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BMI: Tuesday Marketing Notes (Number 192—September 22nd, 2009)



Applying the "Coattails Effect" to Public Relations:
Two Heads Are Often More Credible Than One

by Ford Kanzler

When big and small fish swim together, it can benefit both. Cooperating on public relations efforts often gains greater media attention and increased credibility for your stories.

One of the more interesting things about what I refer to as the "coattail effect," is working jointly can benefit large companies working with small ones as well as the other way around. It’s not only about smaller benefiting from larger partners. Dare I apply the buzzwords synergy or win-win? Cooperating in a public relations environment can provide a powerful boost to communications effectiveness because two aligned companies can generate greater market credibility among their audiences or networks. Some of the best examples are trade consortiums. Those can be tough to create and manage. Here are some simpler examples from the tech arena.

Giant Hitachi Semiconductor was perennially seeking innovative users of their chips to demonstrate the company's advanced memory circuit process, particularly in industrial product applications. Along came a clever customer in the form of Win Systems, Arlington, Texas. Win had designed a compact, single-board computer for use in harsh environments using Hitachi's chips almost exclusively. It was an industry first with particular appeal among industrial control systems designers. Hitachi's sales and marketing team dedicated funds and some of their PR agency’s time to help Win Systems promote its new, Hitachi-based industrial computer. Both companies benefited from the substantial trade media coverage. Sales surged for both players.

Microtec Research, Santa Clara, CA was a small independent engineering software firm. With their agency's help, the company planned an informal gathering of executives from two other firms with whom it cooperatively markets. The event was scheduled during the Embedded Systems Conference in Santa Clara. This show draws trade editors important to Microtec from around the world. Working many weeks in advance of the conference, Microtec lined up an Intel executive and a vice president from a third company that distributes Microtec's products. The agency offered out-of-town editors visiting the conference an opportunity to meet in a relaxed classy environment, the Tony Bennett room of the Fior D'Italia in San Francisco’s North Beach, the oldest Italian restaurant in town. Editors were picked up by limos outside the convention center and whisked by a scenic route to the restaurant where they were met by the three companies' execs. After three hours of old San Francisco ambiance, wonderful food and easy-going business conversation, but no sales pitches, the editors were chauffeured to their hotels. The result was Microtec Research gained substantial share of mind with key editors. A contributed feature article to an important publication later resulted from the contact. For several years editors asked when another such event would be planned. By inviting the other two companies, Microtec Research greatly broadened the editorial appeal. By involving a much larger company, Intel, Microtec demonstrated its strong relationships with industry leaders, gaining greater credibility in the process.

Creating Opportunities

Is your company or client licensing its technology to major industry heavyweights? If so, attempt to get the sales and marketing people to see the publicity advantage of jointly announcing the relationship. There's mileage and valuable coverage to be gained by working together. The licensee gets to tell the world about how smart it is by applying new technology to its future products. It gains industry attention and sends a clear signal to the market that it will soon be making products with distinct advantages. This approach should not be confused with a product announcement. The licensee company may not want to reveal its product plans. That can still work for both players. The agreement can allude to next-generation products without giving away the specific unique benefits or blowing future news value.

Having trouble getting an editor to accept a contributed article? Try getting your company to co-author the story with another firm that’s using your products. The merged reputations will likely push the idea over the top with the editor. The merged budgets may also give you more mileage in demonstrating your company's expertise and enhancing its reputation.

Is your client planning to go to a trade show or industry event but lacking substantive news? Try teaming up with another company, not a competitor, but one in the same or related market. A few years ago, two of my clients were planning to attend a major computer trade show. Both were a bit thin on news, so our agency teamed them up to deliver a joint executive press briefing on an important technical subject of industry-wide aimed at media attending the show. The briefing drew nearly double the expected editorial turnout. Several sought-after interviews resulted and both companies being seen as expert, available resources on this important topic. Better still, public relations created an opportunity for the companies to communicate directly with a large number of key influencers, building awareness and credibility. Both clients were happy about the event and the agency was a hero for at least a week following the show. If it had been a single-company attempt, the results wouldn’t have even come close.

Software vendors are in a great position to help themselves as well as large hardware vendors at the time of a new computer system introduction. IBM or HP has a new computer. Great! What does it do? Here comes an army of smaller companies selling software that can promote themselves in cooperation with the hardware announcement. The coattail effect helps both hard- and software marketing efforts. Does your company make or sell something that improves another firm's products? Find one and you've got a potential public relations ally.

The tech industry is continuously seeking the holy grail of new standards. Involvement in standards-setting committees may be the work of engineers and engineering managers, but its fertile ground for cooperative public relations as well. Standards-setting efforts often need sponsorship. Event hosting or a spokesperson to inform the market of progress or examples of that. There have been many successful PR campaigns built around trade association sponsorship and standards setting. It's a matter of seizing the opportunity and running with it. Companies that do it effectively are seen as visionary technology leaders. Their reputations grow.

Culture Clash

Words of warning: When planning joint promotional efforts, it's wise to put one company in the lead and have others follow. Rarely can two companies work effectively if they are given equal roles. Like people, some companies are able to decide and act faster than others. One may have lengthy planning or approval processes for every tactical item. Others tell their public relations pros to "just do it." With one company in the lead you will reduce the possibility for pacing problems, power struggles and cooperative breakdowns.

Think Co-Op

Almost any tactical idea may incorporate a cooperative approach. I'm not suggesting you try cooperating with other companies or organizations on everything. Sometimes it's best and almost always faster, to go it alone. However, when the budget is thin, when awareness or credibility for your client or company is low, think about getting together with another organization to make the idea fly. Sports marketing and co-op consumer promotions have recognized this strategy for years. Co-op advertising and co-promotions are a huge part of many corporate communications programs. Make your public relations dollars go further and more effectively by employing the coattails effect.

Ford—is managing partner at Marketing/PR Savvy in El Granada, CA, a technology-focused public relations firm in El Granada, CA that looks for opportunities to team companies for mutual benefit.

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