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Nov 05, 2002
Case Study

Best Practices in PR - How to Go From Zilch Coverage to 200+ Tech Media Interviews in 18 Months

SUMMARY: Can you imagine if you called up the reporters who cover your marketplace, and they all said they had never heard of you, or they thought you had gone out of business?

That PR nightmare is exactly what happened to MAPICS, a 20-year old software firm serving manufacturers. Learn how MAPICS fought back, grabbing column inches from competitors like Oracle and SAP.

No, MAPICS did not stage any dramas or launch any revolutionary new products. Instead they relied on rock-solid PR best practices that you can emulate in order to get more press attention as well.

"Didn't they go out of business?" said one trade journalist. "I've never heard of them," said another.

In late 2000, MAPICS' Director of Marketing Communications Micky Long asked his new PR firm, Abovo Group, to conduct a blind telephone survey of top trade journalists on his hit list for Company coverage. The results were miserable.

The Company had been around for 20 years and had more than 3,000 current customers, but journalists either did not think it was around anymore, or they assumed it produced nothing but old-school technology that was not worth writing about.

Out of 37 software and ASP firms providing software to mid-size manufacturing plants, MAPICS ranked dead last in name recognition.

"We'd been quiet so long that we didn't have a name. People couldn't remember what we were about," says Long.

MAPICS did not have much dramatic news to talk about. No scandals, no CEO changes, no radical product introductions, etc. Nothing that generally eats up column inches in tech publications. Long had to get coverage without easy drama.


At first Company management were in favor of a name change, but Long talked them out of it. "Some of us said 'let's hold on a second. Let's do some competitive analysis first and find out our strengths and weaknesses."

Step One: Research

He selected the top eight competitors to analyze in terms of their positioning, products and marketing. "We looked at everything from their Web sites to their advertising - those are the easy things to do actually. Then we tried to pick up their collateral, and identify their response rates. I'd go in and say, 'I'm looking for information.'"

(Long notes this was "all done publicly" so none of it was underhanded.)

The research revealed that everyone in the marketplace was saying pretty much the same thing instead of differentiating themselves. Plus their messaging was coated with jargon such as ERP, CRM and SCM. On the other hand no one was pitching themselves as experts to any particular marketplace verticals, no one was talking about platform choice, and no one was marketing materials talked about costs.

"We found holes and things we could do better at," says Long. Were these holes important to the customers themselves?

Long's team emailed a survey to current customers, and conducted six focus groups of prospects across America (two in Atlanta, two in Chicago, and two in San Francisco).

To line up pre-qualified focus group members MAPICS conducted telemarketing using Dun & Bradstreet lists. Attendees were offered $100-$200 plus "a Subway sandwich" to compensate for their time. Long notes, "Once you get them there, these folks like to talk about their business. They are very proud of it. Once you get a conversation started, it's pretty freewheeling."

It helped that Long's team were careful to never have direct competitors attend the same focus group, so people felt less afraid to reveal things. Also, in order to get truer results, attendees were not told what company was paying for the research.

Long says the key to getting the most useful data from a focus group was to ask them about the types of problems they needed software to fix, rather than asking them what type of software they wanted. This is a critical difference.

"Don't ask them what software they want. Ask them what they want to solve. Instead of saying, 'Do you want a product that does shop floor data collection?', say, 'Tell me about your manufacturing plant and where your bottlenecks are. What are your biggest pain points? Are you looking at reducing material costs? Struggling with reducing lead time? Global outsourcing?'"

Long adds, "Once you identify pain points, then you can deliver a message that's above the feature/function conversation. We stay above speeds and feeds, above the tech discussion."

Long had every focus group videotaped and then edited down to a ten minute video focusing on the messages he heard most from attendees about the holes in the marketplace and what problems they wished someone could solve for them.

This videotape became the heart of MAPICS' marketing campaign, not only informing all company messaging, but also heavily influencing the messaging of MAPICS' channel partners.

Long explains, "Usually when you show channel partners two ad creatives, you get five different opinions on what works. This time I showed the video first and it was amazing. In a room of 60 people there wasn't a single dissenting opinion. The video clearly showed what customers liked better. It wasn't the copywriting guy deciding which ad to run, it was the customer."

Step Two: Setting PR Measurement Guidelines

Before running any ads, Long decided to invest in six solid months of PR first in order to gain some name recognition for the Company. PR and then ads would be a one-two punch with far more impact than if both launched together. "Soften them up first with PR."

Before investing in any PR, the team first decided on a measuring system so any movement could be tracked carefully. "If you don't, you're flying blind," explains Long.

"When you're working in a tech company the CEO's always saying 'What's marketing done for me lately?' By having measurements in place, it's become much, much easer inside the Company. We don't always hit the number, but if we don't hit it I can tell you why we didn't and what we've done to fix it. These execs who are more on the engineering side, they appreciate that."

However, those measurements were *not* simply amount of stories run. Instead Long used an Influencer Index to assign points to each story in terms of how valuable it was.

Why? "Counting column inches is a disastrous way to go," explains Long. "I want to measure how attitudes are changing, are we making needles move from the journalists, analysts and marketplaces' standpoint?" The PR team created a list of the most important publications, online and off, in MAPICS' vertical markets and assigned each an Influencer Index score for potential coverage.

For example, when MAPICS' CEO was featured in an Associated Press article on baby boomer CEOs which ran in 200 newspapers and general news sites, Long assigned far fewer points than when MAPICS was mentioned in a single vertical market magazine in glowing terms. "I don't consider the Orlando Sunday Times my key market segment, whereas five inches in Manufacturing Systems Magazine..."

Abovo's VP Mike Neumeier says, "The Influencer Index goes back to your sales team. What publications are going to help you close sales or move along sales? It's all about selling. It's how to help the sales force."

Based on feedback from his customer survey, Long assigned online publications and emailed newsletters in his niches fairly high rankings in the Index. "Customers say they value time, and they are dramatically in favor of more online."

Plus sales reps loved online coverage because it gave them an excuse to stay in touch with prospects by emailing them links to related stories about MAPICS.

Step Three: Finding Stories to Pitch to the Press

As mentioned above, MAPICS did not have any obvious dramatic story hooks than would land them on magazine covers or in emailed news subject lines. Product upgrade news is pretty ho-hum in the general scheme of things.

Long noticed the reporting trend during the recession was moving away from hot new product coverage to covering client-side stories. Neumeier says, "It's all about the Case Study. It's not about vision or the next greatest thing; it's about show-me-the-money. Show me the ROI. Reporters say, 'Let me talk to a customer.'"

At the company's next annual user conference, everyone on the PR team dressed up as old fashioned reporters (like in Hollywood movies of the '40s and '50s) in order to work the crowd asking, "Got any stories about how you use MAPICS?"

Long also launched a customer competition to get stories. "We told customers we want the most inventive story about how you use MAPICS to change your business." Every quarter, the customer to submit the best story that quarter won a Toshiba big screen TV. Then the customer submitting the best story of the year won two Polaris personal watercrafts. (Both Toshiba and Polaris are also customers.)

Step Four: Getting the Word Out

Long's cleverest idea of all was to get influential journalists from three publications representing different verticals MAPICS services to do the actual contest judging. In return, the journalists were promised exclusives on all Case Studies that came through the contest pipeline that they wanted to cover.

Then he used the rest of the Case Studies in his pitches to more reporters, along with general announcements about "the New MAPICS."

Whenever Long had timely news of any nature, he pitched to his growing list of email newsletters because those reporters are always looking for something newsy to include. He also scoured magazine's editorial calendars for feature opportunities, and worked to make sure his products would be included whenever a journalist did a product round-up or comparison chart that might include competitors.

MAPICS already had an in-house distance training system in place which they used for sales, channel partner, and customer briefings. Now they extended this system to use it for press and analyst briefings as well. (Always careful not to have analysts and press in the same briefing; see a link to why below.)

In order to line up attendees, the PR team contacted reporters to issue invites, then emailed them reminders the day of the conference, and, using live Web logs phoned every reporter who had not entered yet at the start of the presentation. Inevitably a few reporters did not make it, so the team followed up with them afterwards as well to offer a personal presentation at the time of their choice.

(Long says this last tactic was very successful due to the guilt factor.)

These online presentations were kept deliberately short, generally 20 minutes tops. "You have to make sure your presentation is compelling enough to compete with whatever else they are doing. They can sneak off and do desk work while watching. They can leave the room without the embarrassment factor of an in-person presentation."

Step Five: Follow-Up Measurement

As the PR outreach program began to roll, the team made a formal results presentation to corporate management once a quarter. Plus every six months, they ran another blind telephone survey to influential trade journalists to see how well known the brand was becoming.


Today, MAPICS' product recognition levels have jumped from 37th to a respectable 7th place. On MAPICS' 2001 Influencer Index they finished second overall, behind Oracle, with 160 media placements which they assigned 280 "valued coverage" points to. As of mid-2002 MAPICS was holding third overall with 100 placements and 188 points, behind SAP with 275 points and Oracle with 261 points.

Of the 215 media placements for 2001/2002, more than 80% were in manufacturing and technology publications online or off. This type of highly-targeted coverage was invaluable for sales, because during the first year sales leads increased nearly 20% based mainly on PR alone.

After the matching advertising campaign began to roll out in first quarter 2002, the Company got more than 500 more leads directly from the ads. Plus, a Starch Report conducted by BusinessWeek showed that MAPICS' creative outscored all other ads in their class in all categories (noted, associates, read some, read most).

The messaging based on customer and focus group pain points really paid off.

The PR team was able to pick up more than 50 Case Studies from the user conference when they dressed like reporters. The contest brought in more than 80 Case Studies to choose from when pitching for coverage and trying to impress prospective customers.

Long is humble about these results. "The funny thing is none of it is rocket science or anything that's revolutionary. It's just applying the most effective marketing tools that have been around for a long time."

Useful links:


The Abovo Marketing Group

You may also find this past B2B MarketingBiz article useful: "How to Impress Industry Analysts at Gartner, Forrester, IDC, Jupiter & Others"
See Also:

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