Fifty years ago, The Byrds offered some sage advice for anyone who wanted to be a rock star: “Take some time and learn how to play.” When it comes to media relations, today’s growing tech companies can benefit from that maxim.
It’s natural for emerging businesses to want name recognition and star status — at least with their investors, boards and customers. So it’s not unusual for a passionate executive to get frustrated when the press doesn’t immediately recognize their company’s market significance. But in the race for relevance at the pace of tech, few are asking themselves and their teams: Have we taken our time? Have we learned how to play?
Take Some Time
Enduring rock stardom requires a very different dynamic than being a fleeting one-hit wonder. It means fostering a personal and meaningful narrative that is at once honest and credible and allows each member of the audience to take in the message within his or her own context, need and predisposition.
Over time, that audience can develop an expectation of authenticity and mastery from the performer. When done right, the performer’s return is often fan loyalty, along with the tangible and intangible benefits it brings.
A company’s quest for media stardom follows a similar path. As you venture into the media landscape, it’s important to take time and learn who your audience is. Then, create a program that brings your followers on a journey they can care about and believe in. To do this right, there are a few critical steps you shouldn’t skip:
Learn from the constant string of flameouts.
Just as you “can’t hurry love,” you can’t rush your brand. Build a solid foundation, paying close attention to your credibility. Before you utter a sound, figure out what your story is and how you want to tell it.
Define your sound.
Who’s your buyer? What is your customer value? What persona do you want to project? What story do you want reporters to tell about you?
Hone your message.
Where do you want to play? How do you sharpen your story so it resonates with customers? With the press? This requires research. Customer conversations and focus groups can help you accomplish this, but you also need to make sure it makes sense in the context of your industry.
What is the press writing about? What are your competitors saying? These are all considerations that will help you articulate your value prop. You also need proof points, so be sure to have data behind your claims — objective data that adds credibility to your story. As you pitch, you might need to punch above your weight to get your message to the audience you want.
Unfortunately, too many companies jump into superficial or peripherally relevant media conversations, only to lose sight of the long game. That impacts credibility, authenticity, audience interest and long-term market relevance.
Learn How To Play
Rock stars tap into a singularity within their audience — even broadly popular stars stay true to their voice. Your business will have many audiences: different customer tiers, prospects, influencers, loyalists and perhaps even skeptics. All of them have their own priorities, concerns and interests, so your media relations cannot be one-size-fits-all. For example, you can be very successful in working with the trade press but see the same message fail with business-oriented or broadcast media.
Realistically, media recognition is critical to a business’s success and the pressure is on for that aspirational Wall Street Journal coverage. But that simply can’t happen without due diligence, relevance and earned standing. Think from the perspective of what the Journal wants to present to its readers.
If you are not getting the coverage you’re looking for, ask yourself if you’re giving your audience what it demands of you. How should you “play” for your audience?
Create a community.
Invest in learning what your target fan base needs, how they work and how they talk. Strive to create a movement.
Feed your audiences a carefully curated body of work.
This should be a solution you know meets their needs because you’ve done your research. Bring them on a sustained journey — build trust and understanding. That way, when you have the inevitable misstep (think Windows Vista or Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”), your loyal fans will forgive you.
Know how your audience is consuming your work.
It used to be that you had to listen to the radio or buy a vinyl album to hear the music you wanted. Over the years, music distribution and consumption have gone from 8-tracks to cassettes and CDs, to iTunes, Spotify and even YouTube. The same goes for media. It’s no longer just newspapers and periodicals — your audience has access to a plethora of online publications, podcasts, blogs, social and video. You need to provide a variety of ways for your audience to access your work, delivering the right message across the right medium.
Observing these steps on your media journey can go a long way to getting your name in lights for repeat tours. After more than 20 years in this business, I’ve seen this work time and time again. You also will have misses. It happens, so make sure you have a long-term strategy to carry you through.
The most important thing once you do reach the hype level? As The Byrds’ classic summed up, “Don’t forget who you are.” Even if you’re not on the cover of Rolling Stone, staying true to your audience will help you sustain a great business for the long run.