A Smart Start to B2B Tech PR: Q&A with Chantal LeBoulch
Chantal LeBoulch joins the Golden Spiral team as Vice President of Accounts. Chantal has invested her career in communications and public relations, specializing in empowering B2B tech companies to laser focus their messages for clarity while reaching their audiences for impact.
In this question and answer session, meet Chantal and go deeper into how to begin your PR journey as part of your marketing plan.
Has PR always been your passion?
I double-majored in International Relations and Economics at Wellesley College, and thought that I would have a career in finance. So, after my freshman year, I interned at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It was a very intense environment—for a woman especially—and more so for a freshman in college. I finished the internship knowing finance might not be the best fit for me. From that point forward, my internship experiences were all focused on communications, specifically consumer brands and local businesses.
So far, what have been your hall of fame moments in Public Relations?
One of the most interesting stories to tell was when I worked on the PR team for SCVNGR (who has since pivoted to LevelUp). The CEO, Seth Priebatsch, has a unique personality and wasn’t afraid to make bold statements, so we were able to place stories in top tier business publications like The New York Times.
At another (earlier) point in my career, I remember finally establishing a relationship with Walt Mossberg, the famous consumer electronics reporter at The Wall Street Journal. (He retired in April 2017.) He was a groundbreaking tech journalist everyone wanted to get in front of.
Most recently, I worked with a cybersecurity company that just went through a company rebrand and acquisition, and the team was able to secure over 30 articles, including placements in publications like Fortune and TechCrunch.
What are some of the myths believed by B2B tech companies who haven’t done PR before?
Some companies view PR as just a press release engine.
Just because you send out a press release doesn’t mean your product or announcement is going to get covered. Sure, a PR agency drafts press releases, but that’s only a small part of a much bigger function. If the news is not framed properly and doesn’t tie to a larger market trend, it won’t get noticed. Simple product updates or information will not get covered unless you’re an Apple or Google.
Some companies aren’t realistic about the size of coverage they can expect.
You’ve got to be open to listening to the various strategies that can help you obtain a specific placement, which varies depending on the type of publication you’re going after. A PR agency can eventually get you where you need to go, but it requires finding the right angle and backing it up with the right assets to get there.
Some companies don’t know the why behind their PR desires.
It’s important for companies to look at their PR agency as a partner—a true extension of their team. This allows us to work together to achieve optimal results that truly tie back to the overarching goals of the business. Sure, every client I’ve worked with would love to be in The Wall Street Journal or get a primetime broadcast placement, however it’s important to understand the “why” behind that.
How do I begin to factor PR into my marketing plan?
You want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward, and realize that implementing a successful PR program isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Public Relations is also most powerful for B2B tech companies when it is integrated into your entire marketing strategy and not looked at as a separate agenda. A few important questions to ask, include:
Who is your target audience?
Any content producer—especially your PR team—must know the audience in order to tailor messages and storylines.
Who will be your spokespeople?
The main function of PR is brand awareness. For B2B Tech, it’s establishing trust and credibility in your brand and any expert who is the face of the company. How can you best use these experts to elevate your brand? What is their unique point of view? The ultimate goal is for the media to see them as trusted resources.
What is your competitive differentiation?
Knowing where you fit into the market and who your competitors are will also help determine strategy and identify the influencers we need to target.
What role do you want PR to play?
Many B2B tech companies consider PR only as media relations, but there are many more opportunities, such as:
- Do you want your PR team to develop content?
- Do you want them to do research or pull together reports?
- Are you involved in trade shows?
- Do you want to apply for industry awards?
- Do you want your C-suite or spokespeople to book speaking engagements?
What are the other specific PR tools in the arsenal?
There are hundreds. And many times, PR augments your inbound marketing efforts in other ways. When you develop your marketing plan, integrate PR. PR informs and affects SEO, social media, content creation, and more. All of your marketing efforts will affect what you do in PR. If you’re not integrated, you could be working at cross-purposes with yourself. You don’t ever want your PR efforts to say something different than your other channels and vice versa. These, however, tend to be the baseline PR tools you need:
- Establishing a consistent flow of news (press releases)
- Identifying trend stories
- Pitching story ideas and bylines to target reporters
- Building a thought leadership platform
- Developing thought-provoking content
- Identifying third party validations (such as customer stories)
- Applying for relevant award and speaking opportunities
- Attending trade shows
Do you need a different PR approach for different outlets?
Yes. For example, print and online publications have different lead times, with print publications often wrapping up their editorial calendars months in advance. Television and radio have varying schedules, too.
Additionally, the type of publication you’re going after will also require a different approach. Business and technology reporters don’t work the same as trade publications and the type of stories (or angles) they’re interested in covering also will differ.
Finally, PR professionals also need to take breaking news stories into consideration which requires quick action. Rapid response or “newsjacking” is a tactic for getting clients quoted in stories. For example, in an industry like cybersecurity where data breaches and cyberattacks are happening daily, rapid response can be an essential component of a PR program.
Is it difficult to put a company spokesperson on the stage in the glare of a crisis?
It depends on who the spokesperson is. Some people are naturally at home being in front of a camera, being charismatic, knowing what to say and what not to say. Others are not quite as comfortable.
Do you conduct media training?
Yes. I recommend it. I have often put spokespersons into a tough situation and role-played asking difficult and probing questions. Media training is also essential during the lead up to a major piece of company news. Training helps spokespeople prepare for tough questions that reporters could ask, and also be on the same page with messaging. Sometimes in the hot seat, a spokesperson wants to answer every question but it’s okay not to.
We’ll go into more depth on media training in the future. What’s the best technique to controlling the interview?
The way to master an interview is to stay close to your messages, maintain a positive tone, summarize your key points throughout the interview, and “block and bridge” tough questions. Blocking and bridging questions is key to keeping the interview on track and staying on message. Examples of this include:
- “That’s an interesting question, but this is how I see it…”
- “Well, I think the bigger issue is…”
- “What’s important to remember is…”
PR seems to have changed a lot over the years.
PR is an interesting practice. It has changed about as much and about as rapidly as the tech world. When I started, a PR agency could write up the details of a product announcement, send it out to reporters, and get coverage. That’s not the case anymore. Now, you must build relationships with reporters, approach them with unique angles, and know the topics that they’re eager to cover. And then sometimes you do get lucky! Every now and then, you’ll catch a reporter at just the right time, and he or she will cover a story you never would’ve imagined finding traction.
A few years ago, having a relationship with reporters and producers was the most important factor in getting placed. That seems to have changed. Staff move from place to place more than ever. Do you agree?
I agree. Reporters are tasked to do more than ever. The publications and shows have shrunk staff quite a bit. Beats have been combined. Building a relationship with reporters or segment producers is difficult unless you’re constantly bringing them material you know they will cover. That’s hard to do over and over for the same company. Relationships still matter. If a reporter can get to know your spokespeople and rely upon them as authorities who provide insight—not just about your product but about larger topics affecting our culture—you’ll have more exposure.
When do you know you’ve got a solid relationship with a media pro?
You will know you’ve mastered a relationship with a reporter or producer when it’s a two-way street—when the reporter calls you for a comment on a story. But beware, if you bring a reporter a story that sucks, they’re not going to cover it—no matter how good the relationship is.
And the same goes for B2B tech news?
It’s very competitive. TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and many of the tech outlets compete for news. You need to make sure you’re executing the best outreach strategy when your company is announcing something. If it’s worthy of their attention, there are strategies that can be effective for getting coverage.
When you are approaching your next launch, make sure you are reaching out to reporters before the announcement is live. Give them time to review the piece of news, ask questions, speak with a spokesperson, and write about it so they can time it correctly.
What’s your vision for Golden Spiral?
Smaller marketing firms are in a much better position to offer more integrated services that lead to more comprehensive results. In recent years, the lines have blurred between marketing practices. Agencies used to be able to own one function. Not anymore. B2B tech companies can no longer afford to hire one firm for each marketing function—and they won’t be effective if they do. The larger the firm, the more difficult integration is. Golden Spiral is integrating PR from the top to the bottom of all we do for our clients. We are the right size. We have a dynamic culture with a deeply talented team that shows up for work every day excited about what’s ahead for our clients. This is the right time to integrate, and PR will pay dividends in every marketing effort we lead.
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