Applying the “Coattail Effect” to Public Relations

Ford Kanzler, Partner, Marketing/PR Savvy

When big and small fish swim together, it can benefit both. By cooperating on public relations efforts, you’ll often gain greater media attention and increased credibility for your stories.

The interesting thing about what I refer to as the “coattail effect,” is it can benefit large companies working with small ones or the other way around. Cooperating in a public relations environment can provide a powerful boost to communications effectiveness. Here’s some examples I’ve helped execute.

Giant Hitachi Semiconductor was perennially seeking innovative users of their chips to demonstrate the company’s broad line of integrated circuits using the company’s process technology, particularly for industrial product applications. Along came a clever customer in the form of Win Systems, Arlington, Texas. Win had designed a compact, single-board computer using Hitachi’s chips almost exclusively. It was an industry first with particular appeal among industrial (factory) process control systems designers. Hitachi’s sales and marketing team dedicated funds and PR agency time to help Win Systems promote its new Hitachi-based industrial computer. Both companies benefited from the substantial trade media coverage. Sales surged for both players.

Microtec Research, Santa Clara, CA was a small. independent engineering software firm. With their PR agency’s recommendation, they held an informal gathering of executives from two other firms with whom it cooperatively markets. The event was scheduled during the Embedded Systems Conference in Santa Clara, California. This show drew trade editors important to Microtec from around the world.

Working many weeks in advance of the conference, Microtec lined up an Intel executive and a vice president from a third company that distributes Microtec’s products. The agency offered out-of-town editors an opportunity to meet in a relaxed classy environment, the Tony Bennett room of the Fior D’Italia in San Francisco’s North Beach, the oldest Italian restaurant in town. Editors were picked up by limo outside the convention center and whisked by scenic route to the restaurant where they were met by the three companies’ executives. After three hours of old San Francisco ambiance, wonderful food and business conversation, but no sales pitches, the editors were chauffeured to their hotels.

The result was that Microtec Research gained substantial share of mind with key editors. A contributed feature article in an important publication resulted from the contact. For several years editors asked when another such event would be planned? By inviting the other two companies, Microtec Research greatly broadened the editorial appeal. By involving a much larger company, Intel, Microtec demonstrated its strong relationships with industry leaders and gained greater credibility as a result.

Is your company or client licensing its technology to major industry heavyweights? If so, attempt to get the sales and marketing people to see the publicity advantage of jointly announcing the relationship. There’s mileage and column inches to be gained by working together. The licensee gets to tell the world about how smart it is by applying new technology to its future products. It gains industry attention and sends a clear signal to the market that it will soon be making products with distinct advantages. This approach should not be confused with a product announcement. The licensee company may not want to reveal its product plans. That can still work for both players. The agreement can allude to next-generation products without giving away the unique benefits or blowing future news value.

Having trouble getting an editor to take a contributed article? Try getting your company to co-author the story with another relevant firm. The merged reputations may push the idea over the top with the editor. The combined budgets may give you more mileage in demonstrating your company’s expertise and enhancing its reputation.

Is your client planning to go to a trade show but lacking substantive news? Try teaming up with another company, not a competitor, but one in the same or related market. A while ago, two of our agency’s clients were planning attendance at a major tech trade event in New York. Both companies were thin on news, so our agency teamed them up to deliver a joint executive press briefing on a technical subject of industry-wide interest, particularly to attending media and analysts at the event. The briefing drew nearly double the expected editorial turnout. Several sought-after interviews resulted and both companies were seen as expert, available resources on an important topic. Better still, public relations created an opportunity for both companies to communicate directly with a good number of key influencials, building awareness and credibility. Both clients were happy about the outcome. If it had been a single-company affair, the results would never have been the same.

Software vendors are in a great position to help themselves and large hardware vendors at the time of a new computer system introduction. IBM or HP has a new computer. Great! What does it do? Here comes an army of smaller companies selling software that can promote themselves in cooperation with the hardware announcement. The coattail effect helps both hard- and software marketing efforts. Does your company make or sell something that improves another firm’s products? Find one and you’ve got a potential public relations ally.

The tech industry is continuously seeking the holy grail of new standards. Involvement in standards-setting committees may be the work of engineers and engineering managers, but its fertile ground for cooperative public relations.

Standards setting efforts often need sponsorship. Location hosting or a spokesperson to inform the market of progress. There have been many successful PR campaigns built around trade association sponsorship and standards setting. It’s a matter of seizing the opportunity and running with it. Companies that do it effectively are seen as visionary technology leaders. Their reputations grow.

Culture Clash

Warning: When planning joint promotional efforts, it’s wise to put one company in the lead and have others follow. Rarely can two companies work effectively if they are given equal roles. Like individuals, some companies are able to decide and act faster than others. One may have lengthy planning or approval processes for every tactical item. Others tell their public relations pros to “just do it.” With one company in the lead you will reduce the possibility for pacing problems, power struggles and cooperative breakdowns.

Think Co-op

Almost any tactical idea can incorporate a cooperative approach. I’m not suggesting you try cooperating with other companies or organizations on everything. Sometimes it’s best and almost always faster, to go it alone. However, when the budget is thin, when awareness or credibility for your client or company is low, think about connecting with another organization to make the idea fly. Sports marketing and coop promotions have recognized this strategy for years. Co-op advertising and co-promotions are a huge part of many corporate communications programs. Make your public relations budget go further and more effectively with the coattail effect.


About the Author: Ford Kanzler,, is a veteran Silicon Valley PR pro, published author and managing partner of Marketing/PR Savvy who looks for opportunities to team companies for mutual publicity benefit.