Joel Spolsky, a serial entreprenuer who blogs at Joel on Software just wrote an amazing post about whether or not it makes sense for a start-up to launch at a conference. It's a fantastic overview of what every company should do before they even consider launching (at a show or not), what PR can and can't do and how to set realistic expectations. Wow, THIS. I love this post so much, I may have to adopt it.
Why is it so awesome? First, because Spolsky is clearly a level-headed guy who has been to more than one rodeo, so he's realistic about expectations. To wit:
It is possible, nay, common, to launch at one of these conferences and get NO press whatsoever. Zero. Nada.
Yep. And he knows that having a cool product or service isn't enough to get coverage:
When we launched Trello this week, you know how much press we got?
And every one of those stories came because I knew the reporter and emailed them before we launched, and pre-briefed them on our product under embargo.
In other words, it takes work and planning to get coverage, even a little bit of coverage, regardless of how cool you are. And know what success looks like. Too many companies focus on raw numbers when it comes to coverage. But 30 mentions may not be as valuable as 4 stories that dive deep and get your positioning right.
He also knows how the media works:
Also important: the news cycle is 12 hours, tops. If you call journalists the day after you release your product, it’s not news. They won’t care. You have to call them two days before you launch, tell them you’re going to launch in two days, and offer to pre-brief them, so that they can run their story when it’s actually newsworthy.
Which, by the way, means you have to have your story down cold and ready days before that.
And, finally, this:
I couldn’t stop thinking that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. We got 131,000 eyeballs on 9-month-old Trello when we launched, and it was AWESOME, so 22% of them signed up. If we had launched 3-month-old Trello, it would have been NOT SO AWESOME. Maybe even MEH. I don’t want 131,000 eyeballs on MEH.
In other words, launch when you're READY, not when the calendar tells you to.
While Spolsky's post is about launching a start-up, what he says is equally true for established companies launching new products or services. Plan, set the right expectations about coverage, understand the media cycle and make sure you're putting your best foot forward.