It’s a pretty dark out there.
The economy has tanked, people aren’t buying and employees are treading on eggshells fearing they’ll be next on the dole line.
Time to dig the foxhole deeper and wait for the economic shrapnel to whizz by, right?
Fact is other smaller companies are eying your market share and thinking that you’ve gone into hibernation waiting for the new economic spring.
I work in Asia-Pacific and it’s here that the next breed of up-and-coming companies will come from to steal market share from today’s incumbents. Many of these companies are extremely successful in their home markets, where they have honed manufacturing and supply chain management into sharp, competitive weapons.
Their weakness is in marketing and understanding cultural, societal & business nuances outside of their core market.
I remember one large Asian IT company trying to engage in channel development and marketing in Australia — unsuccessfully (with similar results and experiences replicated in the US and Europe). Their experience in engaging with third parties and stimulating demand through that channel was rudimentary to say the least. It took a while for them to understand that the the channel itself did not generate demand for itself and that it was the task of the vendor to aggressively brand its products and services for end-user awareness, consideration and hopefully purchase.
They also failed to connect the dots when it came to understanding that because they were foreign, they had no brand equity and their local positioning and messaging was highly undifferentiated in a more highly competitive, open market.
So the company defaulted to winning business on price. After a few years, it realized that it could not sustain its offshore business profitably and that domestic sales were propping up overseas expansion efforts that could not pay for themselves.
No HBR study needed here: the company was on a fast track to a major crash and burn.
So it changed tack: it decided to outsource marketing and communications to Western companies that could help it overcome these challenges and it started to re-engineer its business operations as well as marketing.
It’s now starting to expand more aggressively as a result — despite the economic downturn. And guess what, it’s expanding in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and then the US last of all. But it’s taking share from US and EU companies in those other geographies, taking significant bites.
With the global credit crunch, US and EU companies have dug their foxholes deeper, but in the meantime they are being surrounded by smaller, more agile, higher efficiency Asian companies.
If you want to take a look at the planet’s next IT powerhouses, a quick scan through the Deloitte Asian Fast 500 is an illuminating read (http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/article/0,1002,cid%253D239357,00.html).
So the message here is that now is not the time to shut up shop, now is the time to reinvigorate your brand, your products, messages and positioning because you’ll be ready to take on all challengers when the market swings back into the black.
I recently listened in on a panel discussion at a PRSA Tech Talk event with New York Times staffers. Tech editor Damon Darlin, Internet reporter Brad Stone and venture capital reporter Claire Cain Miller sat on the panel and discussed their take on the Times’ tech coverage.
Tech coverage at the New York Times has evolved in the last few years, according to Damon. First, there’s no such thing as a 6 p.m. deadline anymore. When a story is edited, it’s ready to be posted. Thus as digital media evolves – getting faster and more crowded – so do journalists’ approach to story gathering. Secondly, readers have come to expect fresh content that still has some depth. If they don’t find it on their favorite news site, you better be sure they’ll go someplace else.
Still, the Times isn’t entirely focused on being the first to publish; albeit reporters will absolutely consider exclusives provided that they’re genuinely exclusives. Brad Stone had an interesting perspective on the paper’s changing role: People are probably going to get their breaking news about a new iPhone app from someplace other than the New York Times, maybe even a wire service or Gizmodo. The Times may use the news as a peg, but only for setting the context for a larger, in-depth story. “Even though The New York Times covers breaking news, we’re becoming more like a magazine in our story-telling style,” Brad said. This is a good thing for us PR folks as we’re looking to secure seminal-type stories for our tech clients.
Funny enough, even these seasoned “techsters” said they have a hard time maintaining the rate of digital consumption that is demanded of them – which makes me feel almost entirely less guilty! Keeping up with Twitter, Techmeme, Facebook, MySpace, RSS feeds, MyYahoo! and so on comes with a heavy time burden. As a result, these reporters say they’re staying in the office more and more, and forgoing out-of-the-office briefings. The opportunity for PR pros is simple: if they won’t come to you, bring a high-level exec to them! According to Damon, they love when a CEO comes to the office to talk about industry trends, and not just their most recent product release.
By the numbers
What? New reporters to pitch?
The New York Times has added four new writers to their technology section over the past year demonstrating its resilience to a shrinking media landscape. Examples include Ashlee Vance’s joining the publication from The Register giving the Times someone who has an aptitude for, and will write about, B2B / enterprise hardware and software stories. Claire Cain Miller’s joining the NY Times last summer from Forbes now gives the publication someone who is dedicated to the venture capital beat, which they’ve not had previously. Jenna Wortham, the most recent addition to the tech team, came from Wired’s Underwire and covers Internet business and lifestyle – namely how people are using the Internet to change the way we live.
Does anyone have experience with these or other New York Times tech reporters that they’d like to share?
… systems architect I had the opportunity to design these whizz bang things that would change the world one company at a time <tone check: sardonic>. The problem with the world was that it wasn’t always ready for change. So one of the skills I had to develop was to convince the world that it really did want to change.
I would go out and talk to all the stakeholders top down, bottom up, left to right and ensure that everyone felt included in the process and understood the mandate.
After a while I started to get good at this and noticed that there were certain people who were important to win over. Most of them had been around for a while and their peers looked up to them. They said things like:
“… the whole box and dice fell over and we spent months reverting to a paper based system. It was a nightmare.” When I came across people like this I knew there would be more deployment issues and helpdesk calls from the teams around them. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though.
“Just what we needed, I’m so glad someone at head office was listening.” Sure enough, when we had people like that, they would be helping out at every opportunity to make sure it worked. As a result we had less problems or when we had problems they were of shorter duration and intensity.
I started to focus all my efforts on these guys…
If I could win over these guys, they would win over the rest, less effort for more reward right?
We had worked all weekend to cut over to new Whizz Bang 2.0 and my little influencer group tested it, and they thought it was great, the testers thought it was great. We thought we ironed out all the bugs. I was as happy as Tran.
By 10am on Monday morning, we still had no support calls hit the helpdesk. This was fantastic. By 11am I was getting suspicious. There are always at least one or two questions. I asked the engineers to check the load on the servers.
Barely anyone was using it! I called the influencers and they said that most people thought they needed to use it when the old system worked fine. I had to dig further, so I walked around and chatted to people:
“It was so and so’s pet project anyway”, “It doesn’t do this”, “I hate it”, “Why is this box here and that one there?”
Translation: EPIC FAIL
In agencies we have good relationships with the media. This is important. It’s what many of our clients come to us for. As good as we are at media relations we should not forget that we are in
Not all PR is media relations. PRIA has a fancy definition with terms like “mutual understanding”, “deliberate” and “sustained”. I prefer:
Do good stuff. Tell people about it.
If you do good stuff people will talk. Do enough good stuff and people will respect and follow and you will get media coverage. Don’t do stuff just to get coverage. It’s hollow and media consumers will see through it. We need to listen. Social media gives us great opportunities to listen to what people want and what people don’t want from our clients, but there are also other ways.
Where we can we need to advise and counsel our clients on how they can do good stuff to increase the love for their brands. Coverage is a by-product of being a good corporate citizen, a good vendor to your customers.
Coverage should never be the focus.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a long time. I give you, in all our glory, members of Ogilvy PR’s DC tech practice.
And for the record, while I am scary good at the Wii tennis, next time someone asks me that question, I’ll remember the correct answer.
If you’re a Sheryl Crow fan like me, you’ll recognize the lyrics from Maybe Angels. But in this economy, B2B marketers and Tech PR pros are dying to believe that IT decision-makers are out there ‘angels of the technology economy’ that they are – ready to be engaged.
And Forrester Research says they are out there. Forrester’s just released study The Social Technographics Of B2B Buyers by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young looks to be a fantastic study on what buyers of technology products are doing with social media. We knew they were out there, I swear. But its been difficult to determine who they are (still is), and what exactly they’ve been doing with social media as it relates to their jobs (now we’ve got the first look). The good news is they are on the whole (77%) engaging with social media, though predominantly as what Forrester calls ‘spectators’. Which is fine. That’s what we do in PR; reach out to target audiences (active or spectator) to foster positive engagements.
Take a look. Laura Ramos gives a nice overview of the study on her blog. Our B2B technology PR clients have done some effective initial forays into social media. Now with greater data to prove the right targets will be there, there’s no time to lose to jump in with both feet.
Some time ago on a blog not so far away there was a posting about the role that borders play in digital influence. The conclusion that I drew was that borders have an extremely limited role to play when undertaking online campaigns.
An outlet’s reach is only as far as it can sustain continuous profitable distribution. In terms of heritage media, it was as far as they could truck newspapers overnight, or as far as a radio or television signal could be broadcast.
The result of this is that the only people that would have access to an outlet is those within its distribution network. This generally meant, within the same city, state or country.
It follows then, that what their audiences wanted to see and hear was what was happening in their communities.
Which lead to the local, state, national and world approach to news that we see today.
Who can blame us? It just makes sense. We work in geographical teams handing off work to in-country teams because they have better knowledge of their publics.
I said knowledge of their publics not knowledge of their geos or regions. Although in the old world these two aligned, in the world of Internet, your publics could be anyone, anywhere, the only commonality is they may want to hear your message.
Widget Company XYZ sells computer widgets globally. It’s customer base is truly global. The company is well regarded and its music playing widgets are popular the world over.
Due to its popularity there are a legion of bloggers, and tweeple that talk about its products the world over.
When customers have questions, they go to the internet and search for a solution and try to look for other people who have the same problem. Do you think they’re only going to try to find bloggers in Australia?
Well it’s not rocket science and I’m no rocket scientist. I think the answer actually lies in creating content aligned, not geography aligned teams. The teams may be geographically dispersed to aid in cultural differences but these virtual teams can be anywhere in the world.
If you are running a campaign to assist a product launch or educate your publics, you should be looking at any and every influencer not just those that are in your geo. Your publics won’t be that limited.
But really, was adapting to a mobile workforce easy when we first started trying to 10 years ago? We start by counselling ourselves, talking to our teams and get the conversation going. We then talk to our clients and get them thinking about these issues. It won’t change overnight because people won’t change overnight, but we have to start talking now.
Tech PR in 2009 and beyond.
A new year. A new American President. A bad recession. There are many reasons why I have been thinking about the future of Tech PR, not just through 2009 but beyond. What is the role PR agencies play in this new world? I am an optimist by nature, and cautious by experience.
What can we expect to see, in the short term and the long? Is PR going to suffer as an industry?
I see seven major trends:
1. Smart companies continue to invest in PR during recessions because this is the time to gain market share, differentiate yourself from your competition, build your brand and protect your reputation. I like the way Craig Barrett put it “You can’t save your way out of recession – you have to invest your way out.”
2. PR agencies who can provide a seamless, integrated approach to tech companies will survive better than tech specialists. This is the time where you need to provide your clients with counsel on different issues, so you need to have a team of people with different backgrounds that you can pull from. Corporate reputation, crisis and issue management, consumer marketing, public affairs, government, and vertical expertise…the list goes on. The agency who can deliver a seamless, holistic mix has a huge competitive advantage (and will prove most useful to clients.)
3. Tech companies need to learn how to better integrate PR and marketing. In a media world that is becoming more complex, fractured; where the difference between earned and paid media is blurry, companies that will develop a strategic, integrated marketing approach (we call it 360) will go beyond mere survival. It’s not about channels; it’s about how you engage with your stakeholders. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Agencies that can deliver on that will hugely benefit from it (and so will their clients.)
4. Social media is not killing PR agencies; on the contrary. It’s giving us more opportunities. We all read posts about social media killing PR… well, anyone who thinks PR is just calling media doesn’t have a clue about what we actually do. As I mentioned above, the complexity of the environment is only adding square feet (and toys) to our already really fun sand box.
5. Chief Content Officer. Content creation is key. With the media shrinking (every day we hear of layoffs at very prestigious media outlets) creating your own content and distributing it through different channels is critical to the success of building a powerful brand. Is it time for a new position? Chief Content Officer, anyone?
6. The world is flat, yes. But it is also hot and crowded as Thomas Friedman pointed out. Two trends here. Global and Green. Let’s start with global. Clients need PR agencies to work with them on a global basis, but it’s not about “Think Globally, Act Locally” anymore. It’s about idea creation and sharing those ideas globally, efficiently. It’s about understanding the sensibilities of different markets and cultures.
7. Green. As I wrote in my post the opportunity for working with green tech companies is huge. But the skill set needs to go beyond pure tech PR. You need to combine b2b tech with experience in public affairs, energy, government relations and corporate reputation.
PR is here to stay. Paraphrasing Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” song, PR can never die, there’s more to the picture.
my my, hey hey
rock and roll is here to stay
it’s better to burn out
than to fade away
my my, hey hey
hey hey, my my
rock and roll can never die
there’s more to the picture
than meets the eye
hey hey, my my
Here is to a new era of responsibility.
I’m keen to understand how the global recession is impacting social media and particularly the North American powerhouse, Silicon Valley. I’m interested in the develpments occurring at Silicon Valley mostly because today we can consider it the backbone behind a lot of the big Web 2.0 companies.
Belts seem to be tightening in all industries across the board – banking, automotive, retail and so on – yet we’re still seeing big injections of capital in many of the Web 2.0 companies.
Take micro-blogging service Twitter for example. It was announced this week that Twitter has managed to raise $35 million in venture capital in spite of the challenging economic climate. This capital has come from Institutional Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital.
Are venture capitalists finally seeing the real value of Web 2.0 in helping deal with challenging times ahead?
I think that social media will come out on top in these tough times as people start using it as a means of cost-saving on entertainment. This is especially important at a time when people are becoming increasingly budget-conscious and are rather choosing to bunker indoors and save their pennies.
I’m a good example of this. I seem to find myself on fewer outings to the movies and instead I keep my cinema experience to my lounge room with my LCD TV, entertainment system and complete surround sound system. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw at the cinemas but I could rattle off at least five DVDs that I have watched at home. I also spend less time travelling and more time talking to my friends overseas via Facebook and Twitter.
There are a plethora of online technologies and digital devices out there that provide consumers with their own portal to entertainment. Aside from big screen TVs that bring you a cinema at home, there are also notebook PCs to consider.
Notebooks are another means of cost-effective entertainment to online services such as online gaming, online video, video conferencing and instant connection to friends and family via IM, social networking sites, email or Skype with those embedded with broadband solutions.
Interestingly enough, consumer experts are also already tipping that many Australians will use the planned $950 Rudd Government cash handouts to splurge on games and gadgets, following record spending on electronics last year (as reported by the Courier Mail).
I’ll be watching these developments closely but please feel free to share any information specifically around how you think social media will fare in light of the global recession.
If you haven’t been following this Australian story, it’s a stark reminder on why you cannot deceive people through social media campaigns. And if you get caught telling fibs, please admit it.
Naked recorded a video of an actress who claimed to be trying to find the man of her dreams who had left his jacket in a cafe, and put it on YouTube. It quickly became the most talked about stunt, but for all the wrong reasons. It suffered a backlash from social media commentators who opposed the deception involved in the campaign. Then a second video was produced, and so it went on. The hole was getting bigger by the day. It would only be a matter of time before someone fell in that hole, and that person was Naked’s CEO in Australia, Mat Baxter, who quit last week.
There entire saga moved at such a fast pace and there were plenty of twists along the way – first denials, then admissions, then defence of the stunt and finally more finger pointing. Naked said it was all fun and harmless, but the bottom line is that people don’t enjoy being lied too.
The last straw was when The Australian’s Wish magazine published a full page advertisement from Naked for Witchery naming the journalists and media that had been fooled into writing about the stunt. Ouch! As you can imagine, this didn’t please those journalists.
Whilst the CEO has now moved on, can Witchery recover from this mess? If you check the company’s web site, it’s still trying to turn this situation into a positive (if that is at all possible?), offering customers the opportunity to meet the ‘famous’ model from the YouTube video. Perhaps the named journalists will turn up looking for revenge!
Not quite best practice and further reinforcement that you need specialist advice to play in the social media space.
I have found that corporate communications briefs for technology companies tend to have one thing in common. “Make people see the amazing innovation we have here” they say. Sometimes that innovation is easy to find, sometimes not. The motivation for wanting that innovation brand association however can be murky but often has an undercurrent of ‘we want our brand to be more respected, valued, get us out of commodity positioning’.
So when real commitment to market- and economy-moving innovation comes along, you have to applaud it.
In this economy, you need to scream your sincere appreciation for it, because it shows a commitment to be stronger tomorrow than you are today.
Example: Intel announcing this week a $7B investment over the next two years as they upgrade their facilities for 32nm technology used for the production of new faster, smaller, energy efficient chips. (Note: Intel is a client).
Intel CEO Paul Otellini said it so well this week on NPR. http://tiny.cc/4FLW7 “New technology is what pulls companies in technology out of recession,” he said.
And when asked what feedback he gave President Obama on the stimulus package, he did not hesitate to support plans to spend on much needed infrastructure investments, with the National Science Foundation, quality of classroom infrastructure, and tackling long-overdue problems that technology can solve, like electronic medical records. “My God,” Otellini said. “How long have we talked about that (Health IT)”?
How long indeed.
And just how long have we applauded brands for ‘innovation’ when there was little substance beyond an island in second life?
Intel has set a bar. And the best thing about that bar is if you really listen to what they are saying, they want more companies to meet and beat that bar. A rising tide raises all ships.
Lets not get amnesia about that bar on innovation when things get better, OK? Who else do you see raising the bar? I’d love to applaud them.