Why Journalists Hate Product Launches (and What You Can Do About It)
There’s really only one thing I dreaded when leaving journalism for a role in communications at a software company. I knew my new title would mean I would be responsible for communicating product launches.
In my former life, product launches came with the worst of story pitches: Hyperbole, jargon, little context, and the pushiest of PR people. And they came often. Most of the fast-growing companies I covered made regular significant improvements to their software.
My refrain was often the same. We don’t typically cover product launches. Or, we already wrote about your company when you announced X. Or, is there any other news you can share along with this bit?
The responses from journalists are even trickier today. From national reporters, I hear our news must be unique or interesting enough for those folks to pass up a piece on Uber, Amazon or Facebook that’s sure to drive site traffic and social media chatter.
Business industry press is most keen on the latest technology trends. If you’re not innovating in AI, blockchain, drones and autonomous vehicles, virtual reality or gene editing, forget about it.
Among local reporters, interest is mostly in job creation, office space, and funding news, the things that bring prestige or growth to our local community. Gone are the days when readers turn to local business press for help running their companies or improving their products and services.
Why Should Product People Care?
This is not just your PR person’s problem. Media matters. And a well-reported, in-depth story in a national publication can catapult your brand or product in ways word-of-mouth, advertising, email, and industry events simply can’t.
Media matters because it’s how potential customers learn about your work. It validates your company as a place top prospects want to work. It puts you on the radar of investors—more funding can mean more resources to invest in product improvements or new features.
Media attention also instills pride among the team—both those involved in product and the employees selling, marketing or handling operations for the company. And, as a side benefit, a good journalist can explain your product in a way your parents or grandparents can understand.
Did I mention that it’s free?
Getting Creative with Product Pitches
Now that I’m the one crafting pitches, I see the great stories I may have missed with my canned responses to “another product launch.” But I also know how creative we all must be to get attention in an increasingly noisy and click-driven media environment.
A good communications team works in collaboration with those in product to understand the context and nuances of each product announcement. Here are some things you can do to help your comms team be more successful pitching the press:
Explain the Magnitude
Product improvements and launches can feel incremental to someone not embedded in that work every day. Help the team understand the significance of your work, how a new feature, integration, or bug fix opens opportunity for your customer base or prospects.
Share Your Process
How did you come to this conclusion? What sort of research and customer feedback did you gather? What mistakes did you make as you tested and iterated, and how did those lead to better outcomes? Perhaps a good media pitch comes from the a-ha moments you had along the way to launch.
Explain the roadmap
Maybe the product launch that’s top of mind for you could be a better story if combined with other features or improvements you’re planning. Perhaps the better story comes when a product is out in the market for awhile, with more data and anecdotes to share.
Share Compelling Customer Stories
Help them understand specific problems you’re solving with the product and how that impacts customers’ broader business objectives. The communicators on your team should be able to relate those stories to a larger macro-trend or a human interest angle with appeal for a broader audience.
Lose the Jargon
This is one of the biggest barriers between software companies and reporters. We’re so embedded in our work that we struggle to discern between industry and common knowledge. A good exercise (recently used by our own PR firm) is to challenge your team members to explain the product so a 12-year-old would understand.
See Yourself in Print
A journalist may end up writing a story that has nothing at all to do with the product you’re launching—their work is largely subjective and increasingly time-sensitive. But your greatest chance of capturing attention is to get to the point, make it interesting, and cut out any terms or phrases you wouldn’t use with your grandma.