Though the climate for tech stories has improved dramatically since the dot-com slump, reporters are still a bit leery of touting the next great thing.
So when GuruNet, which had achieved success as a subscription-based web resource for answers to questions, decided to launch a new ad-supported free service, Answers.com, it realized it needed a fresh approach to media outreach.
GuruNet turned to RLM Public Relations only days before the formal launch of Answers.com.
"We wanted to get a third party to do a sanity check for us throughout the launch, someone who could take a critical look at what we were boasting and say, 'You know, there's a better way to say this,'" says Jay Bailey, GuruNet's director of communications.
Given the huge focus on search engines these days, RLM knew it wouldn't have to spend much time educating reporters. "But we figured that reporters were going to say, 'We have Google. Why do we need another search engine?'" explains RLM CEO Richard Laermer. "Our goal was to get people to realize how Answers.com was different."
RLM decided to target the handful of key journalists who drove much of the overall coverage and get them to try Answers. com. "We avoided the hard sell and instead set up a series of very casual meetings with reporters, just to get them to think about story angles for the future," Laermer explains.
GuruNet is based in Israel, so it faced a small challenge in trying to oversee what essentially was a North American campaign from overseas. But unlike a lot of start-ups, it did have an established track record.
"We have a real company with real revenues," says Bailey. "We wanted to use that to get people's attention. RLM really helped us by coming up with the term 'answer-based search engine,' which became a differentiator for us."
RLM worked with Bailey on creating a media kit and then spent most of the first few weeks after the launch setting up reporter meetings for CEO Bob Rosenschein in New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. "One of the first places we went to was Power Lunch on CNBC," says Laermer. "We knew they would dig this because they could show the b-to-b world how incredible it was to have a place to go to actually get answers."
All along, the focus was on getting journalists to try the website. "The reporters just went nuts, not because they wanted to do stories about it, but because they wanted to use it," Laermer says.
Even those meetings that did not produce immediate coverage laid the groundwork for stories when GuruNet later rolled out a version for cell phones and announced a deal with Google to send all consumer requests for definitions to Answers.com.
The combination of targeted outreach and a great product triggered a flurry of positive stories about Answers.com. In addition to heavyweights such as The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, which called it "the best innovation in years," Answers. com was covered by PC Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and dozens of other outlets.
The glowing media reviews not only drove up the visitor rate to Answers.com by 1,000% from March to April alone, but GuruNet's stock price rose by 20% after the Forbes article appeared.
RLM is still retained by GuruNet and recently began to target new audiences, such as education writers.
"We've been really pleased with RLM's work," says Bailey. "They're creative, aggressive, and non-jaded. We know they're not just going to use the same routines. For the first time in five years or so, we're really comfortable with our positioning."
PR team: GuruNet (Jerusalem) and RLM Public Relations (New York)
Time frame: January to April 2005