By: Neil Shurtz, Content Creator
It’s a common practice across industries to hire an outside PR agency to conduct media and analyst relations, manage crises, maintain social media presence, and generally project a positive public image of the company and its products and services. However, the end goal of these activities varies, and depending on your business and your PR goals, hiring the right kind of agency could make the difference between success and failure—and it isn’t all about the number of article placements an agency can promise.
In consumer-oriented PR efforts, positive public image and effective crisis management are critical, and are at the core of traditional PR. In these cases, every PR agent and agency comes equipped with the knowledge to represent a product by virtue of each agent being themselves a lay consumer of consumer products and services. The skills to effectively represent a company are still highly refined in this kind of consumer PR, but often little additional technical knowledge about the product is necessary for success.
On the other hand, PR involving B2B products and services inherently require a higher level of understanding on the part of PR agencies because customers are more sophisticated than lay consumers. In B2B PR, agents and agencies must possess not only robust PR skills, but also an advanced technical understanding of the space their clients operate in. It follows then that with increasing complexity of B2B products and services, technical understanding on the part of PR agencies must also increase.
When a niche becomes dominant
Twenty five years ago, the high tech industry was a niche. Today, the largest and most profitable companies in the world make hardware and software, and a huge chunk of overall economy is driven by the activities of high tech firms. Every company that is consumer-facing requires dozens of B2B companies to provide the software and hardware infrastructures that support their consumer products. Business dealings between companies that make the materials for building the digital world are robust, and they need PR services as much as any firm.
With the demand for highly technical B2B PR at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever for high tech B2B companies to work only with PR agencies that can dempnstrate a robust understanding of the space they work in. What B2B companies must be mindful of is that representing, for example, a data storage construct to be bought by business offering a consumer product is much different than representing that consumer product. The PR strategy will be different, probably focusing more on highly technical analyst briefings and coverage in trade publications read by potential customers—all of which require a far more robust techical understanding on the part of PR agents to ensure success. Niche-focused trade publication journalists and industry analysts can smell from a mile away a pitch written by a PR agent who doesn’t really understand the technolgy he’s pitching.
What’s in a track record?
PR agencies may advertise their proven competence with tradition PR activities—pitching stories to journalists that result in coverage—as evidence they have what it takes to represent your company. But unless the individual PR agents who will be writing pitches about your products and delivering them to journalists and industry analysts have proven success in your B2B niche, the chances of satisfactory success are dubious. PR is undboubtedly a substantial investment, and ensuring the firm you work with knows what it’s talking about when it comes to your products and services is critical.
If you’re a high tech B2B company shopping for PR services, you should always ask:
- What background do the staff members who will be working on my account have that qualify them to competently represent a product in my highly technical niche?
Many PR agents who become successful at technical B2B work have no formal technical background, but years of working with and learning from industry leaders will make the best agents “lay experts” in their niche.
- Are sufficient provisions set aside for ramp-up?
With a highly technical product or service, PR agencies should always take the need to bring the firm up to speed seriously. If an agency promises unrealistic results right out of the gate, beware their ability to truly understand and represent your product.
- Does the PR strategy offer specifics that match our sales goals?
Agencies that lack technical B2B experience may lean on their (possibly significant) traditional PR skills and track record to woo B2B clients. But vague strategy and targets mentioning X number of placements per month only mean so much. Look for nuanced strategy that mentions placements in specific kinds of publications and interviews with analysts that will make a meaningful difference to sales.
Fortunately, the maturing B2B high tech industry has trained a generation of PR agents how to represent highly technical products and services. The talent is out there, but careful shopping is most definitely warranted.