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Tech PR Spin Doctors Itself Into A Hole

He claims that the low barrier to entry and the fact that a lot of PR executives are poorly trained and have an inflated view of the importance of what they do is causing more harm than good.

This is no more evident than in the technology marketplace where technology and consumer electronics companies, are cutting back on marketing spend while trying to crank up their PR exposure which they view as a “free ride” during the economic downturn.

In Australia, we have more vertical technology publications and web sites than we have for most other lifestyle subjects. On top of this mass market newspapers and magazines are covering the round because information of technology driven products and services is in demand.

However the technology round is a difficult gig for a lot of public relations companies and because technology is so diverse, a lot of PR simply don’t get it. Most PR practitioners fail to understand the difference between information for sellers in the technology channel and information for buyers.

Last week for example, I had a PR executive contact me after sending me an emailed press release. They wanted to know whether I intended to use the story in SmartHouse. The only problem was that the story was about a high end software application that is traditionally purchased by large enterprise companies.

On another occasion recently the PR Company for Sharp sent a press release that started with an opening paragraph that read “Sharp Corporation of Australia is delighted to announce the release of three new microwave ovens, the R290NS, R395NS and the R398NS….honestly when did you last see a story written like this in any serious publication.

And if you did they are a media organisation that is trying to kiss the backside of a vendor in a desperate attempt to get advertising.

Words like delighted to announce and models numbers in an opening paragraph is sheer PR  garbage and is reflective of both poor management, by the PR company and even poorer management by the vendor who has approved the release and is actually paying for the release to be syndicated.

In the technology marketplace Public Relations companies are split between the large well organised practitioners who employ an experienced group head to manage their staff and what is being syndicated by bottom end players who think PR is simply churning out press releases.

These companies unfortunately are a dime a dozen because vendors often want PR but don’t want to pay for it or alternatively employ a PR company on a release basis as opposed to a monthly retainer.

These types of organisations don’t have a clue about brand or building the ethos of a company. All they want to do is churn a release, hope they get a result and run back to their client saying “hey look at how much free publicity we got for you”.

Then you get companies like Sony and Apple who spend very little of their large marketing dollars on print publications or web sites that every day write about their products and services. Too often technology writers fall in love with a brand and as a result the brand gets an extraordinary amount of coverage despite the fact that their product is not a market leader. Apple notebooks are a classic example.

Then you have the big brands that openly want to milk free PR out of publications because they know that consumers trust these publications and web sites when they go shopping. The media organisations are by majority niche relevant sites that actually deliver a big buying audience. Yet despite this, the vendors spend their main marketing dollars on sponsorship, TV commercials and billboards.

In Sony’s case they have four in-house PR staff and an outside agency working on trying to get exposure in niche technology media and if they don’t get their own way they turn nasty. They also spend little if any dollars on supporting the media organisations that often give them the largest amount of exposure.

For example 4Square Media has for many years written about Sony we have given them 5 star reviews, awards for what they have done in the past as well as extensive coverage of their brand for the simple reason, that in the past they have been a key player in the market place commanding market share and brand presence.

However as soon as we highlighted the fact that Sony was in serious trouble and that their Sony Computer Entertainment Division was, in our opinion and that of many of our readers, price gouging Sony started to threaten us.

On one occasion when we made a mistake claiming that Sony gaming software was regionally coded the Managing Director of SCE threatened us with legal action for daring to make such a claim.

Then there was the issue of Sony Australia sacking 32 people, when their competitors were hiring staff. What their 98 word press release failed to do, apart from spin doctor the issue, was justify why Sony, who love to claim that they are market leaders, was taking such drastic action.

After writing a story that highlighted Sony’s woes we suddenly found ourselves blacklisted. Here was a media organisation that was not toeing the Sony party line so what did Sony’s PR machine do…refuse to return calls.

On one occasion recently, a senior Sony PR executive screamed down the phone that they wanted a story taken down because it was not relevant to Australia. The story about the kidnapping of the CEO of Sony France Serge Foucher, and Roland Bentz, head of human resources for Sony in Europe.

Sony Australia tried to say that the story had no relevance to Australia and that our story about the tightening of security at Sony was “wrong”. Only days earlier Sony Australia had laid off 32 staff. They also failed to return 3 telephone calls by myself to clarify local information.

This is a brand that is in serious trouble and is fast becoming a PR nightmare. They are laying off staff in their thousands, losing money in the billions and outsourcing their once sacred brand to third party manufacturers under the guise that the manufacturing of products like Bravia TV’s is still managed by Sony.

There is an old saying in this world and is the “the pen is mightier than the sword” and as a publisher and writer and the former owner of the third largest PR Company in Australia working on brands like BHP, Shell, BMW and the likes of Olivetti, Digital, Atari and Wicat in the early days of computing, I have learnt that the only way to attract an audience is to be impartial and that positive and negative stories are a key part of the editorial mix.

Too many technology vendors are using sloppy PR practitioners in an effort to obtain PR spin during an economic downturn.

They want a free PR ride, reviews and stories about their brand and products, while spending their marketing dollars on billboards, TV radio and media organisations that don’t write reviews or more importantly don’t deliver the product or brand credibility that print and web based organisations can deliver with systematic explanations.  

I, for one, won’t accept these practises as technology media organisations also have staff and salaries to pay in an economic downturn. They also attract some big numbers. For example SmartHouse, Good Gear Guide and Australian Personal Computer between them deliver over 1.5 million consumers every month who have visited these respected sites because they are actually interested in obtaining information on consumer electronics goods and services, often before making a purchase decision. 

In the technology PR arena, we are witnessing massive staff churn and unfortunately IP information on clients is not being passed along the food chain to new PR staff that see PR as a “street cred profession” but fail to deliver the experience necessary to be effective.

What is needed is dialogue between PR practitioners, vendors and technology media organisations in an effort to develop collectively a modus operandi that is beneficial to all parties. We also need relationships that work, not bullying by the likes of Carl Rose and his PR cronies, nor do we need IT organisations that tip thousands into PR and retail catalogues in the expectation of a free ride but little into marketing their brand in the very publications that deliver that credibility.