Creating Effective Tech PR Strategies

I've been talking with media people tracking various tech sectors for over two decades, and it's very clear there's a huge amount of time and money being wasted on public relations. While some want to debate whether the news (press) release is dead, I suggest there are far greater tech PR problems that can be easily corrected. I discussed the biggest problem, lack of strategy, last year. (See: You May Not Have a Marketing Strategy if… Part One and You May Not Have a Marketing Strategy if… Part Two.)

The problem gets even worse when public relations pros aren't involved in making PR strategy and are just handed something to write a news release about, often at the last minute. Experienced PR professionals, whether they're at your agency or in house, are well worth tapping early in the process to shape and sharpen the story. PR pros should be close to customers' brand perceptions. They can help integrate that understanding into the message development, if they're engaged early.

To do that, they need a seat at the table when strategy is planned, rather than being brought in a few days before information goes public. Don't separate the PR department from where strategy is created, among engineers and product managers. Dumping an announcement or other major information on PR a week or two before your deadline kills a range of valuable strategic PR approaches that can make a huge difference in overall promotional success. PR doesn't stand for Press Release.

Make sure your PR team has its head around your company's strategic direction so it can explain it to media and market research analysts instead of saying, “I'll get back to you on that.” Lost time and media cycles are destructive to PR effectiveness, brand credibility, and media coverage. PR pros are company spokespersons, so appearing ignorant of essential facts certainly doesn't help. Make sure they're completely up to speed on what the company is doing and why. Give them a fighting chance of success at working with the media. It'll make a big difference.

Communicating to the market demands that the value to your direct customers, and perhaps even the end user, be made very clear. If announcements are all specs, speeds, feeds, and acronyms — and don't tell the more important story about how the technology affects people — they will fail. Make it clear how a system OEM design engineer's life will be easier as a result of this new part or component. If that's missing, the tech media will ignore your story. Media people don't have time to guess or call your PR team to ask. If your PR people don't know either, because they haven't been strategically well prepared, you're really sunk.

An effective public relations campaign for high-tech firms requires the engagement of key executives and shouldn't be left only to PR pros. Another way of thinking about this is to understand that public relations isn't like advertising. It has the word “relations” in it, which means directly engaging with and understanding people following your market, including editors, writers, analysts, bloggers, and gurus, as well as customers. You need to know who's who among the key market opinion influencers.

In order to execute effective PR campaigns, you need direct management team involvement. Sometimes the best PR results come from the CEO or head of engineering picking up the phone and having a conversation with an editor, maybe even a few times a year. The PR department can coordinate this, but management involvement can make a big difference in communicating company strategy.

Finally, make your news interesting. If it's boring, not understandable (few editors are graduate EEs), and there's no “wow” factor, why in the world are you issuing an announcement in the first place? Get out there and tell your own story. Let your audience understand what your brand does that's different. If you've got a clear, competitive story, it's likely the media will be interested.

What other challenges and successes in tech PR effectiveness do you see at your company?

15 comments on “Creating Effective Tech PR Strategies

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 10, 2012

    Ford, your point about the “relations ” aspect of a PR strategy resonated with me. I can't tell you how many times I've contacted a person on a press release, as instructed, and fallen into a black hole. Given the fact that there are fewer outlets for press releases–anybody read a print pub lately?–such an oversight is unacceptable. Even if the inquiry is not a good fit for the company, a courtesy call from a PR person is worth its weight (or bandwidth?) in goodwill.

  2. Ford Kanzler
    February 10, 2012

    Barbara – Thank you. Another big problem encountered in the tech sector, aside from engineers too often attempting to run marketing (badly), is media relations quite regularly gets deligated down to PR newbies who have no background in the technology, the market, company strategy or any other information beyond what's in the publicity announcement. Their job is blasting the release out to the maximum number of media outlets, some of which may even be interested in the announcement's content. That's why you get dead air or an “I'll get back to you,” when you call up for more info.

    Too often PR in tech companies is overseen and driven by engineers or former engineers with marketing mangement titles. Clear, simple statement of values to customers and why the company's widget makes life easier for designers or system integrators gets totally ignorred and left out of publicity content. All that comes out are specs understood by and important to the issuing company's engineering department. It's like the news release is an opportunity to publicly brag. This happens in spades in the consumer electronics business but the electronic OEM engineering business is equally at fault.

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 10, 2012

    Ford–I've been on the receiving end of too many of those kinds of press releases, particulalry new product announcements. Some of them jump right into a list of bulleted specs and provide no context whatsoever. If you are an engineer passing info to another engineer, that's fine. But to call it a press release–which they do–is a disservice to the product and the audience. Even if you are a small company with a limited budget and staff, passing a release by a non-engineer, or even having a freelance editor/PR consultant on call, is worth the effort.

  4. Ford Kanzler
    February 10, 2012

    Barbara – What's at the root of the problem here is an inside-out perspective. Issuers of announcements without value context aren't thinking like or considering the needs of recipients…like media, research analysts and prospective customers, who may NOT be electronic design engineers working in the same specialized discipline. The amount of money being wasted on ineffective marketing and PR in the tech sector is likely in the billions because of this. Very often, electronic engineers or engineers masquerading as marketers, demonstrate hostility toward marketing and PR, treating is as an afterthought. As mentioned in my original post, too often strategy formation doesn't include real marketing or PR thinking at a point where it can make a huge positive difference. The Valley continues looking enviously at Apple in the CE space but does nothing to emulate its marketing techniques. 

  5. itguyphil
    February 12, 2012

    As they say in the PR world, you have to look at it from the eyes of the intended audience. What's your vision and value statement, NOT the specs and details of what your product does well. All tech people should take a crash course in marketing by watching 2 of three Apple commercials BEFORE doing any PR/Marketing tasks.

  6. bolaji ojo
    February 13, 2012

    Ford, What if a company just doesn't believe it has to engage in PR? I don't want to mention a particular company by name here but what happens when a company has so much goodwill following its commercial success that the press writes frequently about it, the customers swear by it and it has a fanatical follower base?

    Such a company exists today and aside from its own special events, this company does not communicate directly to the public or try to cultivate journalists. Is that a mistake or are there exceptions to the rule?

    February 13, 2012

    PR needs to be an integral part of the overall strategy to ensure the strategy can be implemented as smoothly as possible.  Everyone from customers to project team members need to understand the main thrust of the stretegy.

  8. Ford Kanzler
    February 13, 2012

    Scot – Yes. That was one of the key points of my earlier posts. Make sure your brand has a strategy…something that is clearly actionable and cometitively differentiated. Then make sure its not a secret. 

  9. Ford Kanzler
    February 13, 2012

    Hi Bolaji – The example you're referring to doesn't mean that such a company doesn't do PR. They're just consciously remaining passive in certain parts of their media relations, as in editorial outreach or responding to editorial inquires. They're doing PR nevertheless, just not the way most brands need to typically do media relations and publcity. Brands like this, which have achieved rock star status in their category, garner media coverage without asking. Quite often the media people themselves are among those holding the brand's goodwill. Cultivating their interest isn't necessary.

    For brands NOT as winningly blessed with customer adoration as this supposedly fictitious brand, who believe they don't need PR of any sort, I'd strongly suggest they're giving their story up to their competitors or at best, random chance that something good may occsionally occur. Additionally, if they're already successful NOT doing PR, they could most certainly become more successful if they stopped ignorring the most cost-effective strategic communications tool in the business arsenal.

  10. bolaji ojo
    February 13, 2012

    Ford, Thank you for the additional comments. I would still like your opinion on the second part of my question because I think it lies at the heart of public relations whatever the status of the company. To reiterate, is there a danger even for a rock star company in ignoring certain parts of its PR machinery? In other words, if a company has so much goodwill it doesn't bother to respond to press inquiries, is it losing anything and more specifically, could it find itself in jeopardy later on?

  11. Ford Kanzler
    February 13, 2012

    Bolaji – To your question, ignoring what's being said about your brand is certainly dangerous. However, choosing to not respond in various instances, or remaining notably less responsive than other competing brands to media inquires or only responding when and how you desire is a strategic business choice. Suggest well-excuted PR in general and media relations in particular, doesn't demand responsiveness to every media inquiry in every instance. Could it hurt a brand because it formerly snubbed certain media people? Perhaps. People change. People forget. Public relations is a highly situationally-based practice, like the law. I reject a hard, fast rule around this topic. Being highly selective may have the appearance to some people of the company being non-responsive. 

  12. Tim Votapka
    February 14, 2012

    Ford's summation on tech PR is right on target. The purpose of PR is to make one's good work well known. This doesn't get accomplished by “banging out a news release.”  The only other thing I could add to the comments is another big no-no I've seen; that is the dreaded “repurposed” news release. Some agencies get clever with this and try to bank on the fact that most product section editors don't keep track of each new product announcement they've run. Not cool.

  13. Ford Kanzler
    February 14, 2012

    Tvotapka  – Definitely not cool or at all smart. If its news, it better be at least NEW and preferably newsWORTHY. I've not encountered anyone who has recycled previously-issued announcements. Today's world is frankly too connected to get away with that dumb stunt. More importantly, relyng on news releases as your only or main publicity tool is like the carpenter only using a hammer. “PR doesn't stand for Press Release.” That' one of the chapters in my just-published book, “Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business” –  There's a huge range of PR tactics that may be applied without getting stuck for news release topics. I've had clients and a boss once who insisted on a news release every week. Unless you're a giant in your industry (IBM, Intel, Cisco, ect.) and there's lots happening, there's no reason for over-doing the tactic. I mean how many people want to read about non-newsworthy stuff the equivalent of “my cat had kittens?” Doing that also sucks up a company's valuable PR and marketing resources that could be far better applied to more valuable tactics.


  14. Tim Votapka
    February 14, 2012

    Great subject heading” OD-ing on Press Releases! And I totally duplicate what you're saying about volume over quality. Like Barbara, I've been on the receiving end of the press release pipeline. What was it we used to call PR guys? Oh yes, flaks. It wasn't a very nice term, but it did fit in some instances!

  15. Ford Kanzler
    February 14, 2012

    Well, we used to refer to editorial people has “hacks.” So what's in a name? 🙂 NOTE: There are lots more “PR gals” in tech than “guys.” Been that way for over 20 years. Not sure why. But that's really off topic for this blog.

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