The lessons learned from my 9-year tenure at MCI–2 in sales, 7 in advertising/marketing–are many.
As an aside, I recently had the pleasure of explaining what MCI was to a Gen-Y (or perhaps Gen-Z or AAA or whatever comes next) business professional who had never heard of the company–and perhaps had never used a landline.
One of my favorite MCI lessons, which I still use with clients today, was “management by press release.” I call it the “Headline Test.” When developing a new product, offer, line of business, start-up company, or even refining an existing offering, try writing the press release FIRST. This process will force you to take a market-focused view at the beginning of the product development cycle, which achieves several important benefits:
- Requires you to crisply articulate the market problem you are solving, which I call the Customer Elevator Rant (i.e. “To address the rising challenge of XXXXXX in the XXXXX marketplace, NewCo today announced…”)
- Forces you to think about and define the high level messaging and distill it into succinct language (i.e. the headline, subhead and lead paragraph). (i.e. NewCo today announced the first XXXXXX product that delivers XXXXXX”)
- Enables you to clarify the positioning of the product or business vs. competitors, substitutes and alternatives in the marketplace. (i.e. “Unlike other products, NewCo’s solution enables…”)
- Perhaps most importantly, the Headline Test is a tool for eliciting feedback and, ultimately, gaining consensus among the executive team–based on their understanding of the market, research, customer interviews, etc.–before the major investments are made in product development.
Of course, the Headline Test doesn’t in an of itself validate a new product or business idea. But when you sit down to write your press release, if it “writes itself,” then the product or business has a good starting point: some intuitive appeal and the ability to be quickly understood by the target audience.
I’ve used the Headline Test in client engagements many times over the years, and it has achieved the above benefits every time. Clients have appreciated the test as an exercise that helps them refine their initiative.
Next time you’re starting the process of launching a new business or product, don’t wait until you’re ready to launch to write the press release. Try the Headline Test at the beginning. It shouldn’t take more than an hour; if it does, you might have to revisit the core value proposition and positioning.
Bob London is President of London, Ink, a marketing and communications consulting firm based in the Washington, DC area. He can be reached at email@example.com.