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Smallbiz

smallbiz/mar10/25″/mike1st/mark2nd

RACHEL McCALLISTER AND

ALLISON THOMAS

Second installment in a series of four articles.

Last week, we outlined the elements of a P.R. plan and created a fictional company, Blue Streak. Now we’ll follow Blue Streak’s progress to see how a plan is turned into reality.

This article will focus on the launch of Blue Streak to the widget industry and retailers. Blue Streak was founded by Tom Jones to manufacture and market blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets.

Jones is a well-regarded 10-year widget veteran, who believes his creation will rejuvenate an industry that has had no innovations for a decade. Jones wants to introduce widgets to a younger generation.

Tom has decided to launch his company now, and have products rolling out to consumers in the next three months. When we last left Jones, he had developed a set of core messages he wanted to communicate after conducting a mini-audit of key industry influencers.

He has a clear market opportunity for his blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets, called “Blue Streaks,” because they can be economically manufactured, embossed with a company or product logo, and be used safely and easily by consumers.

The applications range from “concert matches” to neon Botts Dots, the raised lane-dividers found on California freeways.

Tom has already secured his first two customers, MTV and CalTrans. He’ll need their permission, but will want to use them to give credibility to his message.

Jones is now ready to create a press presentation and prepare press materials. His presentation should consist of 15 minutes of background on himself, his company and his product, culminating in a demonstration of the product itself.

Jones’ P.R. agency will coach him on techniques for speaking to the media and help him focus his pitch by preparing a key message or talking points. In addition, Jones will prepare a video of his products in action to bring along with the sample product.

The press kit for Blue Streak will include a news release announcing the company, its products and first customers; a company profile with biographies of his senior executives; a technology brief explaining why Blue Streaks are able to glow in the dark under stressful situations; a sample Blue Streak; slides of the product and slides or black-and-white glossy photos of key executives.

The news release is the most critical document about a new company. It needs to clearly state the news, without hype, in a specific format that enables the reporter to grasp the essentials after reading the first paragraph. This paragraph needs to cover the famous five Ws: who, what, when, why, where.

In Blue Streak’s case, the lead paragraph of the news release is: “LOS ANGELES, April 7, 1997 Blue Streak, a company founded by industry veteran Tom Jones to create new and innovative uses for widgets, today revealed its blue, glow-in-the-dark widget technology and announced its first two customers, MTV and CalTrans.”

The news release will include additional information about the company, its product, how customers will benefit from it and some quotes from Jones, MTV and CalTrans.

With the materials prepared, Jones is now ready to get his message out. Jones and his P.R. agency want Blue Streak launched to the industry in time for an important Widget World trade show. Jones is advised to go on a press tour to meet with key journalists and industry analysts two to three weeks prior to the show.

The meetings will be scheduled under embargo, which means that journalists agree to hold the information until the release date, in order to secure coverage timed to hit the week before the trade show. Face-to-face meetings are important so that Jones can establish relationships that will help him as the company grows and so that he can demonstrate his Blue Streaks.

In determining the schedule of interviews and meetings, a list of media and business analysts is prepared. For every industry, there exists a group of opinion leaders that can “bless” a new company or product. These key influencers can be veteran journalists with a key publication, research or financial analysts that publish newsletters, or industry gadflies.

Jones developed a list based on his own network and his P.R. agency’s knowledge of the industry. These meetings are scheduled first so that with their permission, analysts’ names can be given to other trade and business press to be quoted on the viability of the company and its product.

Initial response is fabulous. With key endorsements, Jones prepares to meet with the trade and business press to publicly launch his company and product. He flies to New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles to meet with publications such as Widget News Daily, Neon WEEK, Retailer Merchandising, Concert Product Report and Highway Safety News.

Last on his meeting list are the daily business press who operate on the shortest lead time. There are a few publications that feel it is premature to cover Blue Streak until the product is in use. Jones promises to keep in touch.

Blue Streak’s launch is a success. Lengthy articles run in all the major trade journals, including a few front-page stories, the week before Widget World. Blue Streak’s telephones start ringing with potential customers and, before Jones knows it, he has a full schedule of customer meetings for the show.

Jones’ next task will be to launch the company to consumers.

Allison Thomas and Rachel McCallister are partners in KillerApp Communications LLC, a public relations agency for the interactive entertainment and online services industry.

Small Business is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact Dan Rabinovitch at (213) 743-2344 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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