Breaking Through Media Resistance to Product Launches
Generating publicity for a new product used to be a pretty straightforward exercise. The communications team would issue a press release, followed by pitch calls to industry beat reporters and coverage would generally follow. Today’s media environment, however, requires a different approach. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear from reporters now that they just don’t cover product launches anymore. So how can you break through this resistance?
At Hillenby, as part of our ongoing effort to deepen our understanding of influence, we’re constantly monitoring and researching media coverage of major corporations. The companies we currently follow are household names in industries such as healthcare, telecommunications, finance and energy.
We took a close look at the media coverage these organizations received surrounding product or service launches in the first half of 2013. Our findings provide a prescription of elements that should be considered when developing a new product launch strategy. We recognize that the companies we surveyed are industry leaders, and therefore receive a greater share of media coverage – both positive and negative – than others. However, any company seeking to achieve a high level of visibility around a product launch could adopt these best practices or use them to inform their strategy.
A Mix of Old, New and a Blended Few
Three practices emerged as the most commonly included in the media coverage we surveyed, with nearly a third of articles featuring at least one of the following tactics:
1. Hiring Famous Friends.
This is a tried and true media strategy that is still helping products gain attention, although with a slight update. In the past, celebrity endorsements have been featured prominently in media coverage. Today’s coverage still includes the celebrities supporting the new product, but you’ll find the mention closer to the middle of the new coverage, rather than the headline or lead paragraph.
An example of this is a national story written by The Associated Press this summer about the opening of a new Transformers attraction at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando. Featured in the article was the attendance of Steven Spielberg, executive producer of the “Transformers” movie series, at the launch event.
Of course, not every launch can have Steven Spielberg or another “A List” celebrity attached to it. However, there are ways of making this work for your brand on a smaller, more affordable scale. In our experience, a respected thought leader in your industry or a cultivated expert can still build credibility for the product and attract attention. This can even be a popular blogger or expert from a target geographic market.
2. Position the Product as a Problem Solver.
Products described as solving everyday life problems were well received in the articles we reviewed. This was especially true if the product had a technology angle associated with it.
Comcast employed this strategy when they released a new remote control with fewer buttons as part of an update to their cable operating system. The company positioned the remote’s 25 fewer buttons as a way to streamline users’ viewing experience, which was covered by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Comcast’s hometown newspaper.
Using this tactic for your launch can require a little creativity, especially if your product or service wasn’t designed with a specific problem in mind. Once you’ve identified the problem, work to define the solution and your argument for why your product is the best – or only – solution on the market. Framing your product in this way will provide reporters with an extra “hook” to cover your launch.
3. Hitch Your Product to a Trend.
Again, this is another tested strategy that our research shows is working. The key is to tie your product to a very “of-the-moment” trend, which will garner inclusion in launch stories as well as generate interest from reporters that are covering the trend on an ongoing basis.
For example, The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about banks targeting smartphone users, including the launch of new mobile banking apps. This new focus is tied to the increasing trend of mobile-only or mobile-dominant internet users.
Defining such a trend can be a bit tricky. The easiest way is to become immersed in current media reports – both traditional and online – about your industry and target audience. Keep an eye out for something that is being repeated throughout the coverage and then find a way to attach it to your product.
While not as impactful quantitatively, we also came across additional elements in new product coverage that we feel are worth highlighting.
• Set your aim on a high-profile competitor: Immediately following Google’s announcement that they would expand super-fast internet service to Austin, TX, AT&T said they too would offer super-fast internet service, as long as they were granted the same benefits as Google. AT&T’s timing and direct aim at Google made the story even more attractive to reporters and helped ensure AT&T’s inclusion in stories about Google’s announcement. This would be a difficult strategy to emulate, but if you were to find your brand in such a situation, it would be worth considering. We have consistently seen in media coverage a somewhat similar effect around Apple’s brand.
• Create news through a unique launch event: While we saw less Consumer Electronics Show (CES) coverage overall this year, big launches at the annual technology trade conference, such as AT&T’s new home security platform, were covered. Articles on the previously mentioned new Transformers ride at Universal Studios Theme Park detailed the launch event, which included pyrotechnics, a jet fly-over and a new song by Cheap Trick. Part of why this strategy is so effective is that it provides a fun and different experience for reporters, who love being “wowed.” While a jet fly-over isn’t always feasible, a unique event like a facility tour or the exclusive opportunity to test out a new product can provide a positive experience that will impact your coverage by giving reporters additional color to add to their stories.
• Being first still wins the race: AT&T benefitted from this twice in our research. The first was its push-to-talk iPhone, which allowed several iPhone users to communicate with each other at the push of a button, similar to the functionality of a walkie-talkie and something that had long been offered by Sprint Nextel. The other was their home security package, the first from a telecommunications company to be offered nationwide – not just where the company offers phone service.
One interesting note we found from our research is that very few of the authors had personally tested out the product they were covering and instead were writing about it based on information provided by the company. Sending a product sample to reporters pre-launch might help lesser-known companies differentiate themselves and secure coverage in a crowded marketplace.
Generating strong coverage of the launch of a new product or service is only becoming a bigger challenge with fewer reporters writing for a more sophisticated readership. Companies that successfully break through the noise of this hyper-competitive media environment are ones that blend time-tested launch tactics with more creative and innovative twists. While still staying true to your brand and audience, such an approach will give your product or service a better shot at being showcased in a way that attracts reporters, builds buzz and grows your business.