Team Member Spotlight: Jay Ouellette

Jason Ouellette, Senior Vice President, Enterprise

I caught up with one of the newest members of the Enterprise Team at Highwire, Jay Ouellette, senior vice president in the Boston office, to hear more about his background in PR and how he’s helping clients evolve and succeed during the pandemic. 

What’s your favorite aspect of the PR tech space? 

I’m naturally competitive and enjoy the pursuit of new business opportunities, placing media stories and trying to uncover what is going to make the person on the other side of the table excited about what we’re discussing. I try to challenge myself (and teams) to not only think differently about the work we do for clients but to try something new or take a chance on a different recommendation.

What’s your area of interest and expertise? 

When you’re dealing with technology companies, you often run into a lot of acronyms and technical terms most people are not familiar with. It’s important to make sure that a majority of people can understand what your client does and be able to distill down complex technical content into something digestible. Despite not being a naturally technical person, I have a propensity for narrative development and can take the overall story an organization wants to tell and boil it down to something the masses will understand. 

What did you do prior to Highwire? 

Just prior to Highwire, I spent six years with Text100, running their Boston office. Before that, I was with a mid-size agency for nearly 15 years. My work focused on enterprise technology at both organizations with more narrative and corporate communications at Text. What I love about the enterprise portfolio, and why I’ve dedicated my career to serving clients within it, is that it brings the opportunity to help people understand what problems technology is actually solving in our everyday lives.

What led you to tech PR as a career?

Like a lot of people, I fell into tech PR. When I started college, I wanted to be a journalist. Then I learned about PR, which allows you to do similar storytelling just in a different format.

My first job out of college was for a consumer-based marketing agency, working with beer and water brands, and then I got my start in tech PR after I moved back to Boston. When I started at my first PR agency it was the height of the dot com era and a new website was considered really big news. It was the dawn of the digital era and was a fantastic time to enter the field.

What new problems are you solving for your Highwire clients today? 

Currently, I’m helping our clients navigate what a post-COVID-19 business world looks like and how they can set their customers up for success in it. No one can confidently say what the future will look like – only make educated guesses on the future of offices or conferences, etc. We are helping our clients think ahead to what’s next.

One of the other things we’re doing is bringing real-time data to the discussion. Highwire uniquely offers its clients a “Trendscape,” which looks at the rising and falling topics of interest to media as related to our clients’ lines of business and thought leadership areas. We are keeping this top of mind in all our conversations with clients and looking at the data behind it to see where we can confidently enter the conversation. 

How are you adjusting your approach to PR in light of COVID-19? 

We are talking to clients about where their lead generation is coming from (e.g. website, gated content, third party, etc.) and using that to inform recommendations and programs that map back to where their business is. We’re also doing more and more work across both the digital and influencer landscapes. In the enterprise space, there are a lot of influencers who have great communities that our clients can not only inform but learn from. And on the digital side, the more we know about what is driving a client’s business, the better recommendations we can make for programs that will support larger business objectives.

How do you think this pandemic will evolve the PR industry? 

This has already started to bring us back to basics in terms of relationship building with reporters, influencers, customers and clients. We’re all experiencing more face-to-face interactions on video calls and real conversations off of email, Slack, etc. With the media, it’s more important than ever to truly understand what they are interested in and have supporting data and resources to make your story stand out. Ultimately I think this time is going to help our industry think much more strategically about not just how the work gets done, but what is the larger goal each program is supporting and how can we approach it in new and creative ways.

If you’d like to connect with Jay and other Highwire leaders to bounce ideas on navigating the current communications climate, send us a note at hi@highwirepr.com

Thinking About Your Media Engagement During a Pandemic

During the past three months while adhering to state/local/federal directives on how best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, citizens around the globe have been faced with many challenges and new normals. In the field of marketing and communications we’ve been used to face-to-face, personalized engagements whether it be in the office, meeting onsite with clients and partners or at industry events. We’ve also been used to changing news cycles and have adjusted our plans accordingly, but this pandemic has forced us to rethink our strategies and approaches. 

Marketers and communications professionals have had to adapt not only to a remote working environment but also how best to insert ourselves into the news of the day while also being mindful of the overall tone and appetite for “normal” campaigns and news. 

One area of our support for clients has been around funding announcements. Funding announcements are often some of the largest announcements that an organization typically has during its lifetime. It is a significant event which draws a lot of attention and serves as a key moment in time for a company to clearly communicate its key messages to the market. This milestone event also serves as a rallying point both internally and externally as it proves that there is not only financial backing of the work being done, but that there is a belief in the approach from outside investors. Being able to tell these stories provides a chance to differentiate from your competitors, attract new talent to your team and to get both existing and prospective customers excited about doing business with you.

Announcing a round of funding is a very time intensive and pressure packed event with expectations to generate high quality coverage across the media outlets that will hit target audiences. But what is it like to announce a round of funding during the midst of a pandemic? Highwire recently had the opportunity to work with our clients from VAST Data and Onfido to launch their respective funding rounds within a few days of each other. While both serving different audiences, there were a lot of similarities our teams saw when working with members of the media (and our clients). 

Here are some of the takeaways from our recent work:

Have sharp and succinct content

We all know that messaging is a critical component in any piece of content a brand releases but today it is so much more important due to the flood of competing information that is in response to COVID-19. Focus on the overall objectives of the news and connect them with the needs of the market and media TODAY.

Understand the media landscape

This is a staple of all media announcements. You need to understand what is happening in the news right now in order to properly engage with reporters. The COVID-19 pandemic presented several challenges as media organizations shifted their focus to cover breaking news regarding the outbreak on a global scale. This required us to be closely monitoring the news in order to get a better understanding of reporter’s appetites and what they were like for non COVID-19 stories. During our discussions it was also evident to us that there was a higher appetite for exclusives from all media. This told us that the competition for stand-alone news was high and that we needed to manage the desire of the media along with our clients goals.

Keep your eyes open

With the changing focus of the media, along with the trending news of the day you have to be aware of how your story can be connected to what is top of mind for journalists in that moment. We had the opportunity to identify some very interesting topics that our clients could speak to that only increased the value that their offerings brought to the market.

Determine your media strategy and stick to it

Leading up to our announcements we had made the decision that in order to meet our goals, we wanted to take our news to a broad audience for a couple of reasons. First, there were multiple audiences that each organization wanted to connect with. Second, each of these had the chance to stand above its competitors. With the changing daily news, we had more of an opportunity to connect our clients with the trends of the day. We ultimately turned down several exclusive opportunities with top tier business publications and stuck to our approach of up-leveling our story so that the unique value to each media audience was clear.

Prep company spokespeople and highlight how you are helping in the fight

As a part of any media interview, it is critical to prep spokespeople on not only what key messages they should be hammering home, but what are the tough questions they don’t want to be asked. In every interview, each company spokesperson was asked about the organization’s COVID-19 plans and what the impact could likely be on its business. The second part was critical as it presents an opportunity for a spokesperson to highlight the organization’s role in how they are helping in the fight.

If you’re in the process of re-thinking some of your marketing communications, digital or campaign development, let’s talk. We’re all figuring out the best way forward each day during this pandemic while also trying our best to proceed with business as usual.

In the PR Boxing Ring: Press Release vs. Blog Post

I’d be willing to guess every PR professional has been asked by a client, “Does this announcement call for a press release or a blog post?” It seems like a simple question, but there’s actually several factors to consider in determining which content will best support the goals of the announcement. Taking a step back to compare the two can reveal some under-appreciated benefits of both.   

First, let’s meet our contenders. The difference between a press release and a blog post is primarily tone and style of writing. First in the ring is the press release – formal in tone, follows a specific structure, and typically focuses exclusively on the key facts of an announcement. It is distributed to a certain market by a press release wire service like Globe Newswire or PR Newswire. The challenger is the blog post – more casual in tone and is often written in first-person, creating more room for personal perspective and anecdotes. It lives on a company’s corporate blog.

Time to shake hands and glove up – let’s match press release versus blog post to see which can best achieve these common announcement goals:

Round one: If the goal is to drive website traffic

Winner: TKO for press release

Press releases have a reputation of being past their prime, but they aren’t down for the count quite yet. Constructed and distributed properly, aA press release provides significant SEO value. Here’s how the fight goes down:

Newswire press releases, while incurring a cost, get the word out quickly. They sidestep the need for a technical investment in your own platform and come with basic distribution built in, so if your blog is new or has not yet built an audience this can provide a valuable boost. Newswire services also provide a legally-compliant platform for matters of regulatory record, something no self-published blog post can achieve, and if you include links to your owned content you’ll benefit from inbound traffic.

It’s a popular myth that press releases are not indexed by search engines. A simple test shows plenty that are. What’s more, in the latest Google Core 2020 update this month, authoritative news sites rose in rankings. Sites like Businesswire, PR Newswire, and GlobeNewswire gained more than 50 positions each, according to research from SEMRush. That’s enough to move from the fifth page of a Google search to page one!

Of course, blog posts are perfectly capable of driving traffic, and they have a great supporting role to play in launching products, exploring announcements in detail and going deep on details without costing a fortune in newswire fees, but in these times of increased scrutiny on news sources, and for an official announcement worthy of being on the record, a press release still wins.

Round two: If the goal is to develop a brand voice 

Winner: Blog post is the heavyweight champ

While a press release comes from a corporate perspective, a blog post provides more of an opportunity to inject a unique corporate voice. A company is defined by its people – and the blog post is one way to spotlight the voices and perspectives unique to the organization’s culture. Identify the person closest to this announcement and ask them to share the story from their point of view (with the PR team on tap for editing grammar and flow, of course).

You can be more creative in a blog post. It could be a tell-all tale of invention and struggle, or it could be a technical deep-dive with enough details to satisfy even the most ardent fact-junkie.

This kind of authenticity and transparency is what truly resonates in today’s communications landscape. Blog posts are gold, and a steady flow of them can build awareness and drive focus in between your landmark announcements.

Knockout round: If the goal is to secure media coverage

Winner: It’s a draw

While a compelling pitch and strong journalist relationship are the most important elements in securing media interest in announcements, the collateral shapes the resulting coverage. Publishing both a press release and a blog post helps tell a balanced brand story. Using a product launch as an example, the press release would typically share the technical functionality, pricing details, and explain why the new solution matters to the company’s product suite and in the market. The blog post, on the other hand, could explore the behind-the-scenes creation of the product from the perspective of the engineer who spearheaded the development. Both perspectives would be of interest to most reporters and would inform well-rounded articles. 

Deciding on content is the first step in planning for any announcement. To add structure to this decision and help a client set expectations internally, I’d recommend creating an announcement tier system. This outlines the requirements for each kind of announcement content (i.e. an executive quote needed for a press release) and helps a client determine how many resources to dedicate to each announcement based on the materials they receive internally.

What a press release and a blog post have in common is their ultimate purpose: to share news and tell a brand story. Both are important collateral to consider to make your client’s announcement the Muhammad Ali of the day’s news cycle.

To Issue or Not Issue – The Momentum Release Edition

Image: Bank Phrom

 

The phrase “momentum release” is one used by PR and marketing professionals to describe a specific news announcement focused on depicting a company’s growth. The purpose of this type of announcement is to recap a successful year (or quarter) with the goal of leveraging the content as an asset for sales lead generation, social media content and often as a strategic tool to support a potential merger and acquisition, venture capital or exit discussions. For example, a typical momentum release includes business metrics such as the number of new customers and partners, growth in revenue (or market share), growth in specific industries, strategic hires, global expansions or new offices, prestigious award and analyst recognition, as well as new positioning and messaging. 

On the surface, a momentum release should serve as a great media asset. The problem is that this kind of announcement is not considered news and will be largely ignored by the media.

So, why bother? Is there ever a time when a momentum press release is worth the effort? The answer is yes AND no. 

 

When Does a Momentum Press Release Make Sense? 

The reason why this answer is so difficult is that the question PR professionals, as advisors, should ask their clients is not, “why do you want to issue a momentum press release?” but, “what is the business objective you are hoping to accomplish by issuing this press release?” If the answer is to simply create press interest, that will require a larger conversation about the definition of news. If the latter, and there are specific business goals in mind, a momentum press release can be a helpful tool. 

A few potential scenarios: 

  • Your client is a publicly traded company think Apple, Google, Amazon or Microsoft. Here is a recent example, detailing corporate earnings, operations metrics and customer gains. In this scenario, your client has beat reporters (reporters who are responsible for paying attention to your every move) who are interested in company growth metrics because of the impact this growth will have on industries, investors and ultimately consumers. 
  • Your client is an established challenger (as in this example) in a market that is being redefined by technology. As an established brand, your client is going up against companies who are covered by beat reporters. In this scenario, the beat reporters might be interested in your company’s growth metrics, especially if they showcase trends that could potentially impact the company they follow. Note that in this scenario, the information is mostly used as a reference but can, in some cases, result in introductory conversations with influential reporters and put your client on the radar of financial analysts. 

What if your client doesn’t fit nicely into either scenario? A momentum press release could still serve as a valuable assetbut its worth considering other options and tactics. 

 

Issuing a Momentum Release – The Grey Options 

For many startups, especially those in new and emerging technologies, a momentum press release would have little impact since established challengers or publically traded giants might not exist as a comparison. There are also instances where while the growth of your organization might be worth celebrating, the figures are not enough to go up against an established market leader. Best practices in these situations include:

  • Turn the momentum press release into a blog post, as in this example. This can live on your website or on a third party platform such as Medium. This option gives your organization the ability to highlight overall growth but in a less formal manner that can be amplified through social media. For example, leveraging the growth stats could be part of a paid, targeted LinkedIn campaign that focuses on lead generation and overall awareness.  
  • Turn your momentum press release into a story that focuses on the problems your company is trying to solve and leverage the stats, particularly market and customer growth as proof points that support your narrative. This option will still require pulling together all the most recent growth metrics, but will result in a narrative that journalists will likely perceive as less self-serving and possibly allow for thought leadership conversations to take place, as the focus is more people and problem centric vs company focused. 

As you can see there are many options, each with its own benefits. What’s important for businesses to ask themselves is, “What are we hoping to accomplish by issuing a momentum press release?” If that question is difficult to answer, then it’s likely not the best approach to take. Instead, a discussion with your PR team to discuss your overall strategy should be the next priority on your list.   

How PR Can Best Support Sales

Image: Adeolu Eletu

 

There’s a lot that goes into creating a successful PR program, and one important element for consideration is how PR can support sales. This is an important aspect that can make or break a program because it can help prove the value of PR to stakeholders across the business.

Given that many companies recently held their SKO – and sales teams across the world are amped up to meet their quota for the quarter – now is a good time to revisit how PR can help sales teams meet their goals.

We’ll take a look at just a few of the ways PR teams can best support sales teams and help drive increased revenues for the business.

 

  1. Understand the sales organization’s goals for the quarter – and fiscal year 

What’s the goal? 

Sure, sales teams obviously want to increase sales, but is their overarching goal to penetrate a new market? Do they want to uplevel their approach or increase technical acumen to target (and succeed with) new buyer personas? Do they need to increase pipeline to establish steadily increasing revenues to eventually go public?

Understanding sales goals matters – because it directly impacts the direction and urgency of PR activity. 

If the business is shifting to an enterprise CIO buyer, it raises the importance of showcasing customer stories with CIO advocates or landing top-tier business coverage. 

On the other hand, targeting the enterprise architect means pursuing more “how-to” focused coverage in technical trade publications and providing that audience with the technical intel they need to thrive in their roles.

You want to be able to create campaigns and secure coverage that maps to the right buyer persona, otherwise, sales reps won’t benefit.

 

  1. Align on specific topics of interest that help sales teams close deals

So you learn sales goals and know the right enterprise persona to target, now what? You need to align on the right topics that support sales reps in conversations with customers and prospects.

It’s great that you earned coverage with a dream publication, but will it help sales reps close deals? 

Different types of articles in different publications will have different benefits, but if sales teams are drilling down and increasing quotas, you want to be able to provide the air cover they need to validate value drivers with customers and prospects. 

Driving campaigns and securing coverage isn’t enough – it needs to result in meaningful coverage that maps to the right business campaigns to ensure your PR program is driving tangible business impact.

For example, while it’s great to get your spokesperson on a morning TV show, a customer case study placement in a technology outlet may better aid sales conversations than a top-tier broadcast placement.

Take the time to understand what core differentiators solve critical pain points for customers and you’ll find your north star to map to.

 

  1. Leverage digital best practices to extend reach and garner traffic to your best stories

Once you place earned or paid coverage, it’s time to make it effective for sales teams.

There are digital best practices that can extend the reach and shelf life of coverage to drive stronger traffic – and support sales reps before they even step into their meetings or pick up the phone to call prospects.

For example, on LinkedIn, you can create paid campaigns with very narrow targeting to boost exposure to the earned coverage you just placed. If you have a sales team with a webinar in three weeks looking to boost attendance, LinkedIn offers a channel to leverage your coverage and target not only specific companies, titles and seniority, but member interests and skills. 

If the webinar is based on a certain kind of technology, like Salesforce, you can serve those ads to people who have “Salesforce” listed under their skills. That level of specificity can help your sales teams use your earned media wins to drive high-quality leads.    

That’s just the targeting. To take advantage of great targeting you need the right message and a clear call to action. Clear, concise language, coupled with equally clear and eye-catching graphics, make it more likely that your target audience will click on the ads in front of them. 

Good targeting means nothing without good coverage – and good coverage can go a long way to support sales teams. 

 

Think long-term success

The goal of PR isn’t just to place articles – but to drive meaningful stories that support the sales organization in an impactful way and benefit the business. 

Effective strategies and campaigns require a deep understanding of what makes the sales organization successful, so you can replicate valuable coverage over and over again.

If you don’t know what the sales team needs, now is the time to find out and get conversations rolling to drive a successful PR program. We’re here to help – email us at hi@highwirepr.com to learn more.

A Non-technical Guide to Breaking into Tech PR

Tech PR is a bustling, innovative and ever-changing field – but it’s not one I ever foresaw myself going into. As a journalism and Spanish double major whose most relevant workplace experience was working for a lifestyle magazine conglomerate, I didn’t really know what I’d be getting myself into at a tech PR agency. Luckily, it’s been one of the most wonderful experiences I could imagine, and I’ve grown and learned every day at Highwire. Now, a year into my tech PR career, I have a few tips to share for anyone entering the space who thought they never would:

Read all day long

Read as much as you can. Obviously not all day because there’s also work to be done, but take the time at the beginning of your career to get familiar with the industry. Read everything from breaking news to industry term definitions. It’s okay not to know what a cloud data warehouse off the bat – chances are you’ve never had to think about it before – so just look it up! You’re not expected to be an expert from day one, and that’s an advantage. Knowing what you don’t know allows you to prioritize learning while you get your feet wet before you’re expected to dive into the deep end. 

To narrow down your reading list, consider what specific news will be most relevant to you. There are numerous credible and interesting tech publications to use as resources including TechCrunch, WIRED, Fast Company and ZDNet. It’s worth considering what publications your client is most interested in getting featured in to understand the components of a story in that outlet. If your clients are focused on leadership in the industry, add Entrepreneur and Business Insider to your reading list. Alternatively, if they’re more focused on a technical audience, try TechTarget or InformationWeek.

Additionally, reading regularly will make you better at creating informed pitches, knowing where your client can contribute to news trends and holding stimulating conversation at dinner parties (joking, mostly). But don’t limit your reading extravaganza to the beginning of your career. The 24-hour news cycle means not only is news happening every day, but it’s happening every minute, so spend time every day dedicated to digging in – even if you think you know everything there is to know.

Ask anything

Your brain will be buzzing with a million questions. Don’t be scared to ask! At any good agency, there will be people who know the answers and are happy to help teach you. It can be nerve-racking to ask questions because you might think you should already know the answer, but no one is expected to know everything. Asking informed questions shows that you’re interested, invested and taking the time to think critically. And trust me, it’s better to ask a question about a project before you take it on than to get in too deep and realize you should have come prepared with more intel.

As far as best practices for asking questions, if you’re genuinely lost and it’s time-sensitive, fire away! If you have some time to look into the topic, do a bit of research and see what you can find. Anyone you ask will be grateful that you were considerate and thoughtful enough to give it a shot on your own. Additionally, figure out the right person to ask. If you’re confused about a client’s product, ask one of the experienced members of your team. If you’re not sure about a specific assignment, ask the reviewer. 

The best part about asking questions is that the answers you get give you an arsenal of knowledge that you can implement the next time around – and even use to answer questions for the people following in your footsteps. 

Understand goals

As you break into tech PR, you’ll realize that all of these general guidelines and best practices are great, but they only go so far. In client relations, team dynamics and personal career growth, there are a bevy of contributing factors that make each situation unique. 

For your career, ask your manager what goals you’re tracking toward at your level. You can’t prove your success if you don’t know what you’re measuring against. Once you understand your personal career goals, make a plan for how to achieve them. Discuss them with your teams and ask what you can contribute to that will put you on the right track.

For each team, you will have a separate set of goals. Internally, your managers will set expectations and that will often track to the goals of the client. You might be wondering why you get a certain request, and it’s fair to ask! Often, you’ll find that a project you’re working on is essential to a certain business or measurement goal that the client needs. Remembering that everyone you’re working with – inside and out of the agency – is working toward a North Star will help you understand their motivation.

Take it one day at a time

If you’re considering a career in tech PR, but have only ever written articles about engagement announcements and restaurant openings like me, don’t be scared off. There are a few key practices that can help you get started, and while the industry may seem overwhelming, you’ll learn day-by-day and the experience will be invaluable.