Aug 2023

Does Tech need PR anymore?

Written by Paul Maher

Does Tech need PR anymore?

A former colleague asked the killer question. Fifteen years after we both worked together, ten years since we last caught up live he still had the power to get straight to the point.

“What is the measurable value of Tech PR today?”

Amazingly clear, this question is one even seasoned tech leaders, who know better, still ask themselves. The answer is PR drives the top of lead funnels like nothing before and since. But like B2B Tech itself, Tech marketing and PR has changed. 

First the news channels shrunk, then the action moved to social media, then Hubspot and others claimed linkbait drove traffic, which for a while it did. Then influencers arrived, in many cases replacing analysts. 

This all meant Tech PR had to change too. Now viewed over a longer timescale, media relations tactics are adopted fast and often fall out of fashion just as fast. This is not that surprising. By its very nature news changes fast and experimentation is rife across tech sales and marketing. 

The trouble with Inside Sales and Customer Success

Telesales became Inside Sales. Support became Customer Success. Now the trend for ‘Product-Led Growth’ (PLG), allegedly brings, get this, ‘headcount-free growth’. So what happens when PLG dries up and nobody has heard of you? 

There is value in each marketing tactic and none is a silver bullet to solve stalled sales. But inside sales and PLG work best for ‘standard’, easy to explain products. This is something my former colleague’s team had just found out as his Inside Sales team tried to step up to enterprise budgets, with enterprise buyer expectations and was asked ‘Who are you?” again and again.. 

In PR, Thought Leadership and Content Marketing have now merged, at least in the minds of many marketing pros, despite the fact one is a goal, the other tactics. Most recently, the cult of Customer Success has been massively downgraded, as it became less about upselling to delighted customers, more a desperate fight for subscription renewals. Customer Success is now a more dangerous claim than ever, because now SaaS subscriptions come under real buyer scrutiny from those who hold the purse strings.. 

Zoom, Twitter and PR

To be fair, since he and I last worked together, PR has changed a lot to become more relevant.  Lining up grand media tours where dozens of reporters descend on Central London, New York or Paris worked way better in the past,  before Zoom changed all our interactions. 

Press releases worked OK until Twitter sped up news cycles from weeks to minutes. Samey content was fine to drive SEO until ChatGPT raised the game and made everyone OK to average.

Today’s Tech PR requires a new skillset. The ability to differentiate B2B Tech offers from others, not at the ‘feed and speeds’ level, but as clearly explained business benefits which help non-techies see the business value. When press coverage speaks directly to the value line of business buyers can gain, the area of simplifying tech has never had more value. The ‘middlemen’ technocrats have in this way been disintermediated.

The very good news is the more general press has caught up with the trades. We may be using traditional PR skills, of ‘thinking like a journalist’ and providing valuable views supported by data, but we are aiming to impress a wider and more sceptical non-techy audience. 

The even better news is that as PR comes under the spotlight, marketing teams are more willing to share its value. Recent examples include a large German enterprise deal which came directly from a local press report and a partnership announcement which alerted customers that they could use both of the solutions together, something which had not occurred to them previously. We have numerous other examples to share.  

Recycled PR is more valuable than ever

More often than sales teams appreciate, these sales outcomes are earned by PR results which are then recycled by other parts of the marketing mix, like social, email campaigns and of course on websites, where even today, many sales journeys start.

So today’s Tech PR might bring way more value than ever. As other tactics come and go, the ability to persuade others, under the harsh glare of editorial scrutiny is one to be valued. 

Thinking of the results from Tech PR as feeding other solid KPIs like leads, deals and not just brand awareness and share of voice, is where it all starts at Positive. While we are no longer holding press conferences, cutting out paper clippings or relying on SEO snake oil to lure in buyers via Google rankings we are literally on the same page.

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