continues on how to measure PR. We followed suit with many of our clients and shifted our focus to an OKR framework. Not familiar with OKRs? This piece explains what they are and how we use them to measure our SaaS PR efforts.
The B2B SaaS industry is as mindbogglingly large as it is competitive. But how big is it? ChiefMartec recently shared that there are at least 103,000 marketing technology companies alone. That’s a conservative estimate — and just one vertical!
All of these companies are battling for visibility, but simultaneously, newsrooms nationwide are shrinking.
While every company has a story it can tell, not every angle will fit for media outreach or publication. And, often, businesses aren’t fully considering that brands need a vendor-neutral topic.
What does that mean, and how can vendor-neutral coverage still positively impact your company?
“This reads like an advertisement.”
First, the easy stuff: vendor-neutral content or coverage means that your byline, quote or interview can’t directly point back to a service or product you offer.
While both are important, your PR team is not your advertising team. Your PR efforts are toward “earned” coverage to (for example) provide a unique perspective on a timely topic or “how to” tactics on a technical subject. If the publication’s editor says, “This reads like an advertisement,” we’ve missed the mark. Your PR team will help refine your message to ensure we’re adding something new, valuable, bold and maybe even contrarian or divisive to the conversation.
If I can’t talk about my product, what’s the point?
Writing vendor-neutral content doesn’t mean you can’t talk about important challenges or opportunities in your industry, but you can’t be the only solution to the problem.
Your PR team can help you keep a finger on the industry’s pulse to ensure you’re still in front of your targeted audience and key buyer personas. But they should also help you think bigger: as a SaaS leader, you’ve got plenty of experiences to pull from. What lessons from your entrepreneurial journey stand out? What was your first experience with a boardroom? Are you building a hybrid workplace environment or offering nontraditional employee benefits? These aspects of running a company can be source material for a great story.
By publishing these types of perspectives, you are:
Improving your ability to rank in search as both a thought leader and company. Those “about the author” sections often include the prized backlink!
Creating valuable material for social media where the conversation can continue. Pubs love to see their pages get more views and clicks — sharing your work on social can help extend the reach and impact.
Fostering a relationship with editors who may reach out for more commentary opportunities.
Building affinity — people want to buy from people! You’re not a walking advertisement; you have years of insights and perspectives to tap into.
Where do we begin?
Getting started on your own can be challenging, especially without a team to help brainstorm ideas. Story-mining sessions are a great way to build out a list of vendor-neutral opportunities: your PR team can help uncover angles that resonate with target audiences and publications.
Turn to your PR team to uncover these powerful thought leadership angles for impactful media coverage.
I’ll save the cliches about reminiscing on the past year and looking into the year ahead. When the blog title starts with “predictions,” you get the gist of what it will cover. That said, 2022 was huge for changes in the media landscape. What works today for SaaS PR is vastly different from what worked five years ago, even one year ago. Let’s check in to see how our predictions for 2022 panned out.
✅ Less competition for share of voice, more category collaboration –– yep, mapping PR success into overall business goals (usually using the OKR methodology) continues to gain traction over SOV
✅ More line of business thought leaders, fewer CEOs –– another yes, media contacts are looking for expertise from practitioners
❌ Audio/video formats grow in popularity –– a bit of a miss but not a huge one. Audio is still increasing due to podcasts, while video is staying steady where it is
✅ Brand marketing takes center stage & a renewed focus on employer brand –– people want to work for companies that align with their values
To get a pulse on what’s ahead in 2023, I asked my peers what’s on their minds. Here’s what they said.
A flooded market will force marketers to deprioritize news lightning strikes. As journalists’ reception around news events like funding, company growth and product launches weaken with the flooded market, SaaS marketers will focus on long-term brand growth strategies instead of going all-in on flashy lightning strikes. We’ll see a renewed prioritization of more evergreen assets like outcome-focused customer stories, recurring data reports and trends-focused thought leadership to drive brand recognition and clout. – Lydia Beechler, Director of Learning and Development
Media’s town square is fragmenting. If he-who-must-not-be-named does destroy Twitter, it will be challenging to find a hub for journalists like we’ve come to expect. You’ll need to be organized on the best avenue of engaging with the contact, such as the social media site they are most active on or whether they’ve created their own medium domain or substack. While “who you know” doesn’t mean you’ll get a story placed, it will help as your favorite forum is likely changing. – Jake Doll, Vice President of PR
Leverage PR to simplify your value proposition. PR will become increasingly important for technically-focused SaaS brands solving complex problems in 2023. Budgets are still under scrutiny, and the harder it is for you to explain what you do and how it is valuable, the easier it is for prospects to say no. PR offers another avenue to showcase your message in layman’s terms and dig deep into the issue you’re solving and why investing in the solution is necessary instead of three years from now. – Kate Johnson, Vice President of PR
And, of course, I wouldn’t leave you hanging without a PR prediction from me!
Product-focused PR takes a back seat. SaaS PR playbooks from a past life relied on thought leadership that mapped back to the organization’s product, product strategy and differentiators. While I’m not pooh-poohing the value of a byline about how you need to find a [insert your product category] with features [X, X and X] that differentiate you from your competitors, publications are savvier than ever. They’re not interested in this transparent approach to content marketing. More than ever, media is hungry for best practices from practitioners themselves. They want to hear from HR people about HR best practices (not vendors) and CISOs about the latest threats to be abreast of (not vendors). In 2023 we’ll see a marked shift from organizations talking about their product to speaking about themselves and what makes them tick.
At BLASTmedia, our three-pronged approach to securing Tier-1 media includes customer participation, bold or vulnerable executive commentary, and compelling data.
Why data? Reporters seek data to validate claims with concrete evidence, and it also helps PR professionals deliver intriguing angles and stories backed by numbers.
Often, data is packaged up by SaaS brands in the form of reports, surveys or “state of” industry benchmarks. When it comes to a data report, it’s not enough to gather data and publish it if you are looking for media attention.
Below are keys to seeing your data published in the press:
Vanilla won’t cut it
When prepping the corresponding commentary to contextualize the report, you must be bold above all else (and offering a contrarian point of view doesn’t hurt, either). Reporters aren’t interested in commentary regurgitating information already out in the media. You don’t see quotes from respected industry experts like “companies are adopting more technology,” do you? Obviously not. It’s been said a million times.
Thought leadership quotes and angles that work well to position the data excite those in the industry, go against common perception or add a new perspective to an ongoing trend. To garner interest, data must tell a compelling story, challenge the status quo or tie back to relevant news. Data can support a thesis and be the story if you ask the right questions.
When drafting questions for a survey or pulling platform data for your report, it’s often best to work backward. Find the story or trend first, and then try and gather information to support or refute it.
Companies aren’t adapting technology at the rate you thought.
Marketers actually don’t prefer automation tools.
The bigger your tech stack, the higher your revenue.
These bullet points would make for a better story than “companies are adopting more technology.” And you can find similar data points to build a compelling angle.
One of the most common pieces of feedback we get from reporters when pitching data is, “This isn’t statistically significant.” In other words, the reporter needs more respondents to use this information.
Creating a compelling data report takes many resources, including time, energy and budget. As a result, you want to get the most out of it. Don’t take shortcuts with your respondent pool. Finding people that fit your target audience for the report (e.g., the correct title or age group) and finding enough of them is the first step to ensuring media members don’t turn a blind eye when they open your email.
The best case scenario when preparing a survey is 500+ respondents, but we also know getting that many isn’t always reasonable. Based on industry and media feedback, we recommend gathering responses from at least 200 respondents to fulfill the PR statistically significant requirement. Anything lower than that, you may not see the coverage or results you want.
Getting creative with PR outreach
When gearing up to begin data outreach, you must set expectations and goals and execute a well-thought-out plan with your PR team — know your strategy.
Will an exclusive be offered?
Can the data be parsed to appeal to different verticals?
Can the lifetime value be extended by attaching thought leadership angles?
These questions can help you form a SaaS PR strategy for success. Regarding coverage expectations, we see around ten total inclusions in the form of announcement coverage, press release postings and thought leadership coverage, depending on the type of report and vertical.
Also, get creative with outreach to achieve these goals. When most people think of data coverage, they assume mentions. Well, that may be your most common form of report coverage, but it’s not your only pathway to success. As I mentioned earlier, data can not only support a thesis but can also be the story. If you have the points to back it up, you can draft entire contributed content around specific data points. (Consider this example in Fortune from Upside CEO Alex Kinnier.) With Q4 predictions season in full swing, you can also include relevant data points in quotes to enhance thought leadership efforts.
Lastly, when putting together a media relations plan, know that data reports can have longer shelf lives than other initiatives, and coverage may not turn right away (but it doesn’t mean it won’t). For example, you can include data points in other story angles and contributed content over the next year. As a result, consider drafting goals with longer time ranges — and don’t limit yourself to the initial data report press release.
Data can be a strong tactic to garner coverage as long as you understand what makes data significant and unique. Otherwise, coverage may not be what you expect.
Looking to maximize coverage for your next data report? We can help! To learn more, contact our team.
SaaS marketers understand that public relations is vital in shaping industry perception and building credibility. But how do press releases play into a comprehensive PR strategy?
While we don’t believe press releases should be the center point of a PR program, they do aid in capturing share of voice in your industry and showcasing your brand’s accomplishments. When you have something newsworthy to share, it’s important you get the most out of an announcement and wring out its total value.
What to do with a press release
At BLASTmedia, our philosophy is that we don’t need a press release to secure coverage for our B2B SaaS clients. However, news still has significant value and a place in the PR coverage mix.
Pushing company news on your blog or via a wire service (like PR Newswire) amplifies your message and puts your news into the world – it becomes indexed and searchable. Press releases provide a marker in time that can be referenced for months, maybe even years.
Newsworthy announcements should have a pitch strategy in place, alerting the most-relevant editors (often under embargo or offering an exclusive) ahead of the announcement day to secure a feature article the day the news hits.
But what else should you do with the asset, in addition to a wire service and direct pitching efforts? Many media outlets provide the opportunity to post a press release, extending the reach of the news.
Securing additional press release postings
Take a funding announcement, for example. First, a client’s PR team would pitch a full feature story with an interview. If the story lands, press release postings on other sites provide even more exposure for the news, further amplifying the announcement.
Press release postings often result from one-to-one outreach to target trade media, wherein an editor or gatekeeper filters which news is most relevant for their audience and decides which releases to publish. Other outlets, however, provide an opportunity to upload a relevant press release directly to their portal for posting and make it into the outlet’s newsletter as well.
Examples of trade sites that offer press release postings:
Ever heard of relationship “red flags?” Of course, you have. Well, there are also agency red flags. If you’re ever talking with a PR agency and they only get coverage through press release postings and announcements, sound the alarm bells. You need a healthy mix of thought leadership articles, reactive opportunities, interviews and company news. Relying solely on press releases, though — that’s old school and largely ineffective.
Don’t underestimate your news
Company news may not always result in a feature article, but it can still get traction and realize value. While press release postings may seem minute, they’re an important piece of the overall PR strategy and play a role in amplifying news and increasing brand awareness.
To learn more about how you can improve your news strategy, contact Lindsey Groepper.
First, a quick refresh on product-led growth. A PLG company is all about individual user adoption turning into paying customers. The focus is on the end user rather than traditional buyers, like a company executive. With that in mind, here are three lessons we can learn from product-led growth PR done right.
Cater to the end user
A PLG strategy is focused on the end user and this should be reflected in your PR strategy. If it’s the end users telling their bosses which software to buy, you want to ensure you are speaking to them. This should show up in the way press releases are written and the type of coverage you secure.
Let’s start with press releases. At last year’s Dreamforce, Slack unveiled its latest product innovations. If you do a quick skim of their announcement, you’ll see the messaging is focused on the benefits to the end user. They speak to how “clips” will help teams and how “Slack Connect” will help you collaborate. A press release should zero in on what benefits the end user will get from your new product.
There are a couple types of coverage you can pursue to ensure you are catering to the end user: product-focused coverage and customer stories. If you have a product that creates true value for the everyday human, you want media coverage that highlights it. Dropbox did this with a feature in TechRadar on the release of its password manager. Highlighting customer stories is another way to cater to the end user. By securing coverage of a customer story, you can showcase the value of your product through someone who has personally felt it.
Make life easier
Not only do you want to cater to the end user, but you also want to make life better for them. One way successful PLG companies do this is through thought leadership. Thought leaders from leading PLG companies share their expertise on industry trends and best practices. For example, Calendly’s Chief Product Officer contributed to a Computerworld article on how to hold better, shorter meetings. Dropbox’s CEO shared the lessons he’s learned from leading a “virtual first” workforce with MIT. With their thought leadership efforts, PLG companies associate their name with industry expertise that makes life easier for their target audience. So answer the questions people are asking and help them solve their problems.
Leverage data for virality
A common trait of a PLG company is virality. One path to virality is through media relations. How do you go viral if you’re a SaaS company? Data of course! Leveraging platform data, surveys, or publicly available data for media relations is a great way to drum up some buzz.
Take our client Chorus.ai as an example. When the pandemic hit, they began collecting anonymized data from their platform. We leveraged that data and earned a feature in Insider as well as several other interviews and pieces of contributed content. Surveys are another great approach. Slack has done this really well, conducting a quarterly Future Forum Pulse survey. This has landed them coverage in publications such as Fortune, WIRED, Tech Republic, ZDNet and more.
Catering your press releases to the end user, putting out helpful thought leadership, or sharing data to go viral are just a few of the lessons we can learn from the PR strategies of successful PLG companies.
If you want to know how to implement one of these lessons into your PR strategy, contact Lindsey Groepper to see how BLASTmedia can help.