PR Technique Product Launches: B-to-B: when your product or service is aimed at a company

With business-to-business marketing all the rage, PR pros are asked to do more B-to-B product and service launches. Jane H. Bick discovers the practices surfacing as the most effective

With business-to-business marketing all the rage, PR pros are asked to do more B-to-B product and service launches. Jane H. Bick discovers the practices surfacing as the most effective

With business-to-business marketing all the rage, PR pros are asked

to do more B-to-B product and service launches. Jane H. Bick discovers

the practices surfacing as the most effective

These days, much of marketing, including e-commerce, has become focused

on the business-to-business arena. But the tricks of that PR trade are

not as well known as those on the consumer side. What are some clues to

doing B-to-B product and service launches?

One thing’s for sure: with today’s focus on the customer rather than the

product, pitches must stress solutions, not features.

’Whoever is out there first and shows how the product (or service)

solves problems, addresses needs or appeals

to different audiences will

capture the market,’ says Wendy Lavallee, president of

LNS Communications in Cambridge, MA. LNS recently helped Canadian

company JetForm Corp. launch, its online business forms


While there’s no single model for a business-to-business launch, PR pros

rank media high to provide third-party validation. Other common elements

include industry analysts, speaking opportunities for experts and

customer testimonials with proof points about benefits rather than

features. Experts say that large trade shows, which were a common venue

for new product launches just five years ago, are now shunned by many.

Instead, these pros say to talk to industry press when they’re hungry

for news, four weeks before or one week after a show.

But the first and primary audience should be internal - the board,

investors, management and employees, as well as sales and marketing,

says Brenda Shawley, co-founder of Baltimore-based Strategix, which

specializes in healthcare and hi-tech launches. Before targeting buyers

or media, Shawley insists on ’internal champions’ who can act as

’ambassadors’ with consistent messages to external audiences. When

Strategix was brought on to help promote a new wound-care product, it

targeted first the internal audiences, then vertical media, then

purchasing prospects and finally, potential customers using other

companies’ products.

Sterling Communications in San Jose, CA, used a concentrated media

strategy to reposition a bricks-and-mortar company as a new dot-com. The

agency focused on technology analysts and media to introduce, reborn from Dove Brothers,

a 63-year-old, dollars 5 billion

family auction business. wants to be the clearinghouse for

companies to dispose of idle assets and the place for others to find the

widest variety of capital assets.

While there’s often pressure to get things out quickly, it took Best

Manufacturing nearly four years to pull public relations into its

marketing mix after product advertising failed to reap huge sales of its

gloves using Nitrile technology, an alternative to latex that is also

puncture and chemical resistant.

In 1996, Best hired Fletcher Martin Public Relations in Atlanta to

develop an integrated PR plan targeting both medical and chemical

end-users and purchasing agents. Media relations yielded dozens of

bylined articles and features about latex allergies and the gloves’

Nitrile technology.

It also positioned Best as a pioneer and the company experts as credible

resources for media, customers and distributors.

Neil Myers, president of Connect PR in San Francisco, recently helped

launch a B-to-B e-commerce ’framework’ company, called Core-Commerce,

that aids businesses in getting their web sites up quickly by providing

an all-in-one software package. Launching an emerging technology with no

market history requires ’education rather than persuasion - and

absolutely no spin,’ Myers says.

That education can include a different kind of media kit with ’30, 40 or

100 pages in a sectioned three-ring binder with dividers. It’s more an

encyclopedia than a press kit,’ Myers says.

The strategic questions he asks apply to many sectors: ’What’s driving

the need for this new market; who cares about it and why; and how big

will it be and how fast will it grow? If we can’t answer these

questions, industry analysts and media aren’t interested,’ he says. In

CoreCommerce’s case, what drives its market is the need for speed in

e-commerce. Industry analysts predict the online market will be about

dollars 50 billion in five years.

Who are its customers? Enterprise-level, global firms.

Another important strategy is to make sure journalists and other

audiences view a company as experts in a field. By positioning experts

with proprietary information, Manning Selvage & Lee relaunched Cushman &

Wakefield, a real estate company, to broaden its brand identity from

broker to asset management.

Jan Lewin, MS&L senior vice president, says her firm finds ’a discreet

area of expertise and then associates that proprietary information with

a client principal who will speak, talk and write about the topic.

People begin to associate the expertise with the firm name.’

Relationships and credibility are the primary tools to launch

intellectual capital in a management consulting firm, says Patrick

Pollino, vice president of marketing and

communications for Mercer Management Consulting in Lexington, MA.

Pollino rolled out four books in four years and calls them the linchpin

for his marketing communications. Forbes titled its 1999 annual

executive women’s summit ’Profit Patterns’ after his fourth book, with

the lead author as keynoter. Once viewed as a ’brazen upstart,’ Mercer

is now ranked by Consultants News among the top five strategy consulting

firms. Ideally, a well-planned and orchestrated launch will separate

industry leaders from the also-rans.

As LNS’ Lavalee says, there’s no substitute for strategic positioning

that builds credible third-party validation from customers, media and

industry people.



1 Start with a business plan that has a clear vision and revenue


2 Research your markets and your competition.

3 Develop a launch plan with mutually agreed-upon, short- and long-term


4 Build internal buy-in at every level of the company.

5 Designate and train credible spokespeople as experts.


1 Make assumptions about target audiences without research. Your

perceptions may not reflect reality.

2 Talk about features instead of benefits. People want to know how the

bells and whistles solve problems or address needs.

3 Sacrifice consistency with too many messages in too many voices. Focus

on one clear concept.

4 Neglect relationships. The Internet is great but ultimately promoting

products and services is a people business.

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