The Tragic State of Pitching the Geospatial Press

By Adena Schutzberg

I get pitched. I don't get the same pitches that companies give to potential investors or customers, but rather pitches aimed at getting some digital ink that will create buzz. What I mostly get are brochures, e-mails and sometimes conversations that are mini-versions of the marketing materials. These are intended to get me excited about the new offering and introduce the company and its products and services to you, our readers.

I take that job pretty seriously because I'm supposed to be the filter between every new company and you. I don't want to waste my time or yours by passing on irrelevant or unfocused offerings. Unfortunately, lately I've received an abundance of pitches that are simply incomprehensible. More interestingly, most of the companies behind these offerings make claims about moving "something geospatial" out from under the complexity and specialization of the geospatial community and into the mainstream. Yet, they cannot communicate to me, someone in the industry, exactly what they are offering and how it's new, different or better than anything that came before. I'm saddened because many of these start-ups are staffed by individuals with quite a bit of business experience and often, geospatial business experience.

When an established entrepreneur offers a confused muddle in an e-mail that cannot be clarified by a visit to a website, I begin to question whether the product or service (or company) is ready for prime time. Clearly, the pitch has not been tested on prospective clients or focus groups, or friends or relatives. It often appears to come from upper management (too far from the product or service) or a programmer (too close to the product or service). I suspect that no marketing or PR person touched the text on its path to me.

In many cases I fear I am the "test" audience! In fact, all too often I have to turn down requests like "Can you offer us some feedback on our messaging?" That's not my job as a journalist, but something any GIS or marketing consultant would happily do for a few hundred dollars.

Why is this happening?
I have a few ideas. First, there's a sense, probably started and supported by Google's playbook, that once it's in beta, you put it out there and tweak it along the way. That certainly works for Google, which already has a name in the market. People are willing to test out Google's betas, even products like Buzz. The same is not true of an "unknown company." If you are a start-up without a track record of great, useful, often free products, don't act like you're not.

Second, the excitement around geospatial of late (since 2005 and Google Maps, perhaps) suggests to many that there is a geospatial problem to be solved. Thus, the thinking goes, anything that is put forward in that space solves a problem or relieves a pain. That's not necessarily true. Thoughtful companies are trying to solve a problem, relieve pain or fill a hole with their offering. We may not yet know there is a problem, a pain or a hole, but companies like Google and Apple created stories that convinced many that Buzz and the iPad address challenges you did not know you had. You must be able to describe the problem, pain or hole in a way your customer (and the journalist listening to your pitch) can understand.

Third, I fear today's software developers are so excited about getting their offering out (so as not to be late to market) they are not spending the time to do their marketing homework, even the most basic effort to build an elevator pitch. And, some of that homework is so simple, including articulating an elevator pitch. I'm fond of Geoffrey Moore's "fill in the blank" version from Crossing the Chasm, which was probably the first business book I ever read. It goes like this:
"For (target customers), who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative), our product is a (new product category), that provides (key problem-solving capability), unlike (the product alternative), our product (describe the key product features)."
Just fill in the blanks and you should have a clear statement of what you are offering and the key thing that distinguishes it from any existing competitors. If it's the first in its category, you need to define the category, too. Consider all the new consumer categories that have popped up in the past five years: smartphones, ebook readers, touch screen tablets. If you can't easily fill in those blanks, do some soul searching until you can or consider another business idea.

Companies and organizations … hear me out! If you want to get coverage, and buzz, and customers, you need to do your homework before you approach the press. Build an elevator pitch. Use it to build your story. Test your story out on friends, relatives, colleagues, potential customers. Do they "get it"? If not, keeping working on it until they do. Up until that time, leave me alone. When you think you are ready, shoot me an e-mail.


Published Friday, August 6th, 2010

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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