Launching a Product During a Pandemic
April 22, 2020
In PR, we like to plan for everything, even when knowing that our plan could be obsolete the moment we send it out the door. This is exactly what happened in early March when we had to reconsider the fate of our “rolling thunder” product launch for Kount, a leader in AI-based fraud prevention. At the time, we were a few weeks away from launching the third and final phase of a staggered product rollout. The first two phases, which included a new fraud network followed by a feature add-on, had been successfully completed in February, leading to high expectations for the third.
Assessing the situation
In early March, about ten days before the launch was scheduled to take place, the first warning signs of COVID-19 started to take hold in the U.S. We had no idea of the eventual scope at the time, but we felt it would be prudent to develop a “Plan B” in the event we needed to postpone our launch. Within a few days, we’d outlined contingency plans for the launch and felt like we were prepared for anything.
Adjusting our approach
Then came the pivot. Almost as quickly as we had pivoted to Plan B, the world changed again. A revised timeline wasn’t the solution we needed — our traditional approach to launching B2B products needed a refresh. So, we went back to the drawing board and developed a targeted media strategy that felt appropriate, realistic and respectful of the situation
1. Provided real-time research and counsel
Our team conducted a detailed media audit to determine which target reporters were still open to product news – we looked at which reporters were writing industry news, which were writing about COVID-19 and any areas of overlap. This research formed the basis of our counsel throughout the two week period preceding launch day.
2. Decided not to pitch national business, finance or technology reporters
Almost all of the national business, finance and technology reporters on our list (think Bloomberg, CNBC, FT) had seen their beats shift to COVID-related angles. Our product news was no longer relevant for these reporters, so we made the decision to hold off on pitching them. We knew we had to be realistic and respectful to their current priorities.
3. Leveraged and doubled down on existing ‘trade’ media relationships
The PR team had spent the previous month-plus building relationships with trade reporters in the payments and fraud space during phases one and two. This group of reporters was continuing to publish industry news in mid-March, therefore we made the decision to focus our launch efforts exclusively on trade reporters with whom we had existing relationships. We would not pitch reporters we hadn’t worked with previously — out of respect for their shifting priorities — and we committed to pre-pitching reporters to ensure our news was relevant and appropriate.
4. Acknowledged the uncertainty
There’s no rulebook for pitching in the midst of a global pandemic. We felt the best way forward was a new pitch that acknowledged the general fear and uncertainty of the current time and positioned our news as information the reporter could either 1) use to help them continue to report industry news or 2) put aside and come back to when they were ready to resume reporting on the industry.
The fact that we took the time to acknowledge the uncertainty of the situation on a human-to-human level in our outreach went a long way with reporters. It helped us garner coverage for the launch and avoid getting grouped in with “bad PR practices.”
On the heels of launching Phase three, the PR team secured 29 pieces of coverage in March — 13 pieces within the first 24 hours of the launch! That’s more coverage than any of the previous phases garnered. Notable trade outlets include Digital Transactions, Payment Expert, PYMNTS, PaymentsSource, Payments Journal and The Paypers, among others.
Behind the scenes
What can you take from our experience and apply to your work? Relationships matter, now more than ever. There is no “one size fits all” approach to launching products in a media landscape changing by the hour or the day.
The way to build trust and nurture those relationships is by being thoughtful and putting yourself in the shoes of the reporter or editor you’re pitching. Throughout this process, our mantra was “help, not sell” — to us, this meant helping reporters do their jobs. We accomplished this by sharing our news only where it would be of help.