How to Score Winning Briefings

The media briefing is an effective tool for educating media and analysts on a vendor’s product or service, but it can be quite painful for both the editor and the company to suffer through a horrible briefing. For example, a bad briefing could be one in which the spokesperson is not providing usable information and the editor has tuned out. Worse yet, if it’s phone briefing someone is most likely doing other work at the same time. There are strategies that can be used by vendors, journalists and industry analysts to achieve productive briefings that are win/win occurrences.

Picture this: A high-tech vendor has a great new product that it plans to release just prior to the industry’s biggest tradeshow. The demo works; the data sheets and collateral material are written. The PR agency is reaching out to editors and analysts for briefings and the first one is booked for Tuesday. The time comes and the editor dials in, and then the vendor dials in five minutes late and the editor reminds the vendor that only a half hour has been scheduled. The PR agency has sent a briefing document with background information about the editor, but the vendor does not seem to remember anything about the person. The vendor dives into the presentation with the VP beginning quickly followed by the CTO interrupting to explain the inner workings of every piece of the widget. Ten minutes later, they both come up for air and it takes what seems like an eternity to get the editor’s attention. At that point, he says, that’s very interested and thanks them for their time and hangs up.

What started out as a great product and a briefing with a top-tier editor turned out to be a disaster and a waste of time for both the vendor and the editor who most likely will not be writing a story based on the conversation. The PR person is disappointed and feels her credibility with the editor has taken a hit; and will once again have to explain to the client why although we have briefings, the coverage, of course, does not follow.

As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. A better plan would have been to have sent a presentation in advance, and to have taken some time to review the background material sent by the agency. This information generally includes the relevant bios, discussion topics, recent articles, and perhaps links to recent Twitter activity. The agency does a bit of homework so that the client will have information on what would be of most interest to the editor. For analysts, it is important to know what projects are currently underway because an analyst will be most engaged with topics that are at the forefront. At the same time, the agency preps the editor for the call by providing information on the company and its recent announcement so that the discussion can be focused on the most important information rather than time spent on rudimentary introductions to the company and industry.

Editors are receptive to specific information that will be of use to their readers. In some cases it is information on the product, but increasingly, it is information on how to solve a problem. Customers generally do not think in terms of “need to buy product,” but rather in pain points, i.e. how to save money, how to prevent a problem or to ameliorate an existing problem. They then look for products or services that will solve the issue at hand. Therefore, it is useful for a vendor to share stories of problems solved by relevant customers.

Analysts also like the chance to have some high level information that may change how they consider a market. While publicly-traded companies need to be concerned with disclosure issues, analyst like to receive pieces of unique information. Analysts also like to be asked questions such as “what do you think about this?” “Have you seen anything else like this in the market?” A note of caution, do not abuse the analyst; others pay the person for their knowledge, but in this case, you’re asking a favor. Editors should also be given the chance to ask some questions and not be forced to listen to a one-way lecture from the vendor.

While the vendor needs to focus on its company and products, no company lives in a vacuum and it is useful to acknowledge (not badmouth) competitors in order to show where your company fits in the market and how to differentiate your product from others. The person being briefed may not be familiar with your company, but they may know a competitor or similar company and it will help them to understand your company. While the CMO, CTO is expert on the company, the editor or analyst may not be, so please take the time to prepare your key messages and to make sure that the person being briefed understands the key takeaway message. In order to assure that your messages are being communicated loud and clear, speak from notes, but do not memorize a presentation. The briefing needs to be natural and reflect the company and your personality. Furthermore, the presenter needs to be prepared to answer expected questions on features, benefits, pricing, availability and can have that information on a datasheet at the ready.

At the conclusion to the briefing, it is useful to end with some sort of call to action. Will the person need any additional information sent—“thanks, we’ll get back to you with that answer,” “we will send the press release when the embargo lifts” or “we’ll plan to brief you quarterly from now on.” Of course, it is necessary to track these items and follow up on them accordingly. The PR person should send a thank-you email to the editor or analyst after the call in which the key points can be recapped, follow-up information sent and a promise to keep in touch reiterated. The PR person and vendor may also need to debrief and that is the time to discuss if they thought the participant understood the message, anything the spokesperson could have done differently and to review any follow up. A briefing can be a great way to share information and to aid the editor or analyst as long as everyone has done the homework in advance.

Lynda B. Starr is an Account Manager at Vantage PR, an award-winning public relations agency specializing in high technology.