One of the great misperceptions that people in the startup world have when it comes to marketing is that issuing a press release will result in people writing about your news. Nothing is further from the truth. The vast majority of press releases do not result in news coverage. It takes a little more work than that to get noticed. I am going to use the recent Half Off Depot acquisition as a case study.
We closed the deal mid January. We had planned to announce sometime in mid-February. At the Half Off Depot February board meeting turning the transaction into news became a topic of discussion. Here was our general plan.
We were to drop the release at 10:00 am EST on Monday February 11. At that time I personally put it on the wire using PRWeb.
But before putting the release on the wire we reached out to four national technology news outlets that we targeted. We provided them with some details of the release and offered to share it with them under embargo. Embargo tells a reporter they can not publish anything before the embargo time date. You have to slap this on the release in large font red letters. The embargo time/date we used was 9:00 am EST on Monday February 11. This gives a reporter a jump on the release, an opportunity to break the story. It gave us an opportunity to figure out who, if anyone, would be our national lead.
After getting this cranked up and some interest from two of the four targeted nationals I reached out to the trade press. In this case Street Fight and Daily Deal Media. We gave them a 9:30am embargo. I did not want them to dork up the national publication coverage. If a national sees local before they publish more times than not they will kill their story.
I also selected local press in Atlanta and Tampa (home of CrowdSavings) and did the same as with the trade press. In Atlanta I focused more on the Atlanta Journal than the Atlanta Business Chronicle because I thought I could get the former to bite and they are a bigger outlet with broader reach.
We did this ourselves, because if you can get a hold of them, a reporter is much more likely to listen if talking to management instead of a public relations firm.
This all worked.
All Things Digital turned into our national lead, publishing their story at 9:00am. That was picked up by VentureWire. It became a reference point for the locals and trade writers to update their stories. All, to remind you, before Half Off Depot officially released any news. This was also picked up by Pando, another of our target national outlets.
So it worked. The key is talking to reporters who you think might have an interest before you issue a release. I am not really sure you need the release at all. It is mostly a tool used as a basis to start a conversation with reporters about your news.
If it works for me, and I have seen this type of thing work countless times, it will work for you.
Update: My dear friend and marketing maven Erika Brookes provided great strategic directon on how to get news coverage of the CrowdSavings transaction. Or put another way, she told me how she would approach it and I did what she said.
As a company grows and starts to gain a little traction in the marketplace a wealth of partnership marketing opportunities can be pursued. These are business development channel type deals that can get a small but growing company much broader distribution and market credibility by associating with larger brand names if the right partners are chosen.
The key point being the last sentence. Once you reach a certain scale a small technology company needs to focus on continuing to grow by pursuing deals with larger companies that can give them more credibility and reach.
This week was pretty exciting at Half Off Depot. Google announced that they were expanding their Offers program to include more cities and more deal partners. Half Off became one of 30 Google Offer partners. We have long considered ourselves to be a top ten participant in the online deal market so this in some way validates our position. And given the number of deal companies out there that puts us in pretty elite company.
But the same response from almost everyone that I talk to about the deal is this. "Google Offers is a competitor, why do you want to work with them? Aren't you worried about Google stealing your customers or merchants?"
The answer to the latter is not really. The Google folks seem ernest and well intentioned. They are very professional and responsive. They care more about the customer experience then about money.
The answer to the former is that it seems to be a really good fit. Half Off Depot has a sales team that is second to none backed by a behind the scenes service offering that is really interesting to merchants and a unique approach to the space. This enables us to secure great local deals. Google is Google. They have unsurpassed reach on the Internet. A vast audience. When you combine our great local deals with Google's vast reach I think there is a way there is a way for us to work together to help both of our causes.
So we did the deal. It has great promise. Sometimes doing a deal with a competitor is the right thing to do.
Beyond the potential of the Google partnership itself the deal signals something even greater. Half Off Depot has grown to the point where there are a number of logical partnership opportunities. Time to pursue them.
Over on the Nebo blog Kevin Howarth is doing a series of interviews that feature marketing thought leaders both locally and nationally. Kevin was gracious to ask me to participate and we had a fun conversation about interactive marketing. Kevin's interview, with much better graphics than FoG, is being republished here with permission.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of how interactive marketing has developed over the last few years?
Interactive marketing has transitioned from command and control to a more user-generated focus. For any online marketer to be successful, they have to embrace user-generated content and online communities. That means empowering communities to help them spread the word about a company’s products and services. This kind of focus has led to a heavier emphasis on customer service. If you don’t have happy customers, then they’re not going to talk about you. Or they’re going to say bad things. The vast majority of good marketers understand that they are no longer 100% in control. Five years ago, people really didn’t understand this lack of control but I think they understand it now.
How is search and interactive marketing impacting how companies start up their businesses today?
It’s where they start. When a company begins, all they have are themselves and some word of mouth elements. An online presence via social is the least expensive way to amplify what you’re trying to do. SEO and SEM are obviously very important as core aspects to any technology company’s marketing. For example, at Half Off Depot we’ve seen that the way local merchants used to go to market has gone away. The Yellow Pages, local magazines and newspapers are gone or in steep decline, and merchants need a way to market online. We help them with the online piece so that they stay in front of their customers face-to-face.
Companies also have to figure out where “home” resides. Home might be their webpage, or it might be a Facebook page. Either way, companies really have to integrate social from the start while building this “home” presence. Website design has really started to emerge as a competitive advantage. For example,Fab.com is a beautifully designed site, and they actually used design to demonstrate how they’re going to be different from competitors. I don’t think people talk enough about the importance of good design or take into consideration how it can really impact the customer experience. In turn, customer experience can impact word of mouth and viral marketing.
What’s your current assessment of the Atlanta marketing community?
In my opinion, Atlanta is very strong from a technology marketing perspective. But we do a bad job letting the world know about it. We have established well-known companies like MailChimp and WhatCounts, and there are a number of email service providers like Silverpop. There are also quite a few companies starting to play in the social space, and we still have a strong cluster of traditional interactive marketing companies. Atlanta marketers have such deep domain knowledge of interactive marketing that it’s inevitable that they’re starting to apply that knowledge into different verticals and new emerging areas. At its core though, Atlanta is best at B2B. Even the more well-known consumer-focused companies have a heavy B2B bent, and a lot of Atlanta’s marketing companies direct their energies toward that demand.
You’ve mentioned social quite a few times. Why is social so important in today’s marketing climate?
The opportunity for social is understated. Everything is eventually going to be that way. Today, my teenage children cannot imagine a world without the Internet, and they are part of a demographic completely immersed in social. I think marketing is eventually going to become all social, and social is going to be one of the primary marketing drivers as other traditional mediums continue to fragment.
And how does mobile play into the mix?
Social is big, but mobile is the future. Anything that you wanted to do on a computer five years ago, you can now do on a three by six inch device. Today, I think it’s still a little bit difficult to do ecommerce on a mobile device, but that’s quickly going away. Behaviorally, people are not afraid to buy things on a device. It’s just hard to do sometimes because of the initial set up and ease of use, but that’s all going to get solved. For example, Square is making it easier for phones to accept credit cards, and local Atlanta startups such asWhisper Communications are also emerging into this space to help make B2B mobile transactions easier and more secure.
What are your thoughts about how marketing measurement has changed over the years?
If you look at one of the primary drivers of why interactive marketing is growing so quickly, it’s because people are spending more and more time online. That’s half of the equation. The other half is that interactive marketing is much more efficient than traditional marketing from a structural perspective. Not only is it less expensive online versus offline, but you can very accurately measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing in real dollars and cents. More and more companies are demanding that kind of measurement, and I see that trend continuing as audiences fragment and spend more time online.
How does content strategy fall into the marketing mix?
Content is king again, but it’s not necessarily because the content is truly unique. It’s because it will drive traffic to your site. You need good, strong, consistent, and deep content in order to effectively drive traffic. You’ve got to give people the content they want, in the format they want, at the price they’re willing to pay, and when they want it. There are many different variables, but the people who are successful at putting those things together are really good at getting people to buy their products and services.
What marketing trends do you feel will have the most impact in 2012?
Marketing spend will continue to follow people. People are spending much more time on the Internet than they did in the past, and marketing dollars have yet to completely follow that trend. Marketing dollars will continue to go where the people go. Right now, people are on social and I see that trend continuing for the foreseeable future until the next “social” emerges. I often talk about how there were the PC wars, the browser wars, the search engine wars, and the social wars. We had winners in each one of those categories. I don’t know what the next war is. But there is going to be something that pops up that’s truly disruptive and that no one’s really thought about. Consumers will interact with technologies in ways that we can’t even think about right now.
Paul was referring to my long held belief that any startup should be able to describe what they do in three words (I actually think many can do it in two). This was part of my presentation at CapVenture last year "Honing Your Elevator Pitch." It is embedded below.
I have a little rule of thumb. If you are working with the press on a story you can expect the finished article to be about 80% correct. Nothing against reporters. They are working on tight deadlines in areas where they do not necessiarly have domain knowledge.
Urvakash Karkaria of the Atlanta Business Chronicle deserves some props. When he wrote the story on Half Off Depot's funding (sorry for the paywall) he got most of the facts right. The only mess up was the photo caption. The people in that photo were not really "my team." They are cofounders and coworkers. And the picture that I wanted them to use is more like the one below. It included the full team that was in the Atlanta office that day.
These are the folks, along with CEO Brian Conley who was out of town, that deserve the spotlight for getting Half Off Depot to where it is today.
Half Off Depot is an Atlanta based social commerce company. We enable merchants to harness the power of social media and the appeal of deal driven commerce to attract and retain customers. Half Off Depot currently operates in two markets. Atlanta and Knoxville. Our revenue run rate is more than $10 million annually. We just closed a $7 million Series A round led by Noro-Moseley Partners. I wrote the biggest check I have ever written as part of the deal.
I am running business development and sales. Employee 21. The short story is I am in charge of meeting some pretty aggressive revenue growth goals. We will get to the longer story later.
During my time at ATDC I have looked at thousands of startups. Since last Fall I have had conversations with a number of interesting Atlanta startups. Half Off Depot is one of the most promising. It's certainly the most promising that I can make go faster right now. Brian the CEO is a stand up guy. It is going to be great to work with Alan Taetle again.
I couldn't be more excited to be back in the game.
Nice top level summary of a really big and interesting space.
So big and interesting that Google, the company with the largest market cap, is the dog. Regardless I think Jim Crowley, the CEO of BuyWithMe, pretty much got it right when he told Crain's "There is room for six of seven large players as well as niche players."
But Google the underdog? How do you suppose they are going to change that? If I were Jim Crowley I know what my answer would be.
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