Today's media kit embodies best foot forward thinking. A well done media kit is a keeper. It doesn't get thrown away after initial perusal. Its contents prompt the recipient to take action: Write a news story; report the development to subscribers; trumpet the breakthrough in a blog; place an order. To achieve keeper status, media kits need professional creative marketing energy to develop the content and design.
A very basic media kit consists of two items: a press release and a company backgrounder. However, basic doesn't take you far. A basic kit becomes great when it is conceived creatively as a strategic tool designed to grab the attention of a well defined audience. In this case, the audience includes reporters, editors and market analysts. Your media kit needs to be a keeper.
Too often, start-ups and small firms delay kit creation until the product or service is go-to-market ready. The kit becomes an afterthought. Its hasty creation fails to excite the media. Management wonders what went wrong.
Allow me to present a little story based on reality that will help you understand what "wrong" looks like. You are a fly on the wall in the media room of a major business convention. You observe the following scenario, over and over.
Is your company's kit in the trash can or the journalist's backpack?
- An experienced journalist enters the cramped media room after presenting credentials at the door, and then finds a seat at an open table.
- Scanning the room, the journalist takes note of more than 100 stacks of media kits placed on tables around the room's perimeter. These kits contain new product announcements, business news and background information. Several kits might actually contain important news that the journalist needs to know to do the job.
- After getting refreshments from the food table, the journalist begins walking the perimeter, picking up and peeking inside selected media kits. The journalist returns to the table with 10 or 15 kits.
- Looking around the room, the journalist finds an empty trash can and carries it to the table.
- For the next 10 minutes, the journalist quickly reviews each kit, throwing most into the trash can. At the end of the review, the paper remaining on the table is but a fraction of the paper in the trash can. However, one or two kits remain on the table.
- Our journalist returns to the stacks, selects another batch, and repeats the process until all the stacks have been considered. Total time in the press room: about an hour. Total takeaway by the journalist: about a half pound of paper, perhaps one or two complete media kits. Total weight of trash can: about 30 pounds.
If you created the media kit correctly, the backpack is more likely.
Ask why this is important. A keeper media kit earns its status through creative market thinking. Start-ups and small firms can learn a lot from leaders. Here's an example. The press invitation (pictured) for a Hewlett-Packard media event helped make the kit one of the most memorable because it embodied the legacy of the industry, claiming, "History is about to made... again." Journalists aware of HP's storied role were instantly curious because this company rarely hyped its messages.
The invitation's image of the actual Palo Alto garage where Hewlett and Packard started the company -- a garage that many call the birthplace of Silicon Valley -- creatively strengthened the legacy metaphor. And the visual was amplified by the message, "Rarely do you get a second chance to visit The Garage... for the first time!" The kit's actual contents supported the invitation with structured, creatively written background and foreground material. This carefully constructed information helped journalists and analysts prepare for the media event to which they were being invited.
Step 1 is the creation of an overarching strategic metaphor that claims mental space supported by offers of proof. Let me put it another way: Step 1 begins by asking "why is this important?" If not important, a media kit could be a waste of time and money. Leading companies hate waste. Here's how leaders like HP arrive at strong metaphors, and you can emulate this process on a small scale even when your news is far less significant.
- Assemble a cross functional internal team whose members have track records with the company. Companies ranging from start-ups with two engineers to F500 can do this.
- Bring in intrepid outside opinion leaders who have no stake in the company. (It may be necessary to have them sign nondisclosure agreements.)
- Bring in key marketing experts, either from track record agencies or noted solo practitioners that you find on Craigslist. (Seek out active retirees with strong portfolios in your market.)
- Lock the door but feed the team. You can even do this "virtually" using e-conference technology on the Internet (such as WebEx or even free conferencing services).
- The mission is to reach "high and wide" on positioning for the media kit, to put the firm's best foot forward.
- The process can be journalistic (e.g., who, what, why, where, when and how) or Delphi-like, where team members critique each other's ideas until a comfortable consensus is reached.
- The output is a strategic plan in outline form, complete with initial metaphorical language and a distribution plan.
Let's get real about this. Most media kits do not carve out the wide swath claimed in the HP example. Media kits for the launch of a significant new product will have a narrower focus. However, the process remains valid even if the message is not giant sized. If a media kit is worth doing at all, it should benefit from this process or something akin to it. Staying real, you may decide that you need a marketing pro to guide you. Step 1A is needed to "find a pro" who will manage the creation of the kit, which begins in Step Two.
Have a creative design. Media kits are typically used for information distribution ranging from mundane to exciting. "Corporate background" information often fits the mundane category, exemplified by a kit containing, at minimum, a corporate history timeline with narrative, bios and photos of key executives, maybe a product line card and a copy of the last company newsletter. Yawn. Now we know what goes into that trash can in the press room. Why bother with paper when all of this information is readily available at the company Web site?
But even "pro forma" kinds of media kits need not be mundane. Looking back at Step 1, the most vanilla firm can find exciting messages, or develop creative ways to tell the story. Maybe the executives are a colorful group even when the products are ho hum (but important) commodities. A creative approach might be a media video (DVD) in addition to a kit offering well done messages. The colorful executives become animated presenters, turning vanilla to entertaining Neapolitan. A label on the cover might proclaim "CEO reveals secrets of commodity success (DVD inside)." A marketing or PR pro can help companies find the spin.
When the message is not ho hum, creativity can steal the show. Here's an actual example. A six-person start-up wanted to launch its first product following a year's development in "stealth" mode. No one knew about the firm, and the secret product was considered a breakthrough by its inventors and the single venture capitalist financing the outfit. But was it? If true, a breakthrough product deserved both a great media kit and an excellent media plan. Using the process of Step 1, the company:
- Retained a track record marketing agency.
- The agency brought in an industry-leading editor (an active retiree) to evaluate the breakthrough, after securing a nondisclosure agreement
- On confirmation that the product was indeed a breakthrough, the agency secured an "exclusive" journalistic deal that included the cover and a five page article in the industry's leading magazine.
- The agency created and then executed a novel media plan.
What does this have to do with the media kit? Everything. The breakthrough in question was the world's first analog memory chip, an integrated circuit that stored actual human voice and played it back (think MP3 players like today's iPod). Here was a product that could speak for itself. The chip was built into a silver dollar size demonstrator, and this became the talking media kit! It was backed by an actual paper kit stuffed with creatively-prepared key information such as the following:
- Strategic news release announcing and positioning the breakthrough.
- Product news release detailing the family of chips, their price and availability.
- Technical Q&A about analog storage.
- Applications glossary about analog storage.
- Technical backgrounder on the scientific principles of nonvolatile analog memory.
- Application backgrounder on a simple voice message system using analog memory.
- System backgrounder on architectural concepts for developing new products.
- Information on the creative and executive company team.
- High quality photos of the new chip and its circuit diagram.
- Photos of each key team member responsible for the breakthrough.
Step two is thus to design the contents of the media kit in full support of the plan developed in Step 1. The foregoing example gives the upper range of content to include in a kit, and can be scaled down (or up) to fit nearly any situation.
The key takeaway for Step 2 is to understand your audience. Reporters and editors, plus market analysts, are the primary targets of a media kit. These roles act as influential information gatekeepers. The job of a media kit is to get these influencers to swing the gate open through their publications, Web sites, blogs and contacts. Once open, your company's information flows freely to potential customers, seemingly with the endorsement of the gatekeeper. Keep the takeaway in mind as you read Step 3.
Prepare the contents of the kit and design the kit's graphics. You are preparing the kit for the media, not customers. (Even if you plan to offer the kit to customers, it's easily done via the company Web site.) So, here are the chief considerations.
- Is there a simple, key message that will resonate with the audience? Here's one: "PCI Unbound." This means nothing, of course, beyond a relatively small group of editors and analysts who cover whatever PCI might be. However, the claim that PCI is now unbound is a strategic attention grabber.
- The kit should be designed to amplify the message graphically on the jacket. Then, if the kit is stacked in a press room, a journalist sees PCI Unbound in a sea of otherwise blank kit jackets.
- Once you decide on a key message, an artist (freelance or on staff) can take it from there. Perhaps the key message can become a logo which, in turn, becomes a trademark or service mark that earns stable recognition over time, adding value to the kit.
While the media kit jacket grabs attention with its sizzle, you must also provide steak. This is achieved by the contents of the kit, usually beginning with a news-centered press release. (Most media kits are developed in support of a news announcement.) Successful messaging calls for strategic framing of the announcement, backed by tactical delivery. Here are typical creative considerations.
- Press releases by definition are journalistically developed. They move from the general to the specific, and benefit when the writer has a flair for creative expression but knows how to write successful press releases.
- As a journalistic document, a press release will be "fact checked" by the media. So, claims made must be pre-tested to avoid embarrassment.
- The best press release strategy is simplicity. If the message is complex (demonstrated in Step 2), use several press releases and backgrounders, all of them relatively short. The top press release -- the first one viewed when the media kit is opened -- should achieve it's mission in three pages or less, and offer a compelling headline.
- Graphics are also appreciated by the media if they support the message. Because the Internet is a graphical powerhouse, editors always want photos and illustrations. But they don't want fluff (for example, a pretty model holding the product).
- Many small, engineering-driven firms underestimate the importance of press release writing, delegating it to administrative staff. This is a mistake. Press releases succeed or fail for the same reasons that engineered products succeed or fail. Use a track record journalistic expert to write the content.
You'll apply the same process to the other documents in the kit. Even background material needs to be journalistically driven so that it answers the primary questions likely to be asked by reporters, editors and analysts.
Okay, now you've got a media kit. What you do with it is also part of the creative process.
Establish a distribution plan. The final step for creating your media kit was actually developed in Step 1: What is the distribution plan for the kit? Here are some of the typical options.
- If the media kit supports the launch of a new product or service that is timed to coincide with a major industry event, create two lists of editors and analysts.
- The first list follows the usual 80/20 rule: 80% of the press coverage usually comes from 20% of the reporters, editors and analysts that cover your market space. You will take special steps to get the kit into these hands before the industry event. If you don't know what to do, retain a seasoned PR pro.
- The second list includes everyone else. These people will receive the kit in the mail (including e-mail) or in the press room among those stacks placed there by competitors and other firms in the industry. The graphics on your kit's cover will grab them with sizzle and your top news release headline will save the kit from an undignified trip to the trash can.
In Step 2, I mentioned that an agency created a novel media plan. This is a chip that could speak for itself. The plan was entirely surgical. Appointments were made only with the top editors and analysts who were then visited by a single spokesperson. But the chip was the real spokesperson. Its silver-dollar sized demonstrator was placed without fanfare on the editor's desk and turned on. For the next 20 seconds or so, the chip recorded the conversation. "How's the family, Steve?" Then, the playback button was pressed and the editor, hearing his or her distinct voice come out of a sliver of silicon, sat in awed amazement. Then the paper kit was handed over, together with working samples of the chip.
Even if your news is not nearly as novel, the foregoing steps yield assurance that you've put your best foot forward. Beyond these typical steps, be sure to offer the media kit at your company's Web site, attached to your press center or news page. If the news is worth the attention of surfers who arrive at your top landing page, your webmaster should include a banner or button that leads to a news page. There are many ways to handle content, but the best includes incisive call-to-action copywriting bolstered by one-time registration to download a full or partial media kit as a PDF. The inbound marketing options should be discussed during Step 1, in a process that I call "find and convert" surfers to customers.
Of course, there are many more considerations, but you now have the basics. Media kit creation is strategically important. Do the job right the first time. Get an active retiree to help.
If you'd like an opinion on specific needs, please outline those needs in the comments section and I'll address them.