By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.
Ghost Works Communications’ Nick Vivion has been living in a recreation vehicle or RV for about five months now. As a public relations person through and through, his story recently got featured on the BBC. But when not doing PR for himself and his RV lifestyle, he works at the forefront of the technology industry.
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Joining me from his RV located near the Mississippi River in Memphis, he talked about how he helps new technology companies get noticed in one of the latest The UnNoticed Podcast episodes.
According to Nick, getting new technology companies noticed is incredibly difficult. One of the challenges is that you simultaneously have a geeky audience — those that know the technology — and another audience that knows nothing about it. Therefore, you have to be careful about what you say: The former will tear you apart if you say something wrong while the latter will require a higher-level view to understand what you’re talking about.
This type of dichotomy is challenging because you have to educate on one side and be very detailed on the other. If you have a basic message and you’re pitching to a more technical outlet, you will look bad. On the flip side, if you delve too deep and you’re going to a mainstream journalist, the news would go just right over their head. In both situations, you’re missing an opportunity.
To help manage their clients’ content strategy, Nick and his team use tools to implement an integrated communications approach. You can have social media content, newsletters, and blocks. With these, you can create your content and do op-eds at different publications to help different audiences. Personally, Nick loves to do thought leadership pieces because it allows him to go deeper and teach people what they need to know about his clients’ brands and their expertise in their particular fields.
Screengrab from Ghost Works’ website
Building a Brand Through Content
For Nick, the first step is to cut through the buzzwords and figure out what everyone is trying to say. Once you know the core messages out there, it really comes down to setting expectations. However, he pointed out that there is no single solution. It takes a cohesive, integrated approach to build a brand. You’d need all these pieces and pillars to build your brand upon.
Most people believe that getting featured in The New York Times is going to transform their business. While it can happen, realistically speaking, your audience isn’t going to stop what they’re doing and tell everyone about a particular piece they’ve read in the said publication. Entrepreneurs, especially, are so passionate about what they’re doing that they think everyone is going to care. Nick’s core message is, no one really cares. You have to keep that in mind and start from there.
Helping Clients Working in Emerging Tech
Working with clients in emerging tech like blockchain is especially difficult because there aren’t many outlets catering to it. For example, if you have five or six clients in one space, you can’t constantly pitch the same story to 20 journalists. It takes a thoughtful understanding of what your clients are, where they’re headed, and how your clients fit inside of those. If you can get that narrative across, it could be a powerful thing.
However, there will always be clients who’ll keep wanting more. Based on his experience, Nick has had clients who’d call and ask about what his agency could do for them in that particular week. Immediately finding a larger place in the narrative can only create artificial pressure, which is not helpful for the agency. Because, sometimes, it’s through pushing the little wins that can help you gain momentum and get the big one.
How can Clients Support their PR Agency?
For entrepreneurs and businesses to support their PR agencies, Nick emphasised the need to understand that these agencies are here to help. You have to acknowledge that they’re not here just to take your money and run away — they’re in the same battle as you. The first step is to realise that you and your agency can do things together.
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The second is to be responsive. If there’s a quick inbound media opportunity, an agency would need a response within an hour. The sooner your agency gets back to the journalist (who has their own deadline), the more likely it is for you to get noticed.
Sharing your long-term plan is also helpful. And Nick is all about oversharing. He always tells his clients to give him everything and not hide or edit out anything (including the bad stuff), because editing is his job — especially as a former journalist.
For an agency to help you get to where you need to be, they have to know the truth. This is why it’s essential to encourage this type of relationship.
Also, understand that in most cases, entrepreneurs don’t get rich or famous quickly. It’s about investing in a long-term relationship, especially when it comes to PR. During the podcast interview, Nick shared that the more he understands about a business, the better he gets in coming up with a PR strategy. If he’s writing blogs and placing op-eds for you, he’d know your voice better.
As a client, you have to take note that it’s a long-term commitment. After all, building a brand takes time, patience, and a strategy.
Creating Audience-Centric Content for Clients
When working with clients, Nick starts with knowing their objectives. After understanding the bigger picture, he breaks it down into the audiences that would be involved in those objectives.
After identifying the audience, he starts creating content. He’d build all the content, PR blocks, and any other social media or external communications that need to happen. It’s all about having a communication strategy for each of your audiences.
In reality, things often get complicated because most people don’t want to do the audience work. But if you’re doing that, you’d be like a sales team that simply sprays and prays.
The Importance of Teaming up with Other Industry Forces
One of the useful ways of introducing new technology is by participating in industry associations. To move an industry, you also might need to join forces with your competitors and participate in certain kinds of forums.
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In the blockchain community, widespread adoption especially matters. Because when it comes to technology, finding these partners is key.
One of Nick’s clients works with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is a global standards body. Together, his client and the organisation are building standards for blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). This kind of project is important because it not only gets you partners but also allows you to set your future. What’s great about these associations is that they’re always looking for content. And as a lot of them are paid organisations, they want to keep people happy. Your agendas are also aligned because they also want to press that narrative and want it to be successful. This is an important piece when you’re trying to build your brand.
What About Going Global?
There are new tech companies, including startups, that want to do international PR. For instance, one of Nick’s clients is in Canada’s cryptocurrency exchange and has been recently launched in Europe.
Doing global PR is quite difficult because you’re not only a small company in your hometown or home country, you’re also a challenger brand in other countries. There will be different languages, preferences, and media outlets. You also have to have new relationships. In these cases, taking a geography-based strategy can help. Whether it’s a country or a region, you have to localise all your approaches.
For example, if you’re expanding to Europe, consider how and why is your product relevant to the French versus the Germans? Do you need to use a different and a more nuanced message or do you simply use your other message in another country?
What makes this further complicated is the need to work with a limited team. Nick noted that your expansion plans should be thoughtful and be inclusive of communications people who’d help you understand what something means — because nationalities are different from one another. Every country is different and localising your approach is the only way to success.
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From a PR Agency’s Point of View: Working with People with Different Roles
According to Nick, if you work in a PR agency, you’re most likely to have a triple audience: The one who pays the bills, the one who hired you, and the one you deal with during day-to-day operations.
If that day-to-day person doesn’t talk or report much to the Chief Executive Officer, you have to figure out what needs to be shared: How do you show that you’re having an impact? You also have to understand that the internal person may have someone else that they’re trying to bring in or that they simply don’t want you. Therefore, you have to be really mindful — know who the actual decision-maker is and make sure that they’re happy, and bring your strategy down to the PR person that you’re dealing with. Keep yourself aligned with them to avoid any conflict.
Being resilient is also important because people within an organisation also change roles. You have to embed yourself in their organisation and be useful across all levels. This allows them to see you as a partner in their future success, rather than just a mere vendor who’s coming in to provide a particular service.
Working with Sales Teams
One of Nick’s biggest secrets is working with sales teams.
People often forget but it’s the salespeople — rather than the marketing people — who know more about what’s going on in their customers’ lives. They understand customer problems as well as the new things that are emerging. With them, you can also get access to recordings of calls and get a good story out of a statement from a customer. And ultimately, PR is about finding good stories.
The same goes for product marketing. If you can obtain their near-term roadmap, you can have a creative feature or change a feature into more of a communication and PR strategy. This is better than just working alone or relying on a feature that was simply provided by your client. Working in tandem can help you make an actually newsworthy feature.
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Sales decks and related presentations can also help you gain more insights that wouldn’t typically surface in a marketing brief. Take note that sales and marketing teams have different metrics. And, ultimately, brand marketing needs to come from the problems that your client is solving and elevating them. You also have to know where the brand sits in the minds of their customers.
Having a Monthly Plan is Important
It can be tough when you’re caught in between dry spells of major news announcements or when there are things that are a little more notable. This is why Nick always recommends having a monthly plan. Even if it’s only creating a blog post and sharing it with journalists, or even simply reaching out to journalists. Though they won’t always respond, it matters to have these little touchpoints in the journey.
This is when social media also becomes helpful. With it, you can always get your message out and participate. Nick’s company, for instance, handles a lot of LinkedIn management. They go into the LinkedIn accounts of their clients’ CEOs and other executives and manage them. For them, even these little comments and pieces of content can build over time. The cadence should be constant for people to be able to digest the content.
Owned vs Earned Media
Nick’s preference is owned media, in the sense that it lets you control your content. When you look at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), you’ll find that they are also doing their own content. But while many people go directly to the consumer, he pointed out that owned media doesn’t have the same cache as earned ones and doesn’t build a full strategy.
However, each brand is different. If it’s something wherein there’s a need to educate and cover a lot of touchpoints, having a 70-30 allocation is recommended, favouring owned media. If it’s a brand that is constantly releasing features and has a lot of organic growth in a buzzy industry, it’s the other way around: 70-30, with earned media leading the way. Nonetheless, the choice all boils down to your personal brand preferences: Do you want to have more control over your content, or do you want to have external social proof?
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As Nick’s company also does search engine optimisation for owned media, he attested how it’s great being able to manage the SEO of your website content. But even with SEO, algorithms change. When it got an update in June, one of his client’s sites lost 5,000 monthly readers. In this sense, the owned media is not really fully owned because you’re still at the mercy of someone else.
The Value of Good PR
For Nick, PR can be really valuable for the internal evolution of a company. People are too focused on external metrics, but PR agencies like his more importantly help understand brand narratives. They help coalesce your teams around a common vision and a shared messaging, which, in turn, will help you better craft the whole narrative that will go down to your sales teams. Once your sales teams know exactly where you stand, they can sell it better.
Ultimately, PR is about helping you become a better brand. It’s not an external metric because, in reality, it is difficult to measure. Brands don’t have metrics. You just know whether or not a brand is good. You just have that feeling if it’s weak or if it’s truly working.
To reach out to Nick, check out his LinkedIn account or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his company’s website at https://ghost.works for more details on how to market new technologies and gain ideas on the complexity of the whole content creation process.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.