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The scenario was one that I had come to expect. I was having lunch with a colleague who is VP of sales for a technology company. He was grousing about what their 'name' public relations firm was doing (or not doing). He shoved a document across the table and said: "They're getting $4,000 a month for this." What he gave me was a sophomoric exercise in positioning and tag lines, meanwhile, the company's lead generation program had been a disaster, and his sales people where engaged in the brutal hand-to-hand combat of cold call telemarketing to get sales for the company's new Internet product.

In another example, I saw some press on a fairly trivial topic from a software development company where I knew the VP of marketing. The coverage was too organized to be serendipitous. I called him and found out that he had a 'name' high-tech public relations firm on retainer for 18 months, and the 'cutesy' press coverage was all that they had obtained in that time period. Finally, I came across an article by a marketing director at a high-tech firm that described how to use public relations for high tech. The article was somewhat basic and superficial, but I was curious as to how much of it had been put to use. I did an online search and found that there had been no editorial coverage or press releases on that company for several years!

What gives? Why is public relations for technology companies such a disappointment and cause of frustration for most client executives?

Quite frankly, it is because technology public relations is not clearly understood by most executives at technology companies. There is no 'mission statement' for what they want their public relations to do, and it is not tied closely enough to their sales and marketing, where the objectives are specified and benchmarked. Often, the public relations program has nebulous objectives of 'awareness' (which comes form the advertising community) or 'influence the influencers' - which is curious, since I haven't come across a high-tech company yet who met their revenue goals by selling to industry analysts. They are one of your significant audiences, to be sure, but the public relations effort initially should be targeted at more near-term customers and markets.

What steps can a technology executive take to get the most from their public relations effort and advisors, and make it part of their competitive advantage? Here are some pointers that will help to identify the program objectives and capabilities that you need to effectively employ high-tech public relations:

Public relations, when used effectively, can help to create competitive advantage and more importantly, help to shorten the technology or services sales cycle. It can be the most powerful sales-support tool for difficult-to-sell products or services. However, the effective use of public relations services requires that the purchasing executive be somewhat of an 'informed buyer' of those services. The executive has to know what capabilities they are looking for to help them use public relations as an effective sales and marketing tool, and should be prepared to provide both direction and identify benchmarks for the effort.

Copyright 1999 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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