tech pr Technology PR Web/Tech

Do tech and digital PR firms eat their own dog food?

It is now conventional wisdom that PR needs to adopt and integrate new digital techniques into its toolkit. Rather than add to the rather dull debate about what tech PR firms ought to be doing, I thought I’d have a quick look at what they are doing in terms of promoting themselves through digital techniques. In other words, are tech and digital PR firms eating their own dog food?


Imagine you are an in-house PR manager, marketing manager or director with a technology business. You’ve decided that you want to hire a PR agency or replace an existing firm. In terms of helping you decide who to talk to, you will almost certainly conduct a web search.

In which case, what search terms would you use to help you?

Conventional wisdom suggests they will be terms like:

Technology PR
Tech PR
Technology public relations
Hi-tech public relations

Or UK variations thereof. In fact, if you were looking for a “good UK tech PR agency”, you might think that people would use that as an example search term.

Apparently not. In Sept, the search volumes on the term “good UK tech PR agency” (and other variations such as best UK software PR, etc) were virtually non existent.

Clearly potential purchasers of tech PR services don’t use these terms to find the information they want. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. As I’ve discussed previously, the majority of search terms consist of only 2 or 3 words.

Going back to the usual suspect terms such as technology PR, a number of them have comparatively high CPC (cost per click rates). In some cases, nearly £6.50 per click. And yet when you examine the search volumes, they are virtually non-existent eg “hi tech public relations” was searched for a total of 12 times last month in the UK.

Let’s look at the highest searched for terms – technology PR (UK Sept 2008 – 880) and tech PR (UK Sept 2008 – 390). Worth noting in both cases that these figures show a decline over the previous 12 month average, which might be a precursor to a drop in demand for tech PR services.

The CPC rates for both of these terms is again comparatively high. But accepting that firms are paying above average CPC for these terms, are they doing everything they can to maximise their investment? ie what happens when you click through on these PPC ads? Every single one goes through to a generic company home page. No attempt to create a dedicated landing page to give the prospect more relevant information or to guide them through the sales process. Or give them a simple call to action. Search marketing 101.

Natural search

Clearly some PR firms are more savvy than others when it comes to natural search. Hat tips therefore to my old chums at Rainier PR who have clearly done some work to come top of the search rankings for the highest volume relevant search terms such as “technology PR”.

But does branding also play a part in the tech PR agency selection process? From a digital marketing perspective, we have already seen that 88pc of the most popular UK search terms are brand names. Does the UK tech PR market reflect this?

Just taking a few of the more well known tech PR brands, it looks like Lewis PR comes out at head of the pack (UK Sept 2008 – 1000). Interestingly, other well known brands such as Brands2Life have negligible volumes.

Web measurement

Tools such as WASP allow you to see what analytics package a web site is using to analyse its traffic eg Google Analytics, Stat Counter, Omniture, etc. It is therefore interesting to note how some agency websites don’t appear to be using any form of analytics package. Which begs the question, how can you claim any kind of digital expertise when you have no idea who visits your own site?


I can already hear the objections being raised to much of above. For example, there are clearly many ways in which a potential purchaser of tech PR services may seek information eg asking friends and peers, looking at PR Week league tables, etc. And I’ve only touched on a handful of digital activity (let’s not get into social media, LinkedIn ,etc or we’ll be here all day). In which case some may argue that I’m laying too much stress on non essential business development activities. But I can’t quite shake off the belief that at some point, the tech PR industry will have to stop just talking about “going digital” but really start putting into practice some of the now standard approaches from the digital marketing arena. Cobbler’s children, etc.

If tech PR firms are to gain a greater share of vendor budgets, then we need to not only talk the digital talk but walk the digital walk as well. And yes, it does require effort. And yes, we aren’t perfect here either and haven’t got all the answers. But we have set off on the road. We’ll keep you all posted on our progress.

General PR tech pr Technology PR

Most PR people believe print coverage is more valuable than online: an exercise in cognitive dissonance?

Gordon Macmillan at Brand Republic reports on a new survey which claims that “most PR professionals still favour offline media coverage over digital despite recent consumer research identifying online as the more influential medium.”

He continues: “More than half, or 53%, see it as more valuable, but the real story is that it’s their clients who are still deeply attached to print. Apparently nearly two-thirds or 64% of PRs believe their stakeholders prefer print coverage more than online, television or radio and more than half or 53% believe their stakeholders are more influenced by print coverage than television, online or radio.”

He rightly picks up on the word “believe” and asks: “I mean, don’t they ask? Apparently not according to the Parker, Wayne & Kent survey. It seems to be all about the permanence of print. The fact you can hold it in your hand and turn the page (maybe they never heard to the printer?).” If you examine PWK’s own press release on it, the whole thing is predicated on the “belief” of PRs.

I continue to be fascinated by what appears to a widespread cognitive dissonance in the PR industry (an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Or to keep with the Orwellian sub theme of this blog, doublethink).

In this case, the two contradictory attitudes are: the belief that print media continues to be the dominant media influence and the fact that most of the real data on the subject seems to suggest the opposite.

Why is this happening? Here’s my theory.

In spite of claims to the contrary, the main reason clients still hire PR firms is for “media relations” (although as PR Week has previously reported, clients are spending most of their budget on account management, admin and reporting). And media relations still tends to be geared around getting print based coverage – because that is the skill set (inventory) that most PR firms still have to sell.

So you can see the temptation to try and justify what you have to sell by implying there is still a need for it. And I don’t deny that there is still a large education job to be done client side regarding what are the most effective techniques today. Some cynics might argue that if clients want print coverage lets sell what they ask for – even though we know it isn’t best solution. However, you get the sense from the PWK survey that no one is really asking the questions clients really want answering – namely, how can you help me understand how my target audiences behave, what really does influence them and what is the most effective means of delivering a measurable impact on those audiences?

Over the last 18 months I’ve tried not to miss the opportunity to quiz people about their media consumption habits. On a number of occasions, I’ve asked people to try a little test – basically, to write down what they think their average media consumption is over a week – and then to actually write down what they really do. Most of the time, people are very surprised about the divergence between their belief and reality. The most common is to over-estimate the time they spend reading newspapers and magazines and to underestimate the amount of time they spend online – as well as how online influences their decision making process.

However, before I get accused of being some kind of online obsessive, let’s be clear – I’m not saying print media is completely irrelevant. That’s patent nonsense – and my own recent experience bears out the role it can play in a purchase decision. However, to automatically assume that print is the most influential medium is more an act of faith than rational judgment. And don’t forget the shelf life of print coverage is a few hours.

The starting point has to be the data and evidence that justify an approach. When you actually start to gather real information about how people really do consume media – both on and offline – you build a picture of a very different world to the one that PRs in PWK’s survey seem to inhabit (the emphasis placed on buyer personas by search marketing agencies is an example of how PR could and should be helping their clients).

It’s a bit like when a relationship is going down the tube. Although logically he may know its over, he still clings to the belief that “she still loves him really.” Surely better to face reality and move on – the heartbreak will be more painful the longer you refuse to face facts.

People tech pr Technology PR Web/Tech

Why you should question any tech B-to-B PR campaign that emphasises print over online

A very instructive interview with IDG founder Pat McGovern in today’s Guardian – with some unavoidable conclusions for the tech PR sector.

McGovern hasn’t built a $3bn empire by getting things too wrong – so worth listening to his views on the future of B-to-B publishing (he says all B-to-B publishing will be online in 10 years).

A few things in the feature did stand out. For example, many questioned his decision to drop the print edition of Infoworld in the US – saying farewell to distributing 180,000 copies every week. “Many said without print people wouldn’t be reminded every week of our brand and 40% of our revenue would disappear overnight,” claims McGovern.

One year later, InfoWorld’s online revenues had trebled, the magazine’s overall revenues were up 10%, and without the costs of print, paper and postage, profit margins went from -3% to 37%.

He also says it costs around $20,000 to launch a new online magazine title – compared with $400,000 for a print version.

And here’s an eye-opener – 60pc of the content on IDG’s B-to-B sites is user generated. As McGovern rather too gleefully admits: “It’s nice to have more than half your content generated for free.”

So what are the implications for tech PR?

1. Any PR approach that prioritises print over online needs to be seriously questioned.

2. Tech buyers still trust media brands such as Computer Weekly, Computerworld, etc – however, the way they consume and interact with the magazine is very different. They are unlikely to pay much (if any) attention to the print title. And even when they get information from the online version, it is most likely to be via search rather than because they treat the online title as a destination. Even the small proportion of readers who will subscribe to a magazine RSS feed are likely to filter the content. The 80/20 principle applies ie 80pc of individual reader value will lie in 20pc of the content – readers will increasingly select only the really relevant stuff.

3. If 60pc of content is user generated, then the way in which PR is involved in the process of content generation and conversation is going to be very different.

4. Paradoxically, some magazine related events may become more valuable eg I’d wager that Information Age events are seen as more valuable by many of its readers than the print version of the magazine. They trust the brand, but they don’t have time to read the print version. And they will get content from the magazine online – and via search (and RSS if the magazine reinstated its RSS feeds….). Particular events, however, allow for networking, peer contact, etc.

Given the importance of search in this whole equation, any tech PR programme that doesn’t integrate with a carefully thought through approach to buyer behaviour and search is seriously flawed.

General PR Technology PR Web/Tech

How to create a journalist backgrounder in 5 mins with Google

Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes working in the world of PR will almost certainly have had to produce a journalist backgrounder in their time.

This is a document prepared for a client before they meet or are interviewed by a journalist. Although different agencies might tinker at the edges, the basic format has always remained the same – namely:

1. Name, Job title, e-mail, phone number, etc.

2. A brief bio of the journalist eg previous titles worked for, areas of interest, etc.

3. Examples of previous articles – usually the most recent ones, but often, for the sake of completeness, going back over a year or more.

In the past, this has probably ranked as one of the most manual and time consuming tasks undertaken by a PR person (and probably still contributing to the PR industry’s chronic over-servicing issue).

Although the basic contact info would normally be easy to find (though not always), and the bio information would hopefully be reasonably up to date (these days you might consider Wikipedia as a good source of bio info – check these examples for Chris Green at IT Pro and Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC), the bit that could take ages was compiling previous articles. This would normally take the shape of ploughing back through old press clippings, photocopying the relevant ones, compiling a weighty briefing document, and then reading through it all to try and “synopsise” the content for the benefit of the client.

With print content becoming increasingly replicated on the web (and with more original Internet-only material being generated), the time taken for this task can now be drastically reduced with the help of Googe Advanced Search.

For staff journalists, the task couldn’t be easier. Let’s use the example of Cliff Saran at Computer Weekly (no particular reason to single out Cliff – any staff journalist could be used).

Type “cliff saran” into Google – back comes all of Cliff’s articles and blog posts. Want to narrow it down? Use advanced search to look back over the last week, month, etc. Want to search for specfic topics or phrases? Simply add them into the search string.

Now, the PR can spend time analysing the content rather than spending most of the time trying to track down the material in the first place. And it doesn’t cost a penny.

But what about freelance journalists who write for a number of different titles? Again, a similar approach can be used – let’s take Danny Bradbury as an example. Type “danny bradbury” into Google. This will bring back a very broad range of results, but the editorial sites are easy to spot. For example, you can see he has written a piece for The Guardian. Typing “danny bradbury” into Google brings back all the articles he has done for the Guardian. Again, you can use advanced search to narrow down over a time period and/or on specific search phrases.

There are some additional benefits to this approach. You can bookmark specific searches for use in future. Even better, why not use a tool such as Diigo to create lists of saved searches that you can share with colleagues (or anyone else you may find relevant). Why not share with clients and allow them to carry out their own reading and analysis of a journalist’s coverage? If agency and client share and compare their findings it should create a far more accurate picture of what a journalist might be interested in.

As soon as I realized that I was able to fall asleep myself Ambien Without a Prescription any outside help, I just stopped taking it.

In short, a journalist backgrounder can be reduced to a series of web links that take no more than five minutes to create. As opposed to a lengthy tome that is time consuming to produce and doesn’t allow for any kind of interactive analysis.

PRs should now be able to focus on value added analysis rather than data collection. It might even go some way to reducing the over-servicing issue – which is no bad thing.

General PR Technology PR Web/Tech

An open source model for PR?

For a number of years, I ran the UK PR account for MySQL, the ubiquitous open source database (and recently acquired by Sun for $1bn).

In that time, I got to know some very bright people there (not least the inestimable Marten Mickos, MySQL’s CEO), as well as getting first hand insight into an innovative new business model. Back in October 2006, MySQL’s VP of Community Relations Kaj Arno announced the then introduction of MySQL’s Community and Enterprise Editions with a quite telling phrase:

We aim to better serve both categories of MySQL users — those who are willing to spend time to save money, and those who are willing to spend money to save time.”

The parallels with the world of PR are quite similar. The traditional tools that have been employed by many client companies to support their PR efforts are now in many cases free (or at worst, a minimal cost). What is the role of a PR consultancy in a world where many of its traditional services and “black box” solutions are now freely available?

In my view, the answer lies in MySQL’s open source model, transferred to the PR world. Those who are prepared to spend time learning how to use these free (or near free) tools – and share their experience – will benefit from a greatly reduced financial cost. Rather than hoard knowledge, there will evolve an open community of PR practitioners – both agency and client side – prepared to share their experience.

However, there is clearly going to be a demand from client businesses to create solutions more quickly – and they will be prepared to pay for this expertise. PR consultancies will thus move to a paid-for support and

Far fetched? Gentle reader, I welcome your feedback.

Technology PR Web/Tech

BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones: a case study for the death of the journalist background briefing document?

I have never met BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones – but I feel I know a lot about him.

If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll have discovered the following things in the last week or so:

1. On April 11, he couldn’t work out whether the 11 minute audience he was granted with Michael Dell in “a dull Hilton room” was worth the trip.

2. He was miffed to find that The Guardian had run a front page story about Twitter this morning – just as he was preparing a piece about it for the Radio 4 Today programme.

3. He stayed up to blog about Google’s fiscal results last night.

4. He got up early a few days ago to do an interview with Radio Wales – but they stood him up.

5. He watches The Apprentice on BBC TV. And he thought Sir Alan Sugar fired the wrong candidate on this week’s episode.

6. He was meeting someone senior over from Microsoft this week – he wasn’t quite clear what she did.

7. His wedding anniversary is April 7. And he has been married for 18 years. Because he was up at 6am on that day talking about the internet and marriage.

I could go on. But you can see all this for yourself here.

So what has this got to do with press briefing background documents?*

Traditionally, the typical PR company had laid great store by the amount of background briefing information it can provide on a journalist to a client. In the past, this kind of thing would be jealously guarded by the agency – and client’s would pay for the privilege of getting access to this stuff (and let’s be honest, many of these so called briefing documents have been works of fantasy, based more on guess work rather than hard evidence).

However, if more journalists adopt the Rory Cellan-Jones approach, then this information becomes freely available to anyone (even if they don’t, the amount of info that is now available out there on the Interweb rather than held on a PR agency server is huge). Rather than create a 40 page MS Word document for a client (which they probably won’t read), you could set up a simple web page with links to RSS feeds, Twitter/Facebook links, etc that presents all of this information in one place. And of course, because it is fully searchable, your client can filter the info as and how they see fit.

So where does the PR company add value in this model?

To me, the value comes in being able to help the client build the profile in the first place. And interpreting the information appropriately to help build an effective communication strategy. But the days of PR companies trying to make money out of pretending they have some kind of secret insight into a journalist are numbered.

*Definition of press background briefing document: a document compiled by PR consultants for their clients to provide as much information as possible about a specific journalist they are targetting or meeting. It typically contains basic factual information such as contact details, areas of interest, previous articles, etc. It also usually has agency guidance as to what messages would be appropriate to deliver to the journalist.

Books tech pr Technology PR Uncategorized

Why journalists ignore most press releases. And why they will continue to do so.

Press releases suck says Sally Whittle.

She lists five reasons why most press releases get deleted:

1. Your sentences are too long

2. Your client descriptors make no sense.

3. Your quotes come from robots.

4. Jargon, jargon, jargon.

5. You sent it to the wrong people.

Read Sally’s post for the detail behind each of these. She says: “I can’t help but think that something has to change.”

Sadly, things probably won’t change. In fact, she nails the reason why in a comment to her own post: “The problem is that nobody dies when this stuff happens, and nobody is really offended.”

Journalists have simply come to regard poor press releases as a necessary evil – a constant background noise. Like tinnitus.

Clients still approve copy. And PR firms still get paid.

Can it really be that hard to follow some basic rules of copywriting?

For want of a few pounds spent on reading the books of David Ogilvy or Alastair Crompton, an entire industry could pull its socks up.

(One of Ogilvy’s many memorable lines was: “Always give your product a first-class ticket through life.” So why do so many clients and their PR advisors allow 4th class press releases?)

However, I suspect there is a much deeper reason for why press releases will continue being deleted in droves by Sally and her colleagues.

Any fule knos that a headline should contain a benefit statement – whether an ad or a press release. Scan SourceWire or ResponseSource and see how many headlines contain a discernible benefit.

Not many, eh?

And whether a journalist receives a press release via e-mail or RSS, the headline is the route to success. Given the dire standard of headline writing, is it any wonder so many releases get ignored.

Why is that?

It must be either:

a) The PR company hasn’t done enough homework to work out what the benefit should be. Or the client hasn’t briefed the PR well enough to allow a benefit to be discovered.

b) There are no real distinctive benefits.

I suspect in most cases, the answer is b).

That would explain reasons 1 – 4 on Sally’s list. Long sentences are usually a sign that you have difficulty in clearly articulating what you want to say – because there is nothing to say.

Or attempting to obscure the fact you have nothing to say.

Client descriptors make no sense because again they are attempts to make the mundane sound new and interesting – but with no basis in reality. Robotic quotes exist because they have been constructed like Lego. If the person writing the release actually uttered the quote aloud, they’d soon realise that no one of sound mind would pay any attention to it. And jargon is of course another example of trying to dress up mutton as lamb.

The fact is, many press releases should never have been written in the first place – but press releases levels are probably going to continue unabated – and no one will bother.

Then again, perhaps it leaves the field clear for those who can write good headlines and great body copy.


How many PR companies have a data governance strategy?

I recently claimed that one of the curious paradoxes of PR companies working in the technology sector is that while they pump out information on behalf of their clients regarding best IT practice, etc, the number of agencies with a robust and properly documented data management strategy is rare.

Mr Waddington at Rainier pulled me up on this and commented: “I can’t believe that in 2008 most agencies don’t have a data management policy or a centralised media management system and tools.”

Interesting therefore to read in the latest issue of Information Age about the results of a survey into data governance in UK companies generally. From a poll of 279 organisations of varying sizes, the magazine found that 42pc had a formal data governance strategy – which means 58pc do not. Admittedly, 27pc hope to implement one in the next 6 – 12 months. But that still leaves nearly a third of businesses without a data governance strategy.

According to Information Age: “It seems clear that many of the obstacles to driving a data governance strategy forward are largely cultural, stemming from both the upper echelons of the organisation and the rank and file. In 30pc of cases, ‘obtaining organisational buy-in’ proved the chief challenge, a problem that seems to stem from a general lack of ‘ownership awareness.’ Indeed, it seems the data governance evangelists are chiefly those in middle management, who are flanked by the disinterested or the unenlightened.” Sound familiar?

If Wadds is right, then the PR consultancy sector is a shining example to the rest of British industry in terms of data management and governance. The reality, I suspect, is that the PR consultancy world is no better or worse than than any other UK business sector on this particular matter.

Information Age magazine