Direct pitching doesn't always work, but there are other ways to get clients noticed.
Landing a spot on a publication's "Best of..." issue provides PR firepower few other media placements can match. While the company must meet criteria for consideration, the PR team can increase its chances with a variety of techniques.
For the past three years, national mortgage lender Quicken Loans has made Fortune's top 20 Best Places to Work list.
"Before submitting, be honest. If you don't have the culture, great writing skills are not enough," says Elizabeth Jones, VP of communications at Quicken, pointing out that two-thirds of Fortune's scoring is derived from anonymous employee surveys over which the PR team has no direct influence.
Quicken itemized numerous initiatives, such as staff training, a personal empowerment coach, tuition assistance/scholarships, spot bonuses, hand-signed birthday cards from the CEO, and more.
"You also must tie the investment in these programs to your ability to achieve business objectives," Jones adds. "And, it should be substantiated with hard data."
Tech advancements are also making it easier to provide digital material to support the main submission, as long as judges are receptive and they can be conveniently reviewed.
"We try to include video and digital images illustrating what a unique and fun place Quicken is to work," Jones says.
John Leger, news editor at The Wall Street Journal, is currently accepting nominations for the paper's prestigious Top 50 Women to Watch (due July 13) and Technology Innovation Awards (due June 1), and says he will consider relevant supporting material.
"I discourage people from sending anything by snail mail, as we have judges on three continents," Leger says. "And please don't ask for extensions. Deadlines are firm."
Leger encourages applicants to study past winners to see what judges look for. While the original applications are probably not available, most companies that win issue press releases that include valuable details.
"Explain things simply, clearly, and without a lot of tech jargon," he advises. "In looking over [past] winning applications, I'm struck by how so many of them are free of jargon."
Also, limit spin. "Some submissions include the most absurd, ridiculous claims," Leger says. "The judges see right through them."
In terms of tone, Leger says past accomplishments are good, but focusing on the person's or product's potential future impact often inspires more serious consideration.
Meanwhile, for those companies - especially smaller and younger businesses, b-to-b, and niche players - where a Fortune ranking isn't realistic, there are other options.
For instance, Verb Factory was able to secure a spot for client Sendio - an anti-spam technology vendor - in Government Computer News' Best of the Best December issue.
It's not the Journal, but "it is really powerful in terms of influencing decision-makers in our target audience of federal, state, and local government municipalities, military, as well as nonprofits," says Richard Berman, founder and principal of Verb Factory.
More firms today are offering some sort of expertise targeting rankings. Burson-Marsteller launched a dedicated program five years ago, tracking more than 100 media rankings, corporate scorecards, and "Best of..." type features, says Laura Ryan, corporate practice director at Burson.
"Today, we track over 250," she reports. "It's exploded along with the public's fascination with these rankings. But, the client needs to first know what it is truly strong at and then establish the business reasons for pursuing a ranking."
And even though a deadline may be far off, there's no time like now to start preparing.
"It can be a fairly intensive process preparing your submission package," says Quicken's Jones. "Gathering material throughout the year and setting it aside can save you an enormous amount of effort. It will likely yield a much better submission, too."
Provide data to validate assertions
Use plain language, as industry jargon turns off judges
Provide everything in digital format so it can be easily shared
Wait until the deadline. Gather material throughout the year
Seek an extension. A deadline is often firm
Make vague claims that cannot be substantiated