Avoiding the Information “Tug-of-War” During Product Launch

Jul 8, 2020

Here’s the scenario. A new product or solution has been developed. Sales and marketing — because they have tangible goals that must be met in a certain timeframe — want to rush out the product launch so they can start selling it.

However, other departments within the organization — such as legal and finance — may take a more cautious approach. Legal doesn’t want to get the word out too quickly because there are too many items that need to be checked off the list first, such as the accuracy of competitive intelligence and any contractual obligations about promotions and sales. Finance wants to make sure that the pricing structure and cost of the product or solution are “just right,” and they need to make sure that future projections are accurate for budgeting and planning.

Working in corporate public relations, and marketing communications specifically, we’ve seen the push and pull between product development, marketing, finance and legal departments over when and how much information to give the general public and captive audiences. We’ve even witnessed arguments — in person and over email — about how much information should be released and how fast.

Here’s what an abbreviated conversation looks like.

Sales: “When is that product going to be ready, we need to start selling immediately!”

Marketing: “All promotions are ready to go. We’ve told Sales that they can start selling next week.”

Finance: “Hold on. What’s the pricing structure and do you have buyers willing to pay for it? If so, how many buyers do you have? And have all promotions and pricing been approved by Legal?”

Legal: “Who approved all of the promotions? We don’t have any contracts that are ready to be presented to customers.”

CEO: “Everyone stop. We need to get our strategy and information aligned before we make any entry into the market with this new product.”

Determining the who and the when

Look at developing marketing communications and the release of information in terms of three phases: product development, product launch, and post-launch.

During the product development phase, there should be several departments at the table. This would include product, marketing and legal, with executive oversight. Product is there to determine the path forward, timing and development efforts. Marketing is at the table to help with competitive intelligence and potential messaging as the product goes through testing. Legal is there to cross check the accuracy and legitimacy of competitive intelligence, as well as the claims about the new product that can and cannot be made. And the executive provides oversight to make sure everything runs smoothly and that the appropriate individuals are held accountable for their team’s efforts.

Preparing for product launch

As we approach the product launch phase — and because everyone has been working in tandem rather than in their silos — information starts to get approval and a go-to-market strategy starts to unfold. Based on testing, product is working out the final details before launch.

However, this is where things could get complicated for marketing and communications. By this point marketing has probably finalized the product name, gotten the legal approvals and trademarked or registered it. But what are we going to say about the product in order to promote it effectively, yet not tip our hand to our competitors? What remains proprietary and what can be shared? If we share too much — or if we say too little — our competitors will seize on it.

This is where marketing and legal engage in a very fine dance — with marketing getting creative and legal providing the checks and balances.

Marketing and its copywriters should begin carefully crafting the messages that were uncovered during the product development phase, and pressure-test them with confidential audiences. Here, the audience reacts to certain emotions and feelings elicited by the actual text, and copywriters can refine messaging based on those reactions. Some messages will get axed, some will get nuanced and some will be born.

After the messages have been created, then bring in the visuals that will align with those feelings and emotions that were uncovered. The visuals can be used for the collateral, website, presentations and any other materials that will be produced.

During the pre-launch phase, legal is also approving the messaging, making sure that all claims are factual, nothing crosses the line, and most importantly, that not too much information will make its way into the public domain. Legal can also help determine the intellectual property (IP) that can be shared with the general population as well as what IP can be shared with the target buyers.

With marketing and legal working as allied forces — rather than opposing forces — the whole product launch will be much easier. And, when materials are presented to sales — after they’ve been fully vetted — a lot of heartburn will have been avoided because sales will have clear parameters about what they can and cannot claim about the product.

Before product launch, marketing should be working with finance and sales as well. Together, they will need to work out product pricing, target audiences, actual buyers and projections. Sales will be determining realistic goals and anticipating the product launch date, and finance will have a detailed understanding of projected revenue.

Now that everything has been worked out and all systems are set, the product can be launched. Having worked together in unity, hopefully, all systems are a go and the information tug-of-war can be avoided — or at least made easier — and the post-launch phase is merely a matter of assessments and simple adjustments to ensure customer satisfaction.

The conversations should then be something like this.

Sales: “We’re ready.”

Marketing: “You have what you need.”

Legal & Finance: “We’re good. Good luck!”

CEO: “Good job, everyone.”

Chris Currington

Christopher Currington has more than 20 years of experience in public relations, marketing content development and change management communications. Most recently, Chris worked as the director of PR at Lumeris, a start-up and sister company to Essence Healthcare, that specializes in population health management and value-based care. He managed Lumeris' PR and communications through three years of being named Best in KLAS for Value-Based Care Managed Services. He also led the communications and PR efforts behind Essence Healthcare's phenomenal 4.5 to 5 Star rating, for eight years in a row, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Prior to working at Lumeris, Chris was a senior marketing manager for Express Scripts Specialty Pharmacy where he helped to build physician awareness and referrals for mail order prescriptions. Chris has also worked for Towers Perrin (now Willis Towers Watson) in the Change Management, Communications and Measurement line of business. In this position, he worked across offices and with Fortune 100 clients transitioning their health and welfare benefits (to consumer-driven health plans) and retirement programs (to defined contribution plans) and helped thousands of employees make benefit elections through various channels and media. Chris has bachelor's degrees in mass communication, psychology and sociology from UM-St. Louis, an MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and a graduate certificate in marketing.