When you have plowed so much effort into the creation of a customer reference for the media (a press release or case study, I’m talking about here) and it crashes and burns, its heart-breaking, right? When you hoped to get five telephone interviews with some great journalists and you actually got 20 replications of your press release on google, it gives you that sinking feeling. If you’re paying a PR agency, it is a costly waste too!
How and why can journalists be so quick to dismiss the story? You sold an ICT solution, product, service, etc. The customer is willing to endorse the results. Maybe you pulled in a few other endorsements. The press release is pretty good. You trust your agency to pitch it properly, and still it doesn’t get any interest? What’s the problem? What can the journalists see (or not see) that you can’t?
Take a look at local government, as an example; there are 400 or so local councils in England. They strive to provide similar functions for their local communities (so their problems are the same). They’re all governed by the same rules and legislation (so challenges are the same). Suppliers are finite (particularly in healthcare where until recently it has been dominated by just 3-4 under the NPfIT). Technology tends to flow down the channel from a finite number of proven, trusted vendors (IBM, BT, CSC, etc.). Journalists receive loads of press releases, 50-60 average per day, maybe up to 200 per day. It’s really not difficult to see how the public sector related press releases that journalists receive each day could be similar.
If you’re selling ICT to the public sector, ask yourself, is my story firstly innovative (honestly?) and/or a big financial investment by the customer?
When it comes to public sector stories, this is really important. If Derek Du Preez from Computing or Mr Flood at PublicTechnology.net writes about use of xyz software (which costs less than 30k to install) every time it is deployed at a local council, it would make for a pretty boring read. You can dress up these sorts of releases – perhaps throw in some savings and quantifiable benefits – but good journalists (like the chaps above) will spot copy-cat stories immediately.
Is there a way around it?
- Firstly, don’t throw the towel in, just re-set your expectations slightly (front page FT isn’t going to be possible this time);
- Second, try bundling references. Here’s a good example, Guardian GC recently wrote about Merton, Nottinghamshire and Bury councils all using smart cards for social care recipients to pay for services under the personalised budget agenda. This story covers three councils doing the same thing, for the same purpose and using the same solution. This is not a shared service. The supplier has cleverly bundled the stories to make it slightly more interesting and make the perceived value greater;
- Third, try to wrap your story up in larger project run by the council, perhaps your story is a much smaller part of the overall ICT overhaul – it could make for a more interesting read.
The same rule will still apply though, is Mark Say going to write about another council doing the same thing with smart cards next week, I don’t think so.
When it comes to public sector ICT, genuine innovation and high deal value cut the mustard. Thoughts?