ICangles Communications Post…
A small French technology company was responsible for one of my most difficult communications consulting challenges. They wanted to see an article about themselves in a leading American business media publication, like Forbes, Fortune or the Wall Street Journal. Realizing that goal, wasn’t going to be easy. Not only were they not an American company, but they also weren’t listed on a U.S. stock exchange. So, I couldn’t pitch them as being of interest to readers, because they could buy the stock, or as some interesting made in America story of entrepreneurship or innovation. What’s more, the nature of their business and technology was also an obstacle. The company, Soitec, manufactured silicon on insulator (SOI) wafers for the semiconductor industry. Engineered materials utilized in the semiconductor manufacturing process aren’t exactly the type of topic most Americans frequently discuss amongst themselves, even those inclined to talk about business issues.
Although nothing is impossible, a lot of folks would look at overcoming these challenges as requiring something just short of a miracle. At the very least, it required some creative business media thinking, which was why I got called. But I did have a few factors working in my favor. For starters I had a good partner. I made sure my Soitec contact understood that this effort would require spending time and money with absolutely no guarantee of getting any publicity out of the effort. It was also important that the company appreciate the relative merits, in terms of influencing their customer and investor base, of their appearance in a major American business media publication, versus the benefits of coverage in other trade or foreign business outlets if we decided to pursue instead. I was also going to need a lot of flexibility in how I pitched a story about them to garner interest, and we wouldn’t be able to dictate a topic or focus, but would need to be opportunistic about attaching ourselves to hot topics. The company understood the realities and supported me providing the information I needed to develop outreach strategies.
Although the company’s technology was difficult to understand and didn’t seem to directly impact the lives of readers, it did have some things going for it that made this task possibly achievable. Soitec was a pioneer of a differentiated materials technology that improved the performance of semiconductor devices, particularly processors. There was also a need for technologies, like SOI, to address significant thermal issues semiconductor manufacturers were facing. And its technology was starting to get mainstream adoption in a semiconductor industry that might have only a few leading-edge manufacturing companies, but whose products were used by most of the world. Then, when a new generation of gaming consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, announced they would be using IBM PowerPC chips that leverage multiple advanced manufacturing technologies, not limited to, but including SOI wafers, I knew I had my angle.
I crafted a twin critical-challenge-solution and enabling-technology story pitch. I led with how Soitec was helping to deliver greater levels of performance for consumers, including gamers with these new systems, which would be filling American store shelves for the holidays. I also relayed how thermal heat challenges, were becoming a major obstacle to realizing better semiconductor performance, but how an innovative French technology company had pioneered a solution to the thermal challenge. I didn’t bother with trying to explain how you made a SOI wafer or integrated it into the production process, or all the technical details around why it made performance better. I simply jumped to a major technology problem it was solving and the products impacting the lives of people. I now had a pitch that was topical and involved a story of overcoming a challenge that could adversely impact anyone who uses technology, which represented the entire business media readership audience.
But the perfect pitch is about more than a compelling story angle. Business media editors are pressed for time. First, you need to not waste it. So, I had to do my research and pitch someone who would cover more than just U.S. public companies and who was also interested in this type of enabling technology story angle. I needed an editor who wouldn’t be put off by complex technologies sold to other technology companies, who sold product to still other companies before reaching consumers. Next I wanted to proactively address his needs for writing an article. So, in a concisely worded email I included not just a possible story angle, but proof points around the technology being successfully implemented in devices, like the gaming consoles, and the technical performance highlights around SOI. Thanks to the support of my client and a French CEO with fluent English, I was able to offer him a CEO interview to fill in any details he needed and provide some article quotes. Basically, I was offering all the basic pieces for an article, so the editor could go from concept to completed article in the least amount of his time and effort. But I wasn’t writing the article for him, and I certainly wasn’t pushing a self-promotional fluff piece.
Even with all that work, success was still no sure thing. So, I reached out to the top name on my list, ready to move down it if needed. But that wasn’t necessary. Sometimes, preparation meets opportunity and in this case the pitch quickly culminated in an article with Forbes… Chillin’ Chips.