Skype PR WakeUp Call II: The Solution

This is the second of three posts discussing Skype’s PR management with the aim of improving the PR relationships associated with the launch of new Skype software and associated services. In the first post I outlined the problem; in this second post I am proposing a proven solution; in the third post I want to review the Skype 3.0 beta release activity with respect to the proposed solution.

Drawing from my management experience over the past couple of decades involving business public relations activities, from both a marketing and investor communications perspective, I think Skype can enhance both its market awareness and usage leveraging the enthusiasm, interests and various perspectives bloggers have the power to introduce into the market. I have had employers who tried to ignore the need for PR (and dealt with the fallout) and others who were viewed as overly aggressive in their PR activities. But the one constant, both prior to and following the Internet’s evolution as a business communications medium is that PR is about building relationships — not only with your customers and users but also with those who have the potential to propagate the message, whether through traditional media or web-based media, such as blogging.

First three general comments:

  • In the pre-Internet days, for every major software product launch at one of my previous employers, we sent out a team of product managers, executives and PR personnel to conduct individual press interviews. This took significant resources out of the office for up to two weeks. And then we had the overhead of delivering and supporting pre-release software prior to the launch such that reporters could write up their impressions based on actual experience. With VoIP and Internet-based real time communications, software distribution and feedback tools all such costs and overhead effectively go away.
  • The Internet has redefined the meaning of beta software. Pre-Internet times found software publishers sending out pre-release software, usually under NDA, to trusted customers and influencers with bug reports coming in via BBS’s, cc:Mail or other proprietary e-mail systems or even phone calls and faxes. Netscape was the first to change the paradigm; they simply made their beta software available via the Internet along with taking Internet-based feedback. By the time there was a gold release, the product’s feature set was well known across both the user base and the media. But this also meant that new features effectively were introduced at the time of the first public beta release rather than when product was formally released. Eleven years later I can confess now that Netscape’s ability to handle beta trials in this algorithm was a major impediment to my employer’s ability to gain market awareness, share and leadership with a web browser where we had used the “old” closed garden beta distribution model. From a PR perspective, issuance of a public beta release is now the time that major new features will be initially reviewed and discussed in the media; this becomes the critical control point that needs to be managed. Once a feature is out in the public, it’s out and open for discussion.
  • Skype shares one audience with which I readily identify from a previous software publisher employer. Skype has been readily adopted by the developer community in that it provides tools and opportunities for innovation through both its feature set and API’s. This is an audience that thrives on every minute detail; often ignoring that there is actually a business to be operated based on the product but at the same time offering innovative ideas for product enhancement and improvement. They can readily drive business and viral adoption through their network of employers, contacts and friends. They have a raw enthusiasm that inspires but at the same time can frustrate the business manager.

Since I have become involved in blogging for Skype Journal, I have also had the good fortune to build a network of contacts both within the VoIP space and beyond. Amongst these the benchmark for handling public relations in the blogger world is Andy Abramson, author of VoIP Watch, at Communicano, Inc. Andy (who will not blog about his own clients’ product announcements) has a process and protocol that develops knowledgeable, informed bloggers such that stories about his clients tend to follow a consistent message, yet allows for individual commentary and perspective. His team, using his process, is responsible for the success you can see with activities involving SightSpeed, TalkPlus and, yesterday, PhoneGnome 2.0. But the approach is pretty simple and builds strong blogger relationships, yet is relatively low cost for the publicity generated.

Here is the approach:

  1. Develop a primary message for the announcement/press release: in the traditional PR sense of one primary message supported by four to six secondary messages.
  2. Develop a network of blogger contacts (for the VoIP space there are three references: VoIP News: “The Daily Show – VoIP Bloggers, Pundits and Thought Leaders”; Garrett Smith’s and Luca Filigheddu’s rankings of VoIP bloggers referenced here).
  3. About a week prior to the announcement/press release, contact these bloggers to set up interviews (under a press embargo) with senior executives.
  4. Conduct the interviews over the week, ensuring that both the message is communicated and answering questions that arise out of communicating the message.
  5. If feasible, provide trial access to the product or service such that bloggers can build their own experiences with the product into their launch story.

On release day sit back and watch the results; as a software publisher, your conversations with the press and public will be at an elevated level discussing the potential implications and user benefits of the announcement instead of dealing with mundane background details behind the announcement and erroneous, but well intentioned, reporting.

Skype 3.0.Beta release: an analysis and commentary in the follow up post in this series.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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