15 September 2008

Everyone Needs a Publicist - Why I Have a Real Job

Since beginning my career in high tech PR, I have come to strongly believe that everyone needs a publicist. PR Agent, PR Chick, PR Specialist - titles are negotiable. Of course, not everyone will support my thesis. In fact, many wouldn't. Last Friday, ReadWriteWeb questioned the need for Tech PR in a post, "Does Good Tech Need PR?" The argument for tech bloggers is they prefer to discover new technologies on their own. Steve Rubel testifies: "If I didn't find it on my own or stumble upon it early myself, I don't bother. I actually like the thrill of the chase and serendipity. I want to be first."

Robert Scoble is even more vehement against PR.

Okay guys, we get it. You want to write about news that strokes your ego. Something you've hunted and killed. Bloggers by nature DO NOT have to be objective, so you have a free pass to write about whatever you deem newsworthy.

But why, then, does Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW land on YES, good tech can benefit from good PR?

Let me get personal for a second. When people ask about my job the tagline I offer is: "I work for a high tech public relations firm with a client base of early stage high tech startups." Straightforward, right? Heh. Nine times out of then, I've lost people at the mention of "high tech" (even in Silicon Valley!). Then, in my urge to clarify, I make the common mistake of jumping into far more detail than necessary only to catch myself minutes later entertaining blank stares and an audience politely nodding heads while exclaiming, "Wow, that's interesting!" Yeah right...

That's when I realize yet again - everyone needs a PR person. Why? Well, for starters, we're all too close to what we do to step back and present it clearly. Terms we use everyday and think common might sound like gibberish (at best) to a fresh ear. When I try to explain PR I forget that no one actually wants to hear the nitty gritty details of what I (or my clients) do day-to-day, and how each moment fits under the umbrella term of "public relations," "log management," or "desktop virtualization." In fact, I believe my friends want to hear exactly the opposite - only the minimum amount of detail required to categorize, understand and/or evaluate the person, product or service in question before moving on.

People don't have time to listen for hours about a product, service or offering. That's why we watch movie trailers before going to the theater, read the backs of novels before buying, and listen to the free iTunes sample before downloading the whole album. You can't expect a full investment without a demo and, when it comes to high tech companies, a demo isn't always a bad thing. What might be an awesome bug fix for a developer may mean nothing to a customer. By contrast, what was easy to hack, might be the best new feature ever. A good PR person will help you find that interesting anecdote for your audience.

The fact that many of the companies I work with are not easily discovered or understood at first glance doesn't mean they aren't newsworthy, innovative or disruptive. It often means they are complex with too many possible directions to pursue. And thus, they need help figuring out how to talk about themselves in a compelling and easy-to-follow way.

So, I feel vindicated - everyone needs a publicist, but not only good tech. Good PR people are the guys and gals who "step back" and identify the top themes that might help people (reporters, analysts, customers, partners, the "public") understand what they are hearing. Good PR people engage intellectually, then surface the story or attainable vision above the syslog stream. And, sure, there are bad PR people. There are bad every kind of people. Just think of the difference between McDonald's and Ruth's Chris Steak House with regards to quality of food and service. Then, apply that to any industry, including PR.

At the end of the day, bloggers clearly reserve the right to disdain the whole food service industry, but they still need to eat. And, beyond just one cool product or technology, when a group of people want to build a sustainable business, they incorporate PR real fast.

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