How to Land Your Brand on “Center Stage”

Dennis McCafferty
McCafferty: “Instead of proclaiming your clients as the best, use examples that support it. Spell out in indisputable terms what they’ve done to earn it.”

(This is the second of a two-part blog about creating brand distinction. If you like this blog, please share it. Thanks!)

In Part I of this blog, I extended kudos to Security Experts founder Winn Schwartau, who stirred much discussion with a controversial recent column on the RSA Conference. Aside from citing the inappropriateness of the presence of “booth babes” at these events, Schwartau called out marketers for failing to come up with substantive messaging that offers something beyond the empty proclamations that their client is “the leader in (insert technology here).”

He had lots of other choice words to describe a general lack of marketing savvy on the part of companies there, all contributing to a sea of “useless and meaningless marketing triteness.”

In overseeing all of the marketing content that our high-tech PR firm produces, I’ve presented the same line of thinking – in “kinder, gentler” manner, I’d like to think – as we seek to generate impactful messaging for our clients. Whether you’re attempting to land your clients on “center stage” on the convention floor or establish a winning connection to a swamped editor, the following practices will make a difference:

Show don’t tell. Too often, PR/communications professionals simply slap a label to the effect of “foremost expert” or “dominant provider of (insert product here)” in describing a client. As the saying goes, it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it. But the problem with these labels is that they’re all “show” and no “tell.” Instead of proclaiming your clients as the best, use examples that support it. Spell out in indisputable terms what they’ve done to earn it. (Market share? Sales growth? Awards? Industry press polls?)

After Part I of this blog ran last week, Schwartau and I went back and forth via email after I sent to him a courtesy heads-up that the blog was posted. Ironically, after I had written my “show don’t tell” takeaway in the paragraph above, he sent to me the very same bit of advice for marketing professionals/tech execs. (I doubt, however, that he was ever employed by the same newspaper editor who taught me this years ago.)  Schwartau added this: You have to wrap it all up in a nice, concise elevator speech. “If you can’t say it in 20 seconds, then you don’t know your own prod/service/pitch,” he wrote to me. I couldn’t agree more.

Command immediate attention. In staying with the elevator-speech theme, Schwartau contends that he should be able to stand in front of an RSA booth and “get it” in less than 30 seconds. “If you cannot create a sign, a headline, an architectural diagram or a few bullets that are real-world, operational and informative, then fire your marketing crew en masse,” he writes.

Well, that’s a bit harsh. But he has a point. I wholeheartedly agree that falling short here amounts to a failed messaging opportunity. The same goes for press pitches and/or releases. Check out the abundance of bad heads/subject headers out there. In calling up technology-company releases on a recent day and reading only the headlines, I found these gems, all posted within a single afternoon:

  • A technology company signed a new agreement. (So what? Tell me in the header and deck what the agreement was about and why it mattered.)
  • Endless releases stating that the organization had just appointed a new CTO or CMO or CFO or COO … If only the header made it clear as to why this management move adds any value. Give us a tiny nugget that hints as to the executive’s accomplishments and/or vision.
  • Inexplicably, headers that strain to be provocative by intentionally saying nothing. (One stated “Proceeding with Caution” and nothing more, without a hint of what industry was involved or otherwise what the heck the header was talking about.) I “get” the strategy here, that this is intended to be an intriguing tease to get the targeted recipient to open it up. But within the context of today’s realities – relentless inbox/information overload – you can’t expect audiences to devote that kind of attention to your standalone release/pitch. (For that pitch, I would have included more telling information. In the case of a tech company, for example, I’d write “Three Reasons Why Leading Enterprises are Proceeding with Caution to the Cloud.” Or something to that effect.)

Focus on what you do. In the end, technology – as well as any other industry – is defined by its products and solutions. Seek to demystify instead of weaving in “smoke and mirrors” language and pure twaddle in attempting to make a solution sound mysterious. Describe in concrete, compelling terms what it can do to benefit the intended audience, with “real” customer stories and convincing metrics. As Schwartau writes, “The marketing folks exhibiting at the RSA Conference are doing their companies and RSA Conference visitors a horrendous disservice by not telling us what they do. Please, serious geek companies, tell me about your tech and please stop allowing your marketing and PR folks to convince you that triteness is attractive to other geeks. It’s offensive.”

Offensive? Well, more so for the client, who’s paying darn good money and deserves better PR/communications content and messaging than this. If you feel your products and services deserves more, than please contact us. Because that is what we do.


Dennis McCafferty is Director of Content for W2 Communications.