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Tips on selling technology to the federal government

Tips on selling technology to the federal government

We (Ogilvy PR’s tech practice) often hear from business to business technology marketers and tech PR professionals looking for a better understanding of Government – selling to it, benefiting from stimulus spending, and how the regulatory environment may evolve. I want to share a great piece that our Ogilvy Government Relations team has developed. Having access to thinking like this is one of the things I love about working at a full-service firm that knows tech PR but thinks far beyond. 

For any of you with an interest in marketing products and services to the federal government, please take a look at these tips on how to build a stable and thriving federal sales market. 

Selling to the Federal Market: Complications and Opportunities

With declining commercial sales and an uncertain economic climate, many tech and IT companies are looking to the one certain growth market in today’s economy – the federal government.  Given the growth in federal spending projected over the next four years in every area from healthcare to border security, there is no doubt that federal agencies will continue to procure record amounts of IT services and equipment.

However, selling in this market can often be a frustrating dead end for companies not attune to doing business with the government.  Most adventures in government sales for the uninitiated bear little fruit for many years.  The most frequent refrain from disappointed vendors is that the government could not “see the wisdom or merits of their technology or services.”  

There are ways to build a stable and thriving federal sales market, but it takes commitment, time, money and savvy to realize that goal.  Below are a few tips for those looking to break into the federal market or to significantly expand their presence.

1) Know Your Market and Capabilities – Whether it is health IT, communications, data storage and retrieval, or complex systems integration, you must have active intelligence of federal opportunities before word hits the street.  This task requires active knowledge of agency plans for future budget cycles, agency requirements and Executive Branch and Congressional Initiatives.  Furthermore, you must know whether your technology aligns with that particular need and is either competitive or can represent best value to the government.

2) Be in Your Market – Simply coming to Washington from the home office, armed with minimal intelligence to meet with a government official is totally ineffective.  At best you will get a meeting.  At worst, you will be regarded as an outsider with an unproven track record.  Government purchasers are loathe to trust the untested and unknown.  Without a consistent physical presence in Washington, you will never gain the trust of careerists whose futures depend on making the right decisions.

3) Staff Up – To be successful at both step one and two, a company must have a dedicated federal sales force and a lobbying team to open doors and provide intelligence on an almost daily basis.  In addition, the company must have employees who have experience in the complex world of government contracting and requirements, and relationships with agencies that they have worked for or with in the past.  This is a particular type of expertise that is no different from that of a software engineer or other technician and it can prove invaluable in winning contracts.

4) Team Up – Often the easiest way to win government business is to team with larger corporations or trusted government service providers who already have large, flexible contracts in place with agencies.  Going after large contracts with major players as a sub can get the company in the door and begin building relationships for future opportunities.

5) Brand, Brand, Brand – As noted above, lack of familiarity in Washington breeds contempt.  A company in the federal market must be able to tout not only its name and technology, but its past and present performance as a government contractor.  Again, without the commitment to advertise and use public relations in the federal sales arena, few government purchasers will feel comfortable enough to take a chance on an unknown vendor.

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.


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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.

Today, watch 60 seconds with Genevieve Haldeman, VP of Corporate Communications at Symantec, on how to get into tech PR.


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Enterprise technology PR professionals, stop your whining and start your engines.  So you think the media and blogging worlds are only interested in your brand story if it is centered around a CE gadget  running on 3G, delivering cloud applications and fueled by solar cells.  Not so!

The b2b tech PR community breathed a palpable sigh of relief this morning (over coffee) in seeing William M. Bulkeley’s half page WSJ print (yes that medium) story on Cutting Tech’s Energy Bill; Computer Makers See Profits in Retooling Clients’ Data Centers.

Just what should we take from this?  A perfect storm of questions more business journalists should be asking like:

a. Where is enterprise IT growth coming from?  Data centers, Virtualization, Storage – you betcha, and more.
b. How is the corporate world impacted by energy costs and how will pain on the bottom line drive adoption of power-savings technologies?
c. Should more corporations be publicly reporting on their plans to curb electricity consumption?

Clearly, interest in speaking to ‘green for dollars-sake’ has not ebbed.  As b2b tech PR professionals, it’s our job more than ever to think broadly about the constituencies who have an interest in these issues.  Listen to them and engage with them as appropriate.

What do you see as the great untold b2b stories today?   What companies are doing a good job in your view of making their enterprise technology stories relevant to broader social, environmental and economic trends?  We want to hear from you!

Disclaimer: Ogilvy PR represents HDS, Brocade, and SAVVIS who have data center power-savings initiatives.

Disclaimer: Ogilvy advertising works with IBM.

In the past few years I saw a lot of PR agencies launching a Clean Tech Practice. In the interest of full disclosure, I was very tempted to do the same. I am passionate about tech and a big fan of everything green  (and I am not even Irish!)

It was during a conversation with a major clean tech company that I understood that Clean Tech is just a label, not where “clean” tech companies should play nor should position themselves. It’s about Energy, or better yet about Renewable Energies and how new technologies can find new solutions to old problems (urgently).

At that point a light bulb went on (and it was a fluorescent bulb!) — As Ogilvy PR, we have a lot of expertise in green IT (from data centers to semiconductors), and we do have a lot of expertise in traditional energy and renewable energies — so the easy part was to combine our existing strengths in both public affairs and technology PR. Et voila! Suddenly we had something the market was craving for. An agency with deep knowledge of who influences and decides public policy and how to reach them with politically effective communications, while offering a broader perspective into technology and business-to-business PR that looks beyond product public relations.

It’s not a new practice, it’s not a new group, it’s just the combination of expertise we already have within our firm. Now available to our clients. Don’t just call it Clean Tech.

Lina Han

by Lina Han
Category: Global, Tech PR, Trends

China has already earned a gold medal this week. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), there are now 253 million internet users in China, knocking the US off its pedestal. The US now has a meager 223 million users.

This is one competition the US will not likely win again. Most Americans (about 75%) are already internet users while only 19% of China’s population is. With so much potential in this market, who wouldn’t want a little bite?

But I don’t advise taking a nibble without more understanding. After all, emerging markets are very different from the more familiar mature market. Here are my “three” cents for thought re approaching tech in Emerging Markets:

#1. There is no “one size fits all.” Local needs in China will differ greatly from those in Brazil or Indonesia. Tech in emerging markets often bridges the digital divide by increasing connectivity. How this is achieved varies greatly.

#2. Realize a lack of infrastructure exists. Many countries with emerging markets may not have the infrastructure (say, reliable electricity) to support technology. These countries also lack a dependable distribution system. Therefore, developing relationships with local players is necessary to your success.

#3. Now comes the most difficult part: how do we justify selling technology to someone who could instead spend their money on medicine? We know technology creates opportunities by improving access to health care and education while also increasing communication and competitiveness in commerce. How do we convince them of this in our communication approach?

Emerging markets are often seen as a sort of new “frontier.” Just remember that this is a whole new animal you’re approaching. Treat it differently from your cat at home!

For the past couple of years I haven’t been in a client meeting or industry event where “social media” isn’t mentioned. Forget “mention”: it has been at the core of the discussion. But in all these conversations, what hasn’t been covered is how traditional media, in particular tech press, is evolving, changing, adapting; and what this means for “traditional” tech PR professionals. Publishers like CMP (or better the former CMP) and IDG are changing. They have been “socialized”.

From now on, when I talk to a client or colleague, I’d like to make a distinction between social media and socialized media.

Of course I believe they are both very important, but they are critically different. And since all the attention has been focused on the first one, in this post I want to share some initial thoughts on the latter:

  1. Traditional tech papers have been migrating for the past 2/3 years from print to online. By 2010 there won’t be any print. We will be living in a Paperless Tech PR world.
  2. Traditional space in the media to cover tech related stories is shrinking, but new opportunities to pitch and place stories are rising in new, different venues. The use of video, slide shows, graphs is exploding. The publishers themselves are still sorting out what they want to be, still blurry on what is pay to play and what is vendor content deemed worthy of editorial sharing. They’d be wise to make the distinction. As PR professionals, we now need to learn how to navigate this new environment and become fluent visual storytellers. We always knew that “an image is worth 1,000 words “. Now a video is worth even more.
  3. Almost all “traditional” journalists (I hate calling them traditional, as if they didn’t matter anymore – they do) are now blogging. We all know that. Some of them prefer staying unbiased on reporting, others enjoy the opportunity to become commentators. But the way they get their information and are sharing their stories is changing. Some of them are using social networks to do that, others not. So, in some cases, following a journalist on Twitter can be the best way to find out about a story or to come up with a brilliant pitch.
  4. Everyone is now a publisher. Now, in the “socialized media” world, tech publishers are eager to use vendor-generated content. The publishers are becoming a distributor of information. Transparency, ethics and credibility will play an important role as new rules will apply.
  5. Bloggers can be social media or they can be writing for a socialized media outlet. How can we define what’s what? Traditional bloggers like Michael Arrington, Om Malik and Robert Scoble (I love to define them as the traditional ones!) are spending a lot of time building their own personal brands. We can call them the “brandbloggers.” Bloggers of traditional media outlets (the “journabloggers”) are not focused on that at all. They are journalists by background, enjoy the freedom that only a blog platform can give them and know that branding is not part of their job description.

So what’s the net-net? As PR practitioners we are in front a very complex ecosystem, with a lot of moving parts. I think knowing and understanding the different motivations of all the players (the blogger, the journalist, the publisher, the editor) will make us better counselors and strategists.

I am personally extremely excited to start this blog not only because it will be a platform to share our thinking and engage in conversations with a broader community but because it will be really broad. In fact we have contributors from our Tech Practice from all around the world: from San Francisco to Singapore, from London to Sydney, we have people coming together with a common, global passion. Not, it’s not soccer. OK. It is soccer. But it is, mainly, Hi-Tech PR.

In this venue we will share what we see in the world of technology PR and beyond. We will talk about trends, ideas, things we stumbled upon, questions we might not have an answer for (and maybe you can help us.). Experiences of working with colleagues from other practices and disciplines. What’s changing and happening in the different markets: locally, regionally or globally.

We didn’t want to have the point of view of just a few senior PR professionals. So I am particularly thrilled to have members at every level be contributors. Fresh air. A different perspective. Young. Old. Experienced. Opinionated. Thoughtful.

We want to make it easy to have conversations with our clients, competitors, industry leaders, students, fellow bloggers and not just among ourselves. We would love to see a lot of content, ideas and participation.

Join the conversation. Throw us a Tech PR Nibble!

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide