There’s a common misconception that free and open-source (FOSS) technology tools play a secondary role to paid solutions. But over the last 20 years, the open-source market has grown and thrived with thousands of powerful solutions offered to the public for free. In many cases, these solutions have created powerful user communities; just look at Joomla, Apache, Mozilla, and more. Many open-source tools are a force to be reckoned with.
However, many organizations don’t give much public relations (PR) support to these tools. Likely because they play into the stereotype that media don’t care as much about them. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Depending on the circumstances, media outreach promoting launches and major updates to open-source tools can be quite successful and the best PR teams know they’re often an overlooked opportunity to secure coverage. What are some best practices for getting your FOSS tool covered by press? In this blog post, I’m going to share some quick tips, including when it does and doesn’t make sense to promote them, and walk you through a recent example of how Voxus did this for a client. Let’s dive in.
What makes a FOSS tool worth announcing?
A few factors matter here. First, how popular is the tool? How many users does it have, how active is the community around it, how many pull requests are made on GitHub, etc. The larger, the better. Second, how significant are the updates? Like any product launch, major changes are more newsworthy than routine updates. Third, what’s the relationship between the FOSS tool (and its owner) and the overall mission of the organization?
Typically, the individual creator of a FOSS tool holds the license for it, not their employer. The employer might want to limit publicity of the tool or make it clear that it’s not formally supported by them. On the other hand, some companies enthusiastically support employees’ open-source projects and dedicate considerable resources to them.
In fields like software development or cybersecurity, a popular open-source tool can be a marketing asset because it exposes technical professionals (who might be difficult to reach through other channels) to the company’s name and what they do. PR teams must understand the details of this relationship if they want to successfully engage with press.
Channels to consider
A major update to a popular open-source tool that is embraced by the employer of its owners works much like a product launch. Draft a press release, pre-pitch relevant reporters, schedule interviews, share release drafts under embargo, and issue the release coordinated with other marketing content. The tool’s owner should take point on communicating with the users of the tool (most likely through a blog, posts on X, or Slack), while you handle press. Users of the tool will likely have many questions, often technical ones. Consider having an Ask Me Anything on Slack (or in the preferred user community) or a webinar to answer these questions after the announcement wraps up.
Open-source tools don’t technically count as product news, so outlets that don’t cover product news stories might write about them – make sure they’re on your list. There is usually a personal angle to open-source announcements and often an interesting story about where the idea came from and how the creator (or creators) first built it. Podcast interviews or articles about that idea and growth of the tool will be easier to secure than doing this for a paid product.
Finally, take extra care when talking about the future and ownership of an open-source tool. Some open-source users are suspicious that once a company gets involved, the tool they know and love will become a paid product or be changed to fit the company’s agenda. Don’t accidentally feed into those fears.
How does this work in practice? Voxus recently did this for a cybersecurity client. Here’s how the campaign went.
How Voxus launched a new version of a popular cybersecurity FOSS tool
From the beginning, it was clear this was going to be a major launch. The tool in question was widely popular in the penetration testing community, existed for seven years, and had an active and engaged user base. It was downloaded almost 500,000 times and recommended by Microsoft and the Department of Defense. The three co-creators all work for a firm that supported open-source development by its employees and dedicated considerable marketing resources to this launch. The updates involved significant changes to the tool’s underlying code and adding many new in-demand features.
Because of these factors, Voxus approached this announcement like a traditional product launch. We coordinated media outreach to align with when the updates were going to be rolled out to the tool’s user base. In our outreach, we emphasized the popularity of this tool, shared some of its rich history (and creator story), and hinted at some of the new features.
The results were outstanding. We secured ten pieces of coverage of the launch including Dark Reading, CSO, SecurityWeek and Help Net Security, with several detailed articles in outlets that normally don’t write about product news. One executive remarked it was the most coverage they’ve ever gotten for a single announcement.
If your organization supports any open-source projects, make sure to look at them carefully. You might be surprised at the breadth of media attention you could gain if properly positioned to journalists. If you’re not sure about the best approach, let’s chat and help you determine the best strategy (and help you execute on it).