What happens when you talk to the Vice President of a top-ranked tech PR firm—with decades of experience—about PR strategies? You get good advice, that’s what. I interviewed Margaret Pereira, VP at Karbo Communications. Her team has helped popular brands such as Equinix, Nexenta and Chomp engage with audiences and make a name for themselves.

You can read our conversation below, where we discuss how PR is evolving, how you can tweak your press releases to attract reporters, and how you can use new mediums to advance your PR strategy.

PR is always changing. We used to distribute news to journalists. Then came the do-it-yourself PR movement. Now we're circling back to third-party publicity. What's the deal? Are people making it up as they go along, or is there a method behind the shifting madness?

Your first question uncovers a couple of misperceptions, so thank you for the opportunity to share the insider’s perspective.

One misperception is that PR strategies are always changing and made up as we go. The reality is that fundamental PR strategies have remained surprisingly consistent. A typical starting point for PR is to ask and answer the questions: “Who is our audience? What do they need to know?”

What may appear as “shifting madness” are the PR tactics and tools for carrying out time-tested strategies. What the Internet, RSS feeds and social media have changed is the ability to distribute press releases and other forms of content directly to intended audiences.

One could argue that these changes are what animate the PR field—currently growing at an annual rate of 12%—and keep PR pros from going the way of the brick-and-mortar travel agent.

Does PR always involve self-promotion?

It shouldn’t. One example of PR that isn’t self-promotional is helping clients nominate their customers for awards that recognize their use of technology.

Can you show us an example of that?

Among many examples is a data solutions provider that we helped nominate several customers, including a fitness franchise, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, and a non-profit agency. An executive later served as a judge for the Computerworld Honors Program, as an example of giving back that has nothing to do with self-promotion, but ultimately led to sales leads.

Very interesting. Let’s talk about the press release. Is this tool dying?

No. The press release is still a go-to tool, just like a resume or C.V. is still a must-have for job seekers.

What’s died is how we use the press release. Today, reporters receive 200-300 pitches and press releases per day. Can you imagine? No single reporter could write that many stories daily, even if each one was relevant to the reporter’s interests.

Modern best practices for B2B companies include contacting a reporter with the 15-second version of “here’s the news and why your readers should care.”

If reporters receive an average of 200-300 pitches per day, they must be strict about which stories they pick up. What are reporters looking for and how can marketers attract their attention?

There’s no cookie-cutter response, because no two reporters are looking for the same thing. A long-standing and persistent pet peeve among journalists is receiving mass-mailed, generic pitches that show no understanding of who their audience is or what they recently wrote about. Talk to editors and you’ll learn one thing keeping them awake at night is increasing their website traffic. As marketers, we can relate!

Astute marketers will look honestly at their announcements to determine if they matter to others besides a handful of customers and themselves, or are compellingly different. The ultimate rule of thumb is “do your homework.” If there’s news that’s relevant or interesting to a large group of readers, reporters will be interested.

What about the actual content of a release? Companies like to write about their new products and their "We're proud to announce"  topics. Do journalists and media outlets—not to mention readers—actually care about that stuff?

In the B2B trade press universe, the press release may actually serve as the news story for outlets run by a single editor or publisher. So, yes, well-written, fact-based press releases haven’t yet passed their best-by dates.

In the more general news universe, we’re keeping our eye on how Americans get their news: “…clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family”  (source).

We talk among ourselves about what makes news worth sharing via Twitter and Facebook and other ascending forms of social sharing.

What’s an example of using Twitter or Facebook to share newsworthy discussions? Some companies aim for self-promotion--but which ones use social media properly?

We approach social media as a platform for thought leadership, and challenge our clients to demonstrate expertise in their respective markets without promotional verbiage. We’ve worked with clients to host interactive Twitter Chats, organizing a panel discussion in collaboration with other executives in the market to offer insights and advice, while encouraging the broader Twitter audience to participate and ask the experts questions.

We also use Twitter for live discussions during live webinars. For all of our clients, we recommend posting at least one to two industry articles (articles that don’t mention the client at all) per day from relevant publications in their markets and encouraging executives to contribute to LinkedIn groups and other platforms for industry discussions. This positioning was a key factor in achieving 41% growth in Twitter followers and engagement, and a 27% growth in LinkedIn activity for an enterprise client with a strong existing following.

I once heard a PR guy describe product and tech releases as "solutions scouring the landscape in search of problems."  That is to say, a company might know its product, but it has little to no understanding of people—or the modern issues that people care about. What do you think about that?

This definitely captures the myopia of tech’s early days (before the original dotcom bust in 2000) when many believed that tech would sell itself.

What counters your PR guy’s description is crowd-funding campaigns as litmus tests for technology that solves modern issues. After all, people spend money on things they care about.

To risk oversimplifying, it boils down to tech companies challenging themselves to think outside their corporate walls by identifying the pain felt by customers and connecting the dots to how technology can solve or at least reduce this pain. This is one of the first questions we ask new clients, and a recurring question during every subsequent product launch.

What are some emerging mediums of PR? Can you show us an example of modern PR that might surprise our readers?

Modern PR is tracking to general trends: the use of mobile devices, the use of analytics to measure and to predict behavior, and the use of social media.

You’ve probably experienced this, too. After buying something online, ads for the retail site follow you to subsequent websites, whether you’re checking email or reading the news. For those who read George Orwell’s 1984, this appears to be Big Brother incarnate.

Because these capabilities are costly, they’re favored among digital marketers with larger budgets, and larger corporations rather than boutique agencies and start-ups with more human energy than cash. Nonetheless, we expect PR to increasingly use tech’s ability to target and track click-throughs to transform itself from an “art” to a “science.”

Increased use of social media has led to developing relationships with reporters on social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, to pitching reporters via Snapchat. Some reporters now prefer to receive pitches via Twitter because it forces the story to be told in 140 characters or less.

What's a common misconception about PR that you'd like to clarify for our readers?

Misconception: In our current era of paid content, all company-developed content is effective. By paid content, we’re talking about stories that appear to be editorial (i.e., written by a reporter) but are actually stories written by companies that have paid for the story placements like traditional ads.

Fact: To be truly effective, content, regardless of who writes it, should do a few things. It must pass the traditional journalist question: “So what, who cares?”  It should inform in an unbiased, truth-based, and balanced way. And in today’s world of shrinking attention spans, it often must do so in 140 characters or fewer, and in 15 seconds or less. 

Thanks to Margaret for answering our questions. You can learn more about Karbo Communications here. Follow us on Twitter to get updates about future Kitchen content.