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 What's PR got to do with it?

Archive for July 9th, 2009

Startups, Stories and Press Releases

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

(Sean Murphy turns the tables on me in a Skype discussion about how, when, why and what startups need to think about when launching their companies. The most significant discussion deals with the difference between getting mere publicity or “ink” and creating a company’s story.)

Sean: How does a startup know if or when it needs a PR firm?

Ed: It depends on where each startup is at in its funding, technology development and launch. Ideally, about a year before they want to introduce the company, they ought to get in contact so that we can start working on the storyline for the company. Why? To understand and then create differentiation for the company, its technology and products. That differentiation ought to be a direct indication of the company’s value as a vendor of consideration, its technology as a crucial bullet in accomplishing next generation design and its products as absolutely worth the money.

Sean: What does it mean to introduce a company in 2009?

Ed: Well, obviously, it’s different from 10 or even 5 years ago. But the fundamentals are still the same. The company has to get word out that it exists. That’s obvious. But also, WHY it exists, HOW it’s different. They have to show that they can make a difference. So many startups just don’t get this part. The target for PR? Those opinion makers whose words can influence users, influencers, and purchasers. Traditionally, those targets have been reporters and editors, market researchers, and financial analysts. Now, we have to add bloggers, and (gasp!) tweeters (?) The goal? Well, that’s a huge topic for discussion.

Sean: Let’s get to that in a minute. I’m curious, in EDA in particular, how many reporters, editors, market researchers, and financial analysts are there compared to 5 or 10 years ago?

Ed: Well, 5 or 10 years ago, we’d have two dozen or so key targets in the U.S., Japan and other parts of Asia and western Europe.

Sean: Targets? You mean more than editors?

Ed: Yep. Maybe a dozen reporters and editors, several market researchers, maybe half a dozen financial analysts, all of whom had audiences that affected the well being of EDA companies and of the industry as a whole. Today? Geez…can I count the number or reporters or editors on one hand? YES! There’s one market researcher: Gary Smith. The financial analysts are more or less not watching EDA any longer, and they don’t exist as entities working for investment houses.

Sean: In a technologically-dynamic landscape, financial analysts would want to be aware of emerging startups, wouldn’t they?

Ed: They would. Today, these analysts cover some of the big guys, and rarely, and in essence, no one follows the space. Of course, there was Jim Cramer recommending Cadence. Now whether or not he’s a business analyst is another question.

Sean: So why are these traditional PR audiences important?

Ed: The reporters, market researchers and indeed financial analysts, they all talk to one another. Out of that, a collective opinion begins forming amongst them all. But….EDA has never been too credible with the financial market. Jessica Kourakos, when she was with an investment bank, back in the late 90s, scolded the industry for not finding a way to demonstrate value to the public market. This, after EDA had been in the “public market” for, what, well over 10, 15 years!

Sean: With all the free press services, why should companies use a PR person?

Ed: Oh, you mean free posting sites? Well, there certainly is MUCH automation in public relations nowadays. And if all a vendor wants to do is post a press release on posting sites, they could possibly take an automated press release writing package and dink it out. But the question isn’t so much whether or not a software package can write a press release by having someone fill in the fields. Rather, the question should be: how do I want my company to be perceived as different, valuable in a new way? A potential voice of authority in the industry? A potential leader of the industry? What’s the image that a company wants to put on itself to be recognized?

Sean: I hear you breaking this into three parts: outlining/planning the release, writing the release, and distributing it – free or paid.

Ed: Well, to me, there’s ink and there’s a sustaining story. Ink is what you get as a product merchant. “Buy this for the low low price of X dollars.” There’s no story there. What’s a story? It’s how and why the company will make you live happily ever after. Once you have that story, tactics, like press releases, can flow to substantiate the veracity of the story, the coming fulfillment of that company promise to make users live happily ever after.

Sean: Why do you focus on story? What does story mean and why is it important? I hear capital S story when you say the word. You imbue it with a lot of meaning that I am having trouble appreciating.

Ed: Definitely a capital “S.” What resonates isn’t data sheet material but of the concept of what a company can be. That’s the essence of the Story, with a capital “S.” Questions to ask? What is the face of the company? For Cadence, in its early days, it was brash. It was an industry upending…a go-getter, as Costello became that company’s human emblem, especially when he declared that EDA was a software-only business. For a huge majority of companies, there is no sense of image, no sense of “and they lived happily ever after” and no sense that there’s a future at all. Most EDA startups are merchants, a few are technology trailblazers. Only a couple become industry effect. It’s all data sheet information. Data sheets don’t tell a story. The story pushes for what the company wants to be known as in three years. Example: we got hired to launch a startup several years ago. The founder said that they were already in contact with the premier reporter. That he had contacted the reporter two months ago. I asked what was in process. The founder said that he was waiting to hear back on when there would be coverage. Well, I got hold of the editor. He said that he got some data sheet, looked at it and tossed it. There wasn’t any contact, no discussion about why this startup would change the EDA game. There wasn’t a story; there wasn’t a reason to understand why this startup could ever be a vendor worthy of serious consideration.

Sean: So the story is the shorthand that a reader will tell a non-reader about the company, it’s the short vital viral narrative / capsule description. It’s the positioning.

Ed: Definitely based on market positioning.

Sean: I just read a “The Difference Between PR and Publicity” by Seth Godin, which contains this paragraph:

“Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Sometimes publicity is helpful, and good publicity is always good for your ego. But it’s not PR. PR is the strategic crafting of your story. It’s the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.”

I think he is making the same point you were making earlier: it’s about a coherent narrative, not just coverage.

Ed: Touche! Except that he says it better than I do.

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