To Tour or Not to Tour; That is the Question
The good news from our spot in the universe is that many of the companies we are working with are busy, thriving and becoming more proactive on the PR front. The tricky part of all of this goodness is that they understand the importance of relationships with influencers and therefore want to include press/blogger tours in their regular program of activities.
Nothing can immediately silence a roomful of talkative energetic PR people during this current maelstrom in the newspaper and magazine industry like the insistence on a press tour for something that (a) isn't from Apple or Microsoft and (b) would not qualify as major news. As essentially can-do-oriented customer-service professionals, we are torn by our need to be scrupulously honest about the risks of planning a press tour under conditions a and b (see above) and our desire to consistently figure out a way to make it work -- the mantra of the best PR people in the industry.
So what do you really need to have in your PR arsenal to justify a press tour these days? We believe that you need, at a minimum, the following three things:
- Big news that impacts a broad audience (it has to be bigger than a point release of a product)
- Third party corroboration from partners, analysts and (most importantly) customers
- An engaging spokesperson who can provide context as well as details, supported by strong proof points
Let's say you have those three elements. Even with these in hand, when should you absolutely not do a tour?
- The week of a major industry conference in your industry, which will draw many of your targeted reporters. You would be better served trying to arrange meetings with them at the conference.
- PR and social media maven Jolene Haij advised to err on the side of caution if you aren't absolutely positively sure you have solid news for the tour. "Sometimes we have been working on setting up a press tour on the promise of major news and then closer to the date, the news is ratcheted down to a brand refresh or a minor point announcement." Jolene is right that if you promise big news, you have to deliver it or not take people's time. It's safer to cancel the tour than to go out and disappoint the people giving you their valuable time.
The LP&P team had a number of other suggestions about what works and what doesn't work with press tours these days:
Let's rename them "Influencer Tours"
Our Ted Weismann is right on the money with this recommendation. "This is because of the emergence of bloggers and influencers who are passionate about a particular technology or market and have built a strong audience on a social media platform like a blog, Twitter or FriendFeed. For example, there are several influential security and storage bloggers who can't be called 'press,' but still have nearly as much influence within their particular markets."
Switch them from dedicated events to opportunistic meetings or telephone briefings
Sometimes the best press tour is no tour at all. Instead, you can use executive calendars combined with a "buddy system" endeavor to have executives offer desk-side relationship-building briefings to relevant influencers when they are in their cities. We pair the right level of spokesperson with the right content with the influencers who would benefit most from their content. This has paid off dividends for the best spokespeople, as these are low key meetings for the spokespeople and the influencers can gather valuable input for future stories and tend to keep these great resources in mind when they are writing about relevant topics. For example, our Alfresco client has been covered three times during the past year in The Economist and this is the direct result of successful relationship building meetings their executives have had discussing the open source market with journalists there.
Storage and media relations expert Don Jennings emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings being key where you can make them happen, but said this has become more difficult because journalists are much more spread out in remote offices than in the past. A virtual briefing may enable you to connect with more journalists who are willing to participate, but unable to do it live. Sometimes our clients have visited a journalist in one office and they have conferenced in colleagues at other far-flung offices, which also can work well. Don also pointed out that the in-person meetings are much less necessary these days. "Which makes the whole idea of a day of meetings much tougher. Before four or maybe even five meetings in a day might be a good mix. But if you are shortening each meeting, you're starting to look at six or even seven meetings to make a day successful in the eyes of the executive spokesperson."
Leverage corporate earnings announcements
We always recommend that public companies set up brief telephone touch base calls with key reporters around this natural news event. It keeps them informed, gives them an opportunity to get a quote if they are writing about the quarterly results and it maintains and deepens their relationships with the top executives.
Understand that influencers have to cancel if major news hits
Austin VP and former journalist Carol Hanko cautioned that "with the pace of news breaking faster than ever before and the media outlets' staff sizes incredibly small, even big news can get dropped for something larger at the last minute." She went on to sum up the most important element of tours nicely: "Setting expectations for coverage and defining the reason for holding the in-person meetings and/or tour is critical. The in-person meetings still provide long-term value, but their return often isn't immediate."
In an era of proven ROI for all activities, I hope these tips and suggestions will help our PR and marketing colleagues weigh the alternatives the next time a press tour is suggested. They definitely have helped us work with our client partners to do the right thing at the right time. And if you have additional suggestions, please do share them.