How to use international media coverage to boost export sales without leaving home
By Steve Campbell
Campbell & Company Strategies
First published in the Vancouver Sun
The 1998 Team Canada trade mission to Latin America underscores the fact once again that Canadian companies can successfully export their products to the world. Yet, sales and marketing initiatives – such as joining the prime minister on a trade mission, advertising in international trade magazines, and organizing foreign sales trips – can be expensive, especially for Canada’s smaller exporters. Since many of these programs usually don’t deliver immediate benefits, a substantial sum of money can be risked simply to determine if a foreign market is receptive to a product or service.
There are other ways to promote export sales, however. A public relations and communications program designed to gain non-paid media coverage for products in international trade magazines presents one cost-effective way for small- and medium-sized exporters to leverage the thousands of marketing dollars required to open up new markets. A targeted campaign can also help gather market intelligence and determine foreign interest in a product before a costly sales program is embarked upon. It achieves these goals by obtaining sales leads, and product or technology inquiries, from readers of international trade journals. Here are some tips on using free media coverage to boost your export sales.
Add strategic value to your product launch. As you roll out new products or updated versions of older products, it’s vital to strategically organize the international media launch to ensure your company maximizes the potential benefits. Trade magazines in every industry are swamped with new product offerings. Nevertheless, approached properly, they are still receptive to reviewing information and giving valuable coverage to legitimate products. In the advanced technology industry, for instance, the demand for product information is so great that magazines like EE Product News and EDN Products focus just on reviewing electronic products, acting as reference sources for their technical readers. Every new product they list receives a reader service card number that can direct hundreds of potential sales leads and other inquiries to a company – inquiries that can be used to determine market interest in a product and generate actual sales.
One B.C. manufacturer’s new product offering recently received as many reader service inquiries from non-paid editorial coverage in two separate U.S. trade magazines as it did from a more expensive advertising campaign. The tremendous market response helped convince the company their new product had appeal, and led to an expansion of the product’s marketing program. Increasing the quantity of leads also helped leverage the cost of creating product brochures and other marketing materials. And sales leads are not the only result of trade magazine coverage. One software client’s news release generated a phone call from someone interested in buying the company! One of those reader reply sales leads may be your next big export order … or your company’s new investor.
Exploit your web page and e-mail. The Internet and e-mail have created a revolution in the business of export sales. These tools allow potential customers to transcend time zones and make immediate contact. How valuable is a website to international sales? Well, one Vancouver electronics manufacturer already receives 10 per cent of its worldwide business leads through its site – the equivalent of customers walking right in the front door. Since your Internet connection now allows new customers on the other side of the world to contact you anytime for information, make sure your website is tailored to the interests of your foreign markets and is designed for easy navigation.
Develop company news announcements. To support your export marketing strategy, use every bit of company news available – new product announcements, staff appointments and research developments – to obtain coverage in industry magazines and keep customers, distributors and sales reps aware of your company. New R&D developments, large contract signings and company awards should all be evaluated on a regular basis for their newsworthiness for trade magazines. If there’s industry interest, consider sending a news release or regular newsletter to the publication. But be careful: watch what you send and how often you send it, as some editors will be put off by a stream of inconsequential news.
Offer technical articles and research information to trade magazine editors. Using your in-house expertise is an excellent way to gain profile and recognition for your company and its research efforts. Every successful exporter is an international leader in a particular industry; that’s why their products and services sell. Smart companies use their leadership in the technical arena to provide magazine editors with information on emerging trends, a technical report on a thorny industry research problem, or a well-written “how-to” article that can be published with little editing. And, since busy editors are often overwhelmed with work, your assistance and initiative helps build a working relationship that will make them more receptive to new product announcements and other submissions in the future.
Hire a specialist to focus solely on obtaining international media coverage. Some CEOs assign their communications manager a large number of generalist duties. This heavy workload makes it difficult to apply the concentrated effort required to obtain media coverage for products, projects and technical articles. The best way to get results is to have an experienced professional work solely on media relations. If this is not possible, consider outsourcing the program to a PR consultant with expertise in the area. Either way, you’re well ahead of the game, as a concentrated effort is the key to any company’s successful penetration of the international trade media.
These tips are just a few of the many ways to utilize targeted communications and public relations programs to determine or enhance foreign market interest, draw sales leads, and leverage an established sales and marketing program. Ensuring every marketing campaign contains a full measure of these cost-effective components is one of the keys to boosting export sales, without leaving home.
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About the author:
Steve Campbell, APR, is president of Campbell & Company Strategies Inc., a communications and public relations firm based in Vancouver that helps its advanced technology and knowledge industry clients obtain national and international media coverage for their products and services. He is professionally accredited as a PR professional by the Canadian Public Relations Society. Steve can be contacted at (604) 888-5267.