Ten years ago over 60 per cent of stories in the tech sector were product-based, according to Apollo’s analysis. Often based on press releases, many of the stories followed a similar formula and many media acted much more as titles of record, briefing readers – in far more neutral terms than now – on what had happened. What was thought newsworthy stemmed invariably from what was simply new.
Today, editorialising is rife, third-party comment is growing, there is heavy emphasis on what the technology is for (rather than listing features) and, significantly, between the more influential titles there is less consistency over which stories should be covered. Media want – arguably, as reporting of facts has become commoditised, need – to be saying something different. This has significant implications for how a brand’s overall proposition and carefully thought-through messaging plays.‘It’s definitely harder to get a message across,’ comments Dianne Canham, director at éclat, a tech PR agency with offices in the UK and South Africa. ‘You can see why there is such a big disconnect between what companies want to say and what appears.’
How a journalist frames the messaging, the bits that are used, opinions from third-party commentators, comparisons with competitors can all distort the message. Over the past five years Apollo’s analysis of brands’ positioning has seen a widening gap between what companies are aiming for and what appears – particularly, and unsurprisingly, for companies reviewing their agency.
The first way in which the process can go awry is that the story simply doesn’t appear. It is important to realise that to the journalist and reader, the product itself might not be the story. ‘Context is crucial,’ says Steve Loynes, head of technology at Hill and Knowlton Strategies. ‘You have to give the journalist a strong story before you can talk about the product. If your agenda is too much at odds with the journalist’s then the story is unlikely to work.’
‘It’s where an agency’s creativity comes into play,’ says Canham. ‘The ability to marry a newsworthy angle with what the company wants to say.’ Both Loynes and Canham argue a strong hook that leads organically to the brand’s role and capabilities is a must. Loynes cites the opening of a Martin Veitch profile of Informatica’s CEO to illustrate how an opening can work for everyone (click here).
“The journalist gets frustrated because nothing of value is being said; the spokesperson gets frustrated because they feel they’re not being listened to”Steve loynes Head of Technology, Hill & Knowlton StrategiesOf course, companies can go too far in chasing coverage for coverage’s sake. The clearest example of this are surveys that are not relevant to the brand and therefore don’t feature the brand in any detail. In an analysis of 100 stories on surveys in the US and UK over the past year, Apollo found 31 per cent had only a name-check of the sponsoring company.
Another obstacle to building the brand can be spokespeople. Spokespeople frequently sound as though they are playing message-bingo: seeing how many they can cram into a quote. ‘The journalist gets frustrated because nothing of value is being said; the spokesperson gets frustrated because they feel they’re not being listened to,’ says Loynes. Result: either it does not get quoted or is tacked on at the end of the piece.
Canham points to a greater demand for expertise on the part of spokespeople. This allows the media to give readers something useful, for example genuine insight on how to tackle a problem (and not ‘We are delighted to announce… ‘). And for evidence: ‘It’s why companies are putting out more stats these days: they know they need to demonstrate their authority.’
Has social media created more content? Yes and no, according to Canham. ‘Social media has led to more content as more companies understand they must have more. But this can be vapourware: there has to be something of real substance.’ She cites a security company that started by producing very superficial reports that ticked the content box, but were impossible to sell into the media; ‘It was a case of digging and digging till we got what needed from the labs there. Then we had something with real insight and the media wanted.’
Of course, self-publishing content has the attraction of enabling companies to broadcast what they want to say, unaffected by the media. Its reach and impact as media coverage is another question.
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