Add PR to Your Hi-Tech DM Mix

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You know you've developed a better, more hi-tech mousetrap. But you may not be sure you're doing everything to leverage all the marketing opportunities. Perhaps your venture capitalists have threatened, "Make a splash in six months or the funding dries up." Or worse, you are bootstrapping your venture out of your own pocket and the pocket isn't too deep.

Many hi-tech entrepreneurs are suggesting their marketing leaders turn to public relations as an affordable and streamlined approach to fame and fortune. Some are creating sizzle. Others are stuck with the steak.

Integrating well-placed PR into your overall hi-tech direct marketing mix is similar to casting a net upon the waters. When you bring it up, you'll likely find both junk fish and treasure. The treasure will likely include customers, employees, investors and partners.

How does your hi-tech marketing plan tap into PR prey? I don't care if your wife's cousin plays tennis with the acupuncturist for the editor of the emerging business section of the Wall Street Journal. Personal contacts may get your phone call answered, but it doesn't sell your story. The story has to have legs of its own.

What makes a compelling story? Editors, although their hot button is hard to find, often respond to the following themes:

• New. That's where we get the term "news." The press wants to know what is happening now. Timeliness is of the essence.

• Trend. A shift, especially one that deviates greatly from the norm, can be provocative.

• Utility. What makes your hi-tech widget useful?

• Timeliness. A dating Web site is a hotter topic at Valentine's Day than Veterans Day. Strike well in advance of the special day.

• Colorful personality. Show the human side of the technology. How does it impact the end-user? What is the background or approach of the key people?

• Irony. What is the surprise? Contrast?

• Survey says. Objective survey results can be intriguing. Provide surveys and analysis about your niche and bask in the ink.

• Good deeds. Sincere nonprofit tie-ins can help generate press and customer loyalty. It is best to tie in to something directly connected to your product or service's focus.• Name-dropping. When David hooks up with Goliath that is news. Tout major new clients, partnerships, etc.

• Become the expert. Position your key executive as "the" source for comment on subjects associated with your niche. This can be accomplished by contacting the press to accent a story related to your industry. A Rolodex card issued to key editors also can't hurt.

• Case studies. How does your product or service help real people? Case studies bring circuit board to life.

• Offbeat. Is your marketing approach whimsical? Funky? Being over the top could be the ticket. C/Net and E*Trade are good examples of this.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that your perfectly spun cover letter or e-mail will drown you in ink. It's rare that a single contact makes things happen. More frequently, follow-up is needed.

The idea is to build, not burn, bridges. Don't call editors on deadline. Don't call them at all if they ask you not to.

Do follow up at the right time and via the right medium. Many editors prefer calls at a specific time. Some request faxes, others demand handwritten notes. And a handful of editors are as unapproachable as hungry carnivores.

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