Beyond the hype: Establishing PR’s strategic value in a changing technology sector6 years ago
In the tech sector there is scope for PR to work smarter and more closely with Sales to target key prospects and drive up revenue. By Sarah Milner.
Public relations in the technology sector is not one of the functions of PR you often hear about at industry conferences or in academic journals. Blame it on a lack of awareness, or even a dismissal of for-profit PR; misinformation abounds that PR for technology is synonymous with media relations and getting one’s company, product, CEO or client positively and publicly portrayed.
That may be the case for some practitioners, perhaps those that identify with pop culture’s caricature of PR as publicity and spin, but there are a great number of us who know public relations is a strategic management function, shaped by how some of the world’s largest PR associations define the function.
The landscape for PR in technology is changing, just as it is for all of our specialties, be they sector, industry or discipline. This change is leading to opportunity – particularly in technology, PR can be all that the Melbourne Mandateoutlines; in the age of the customer and increased corporate accountability, the function is well-positioned to be responsible for helping organizations contribute to society by defining their values, creating a culture of listening and engagement, and instilling responsible behaviours throughout the organization.
It can be an uphill battle to convert organizations often led by the Sales or Marketing functions to redefine their views of PR, but the way to achieve this is clear: PR must be at the executive table helping to shape business goals and strategies and then it must align and deliver results on those same goals and strategies driving the business.
But how does PR get to the table in the first place? Work towards aligning with the goals of today, being a valuable asset for the branches leading the organization today, all while pushing to shape the goals of tomorrow.
Long-Term Strategy: Establish PR as the overarching communications function, above marketing, advertising and social media
Establishing PR above Sales and Marketing sounds big, broad and impossible, right? Yet, here is the basic fact of the matter: PR is a two-way symmetrical communications function and a best practice in our customer-centric, social engagement world. As such, PR should oversee all forms of an organization’s often one-way asymmetrical communication, including marketing and advertising.
With PR at the centre of stakeholder dialogue, not to mention its strong roots in ethics, it’s perfectly poised to be the one function that acts with all stakeholders’ best interests at heart. PR should then be the function to develop the overarching communications strategy, determine the mix required to achieve the plan using marketing tactics and tools and then be responsible for rolling up results and reporting on them in a way that demonstrates clear alignment with business goals.
The linchpin in this argument is something businesses can’t ignore – in today’s business environment, there are real and immediate consequences to a poorly managed reputation and mismanaged stakeholder relations. PR is meant to be the organizational conscience so necessary to building consumer trust.
Medium-Term Strategy: Establish PR’s value early on in the sales cycle
Education, thought-leadership, awareness – these are areas where PR really shines for the technology sector, and they happen to be crucial to building the credibility needed for what Sales would call early stage leads. Reputations are not generally built overnight, but luckily, there are ways PR can lead this initiative that will not take decades.
Some core tactics to support this strategy focus on shaping thought-leadership in target industries through analyst relations, membership in industry associations, and participation on industry and technology working groups. The interactions with and your contributions to analysts and industry associations and working groups will help your company gain a wider footprint while understanding and shaping the trends affecting businesses with which you have relationships. While much longer term, it is possible to found your own industry association and define new categories of business – this is the sort of strategic leadership PR was born to do.
Following that, there is of course the need for PR to facilitate search engine optimization for a company’s website by driving referral traffic to the site and helping ensure quality content that will contribute to a larger share of voice on the net.
It is PR’s ability to build the credibility and trust of an organization and its products that ties into and reaches early stage leads, helping educate and raise awareness while contributing to getting prospects into the funnel and paving the way for some of the more direct, one-way communication methods tackled by Marketing for lead generation.
Short-Term Strategy: Enable the sales team to sell
There is no better way for PR to support business goals in the technology sector than enabling the Sales department to sell product. Yet, there are more strategic ways for PR to do so than simply distributing a news release, or many, as is often the case.
When PR and Sales work closely together to identify target industries, processes and accounts, PR can use this information to strategically plan the kind of outreach that will help develop success stories – either in the form of analyst reports, case studies, media coverage – that lend third party credibility to what Sales is discussing with prospects and customers.
It’s also important to enable the Sales team to use PR’s contributions to industry thought-leadership and competitive positioning. This can be accomplished by sharing resulting content generated by PR and tying that content back to target industries, processes and accounts for Sales to use to start or follow up on a conversation with prospects and customers.
As the public, and consequently a business’ stakeholders, are increasingly vocal around wanting personal, targeted communication, an ever-growing trend perfectly demonstrated by the explosion in popularity of social media tools, it makes sense for organizations to establish PR as the overarching communications function in for-profit organizations. Particularly within the technology sector, this will help change the perception of PR from a ‘necessary evil’ to a key differentiator in leading the customer-centric focus for organizations and the technology industry.
Sarah Milner, APR, MBA, is the Public Relations Manager with e-SignLive by Silanis, a leading electronic signature software company. Sarah specializes in PR for technology, specifically for business-to-business software, and her 12 years in PR have included agency and consulting work with businesses, non-profits and government organizations in a number of industries including technology, finance, health, insurance, transportation and tourism. You can find Sarah on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Sarah Milner, APR, MBA, is the Public Relations Manager with e-SignLive by Silanis, a leading electronic signature software company. Sarah specializes in PR for technology, specifically for business-to-business software.mail the author
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