For a few brief years, b-to-b technology journalists found
themselves covering a seriously sexy category. Soaring company
valuations and a general Internet obsession turned 20-something
entrepreneurs into respected visionaries.
The hype in b-to-b technology may be over, but that doesn't mean the
sector isn't still one of the most dynamic and competitive segments
It's just that attitudes have changed, and that's been reflected in how
reporters cover both established and new companies. "The reporters are
now more interested in customers and ROI," says Katy Rogers, media
supervisor with San Francisco-based Blanc & Otus. "There's a lot less
emphasis on vision and stock price, and more on how companies are making
The Wall Street Journal remains the most influential publication
covering b-to-b technology, followed closely by The New York Times,
Business Week, and the Financial Times. "A lot of business tech
companies will have polices that say publications like the Times, the
FT, and the Journal are handled in-house because those relationships are
so important," says Virginia Cartwright, director of the global
technologies group at Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L). "They need a
one-to-one ongoing correspondence with the reporters."
But in general, the reporters covering this beat are divided between the
traditional business press and a host of vertical trade publications
aimed at IT specialists. The leading b-to-b tech reporters are Matt
Marshall of the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle's
Kelly Zito, The Wall Street Journal's Ted Bridis, Tom Weber, and Glen
Simpson, and Neil Irwin at The Washington Post.
Among the leading b-to-b tech reporters in the trade world are Michael
Vizard of InfoWorld, Stephanie Stahl at Information Week, Richard
Pastore at CIO, Allan Holmes at Federal Computer Week, and Joseph
Panettieri at Smart Partner.
It takes more than an IPO
Like virtually everyone else touched by the technology market's rise and
fall, reporters covering b-to-b technology have become a bit gun shy
about touting the next big thing. "You have to remember the journalists
at all of these different publications have been on the same
roller-coaster experience as the companies and the PR firms over the
past three years," says Mark Hausman, president of Strategic
Communications Group. "During the exuberance of the economy, there were
a lot of thought leadership stories...as well as stories about specific
personalities that were running companies. Journalists today have no
interest in that."
Now tech journalists want proof positive that a company can back up its
claims. "There's no doubt that in today's tech marketplace, journalists
are looking for case studies," says Michael Neumeier, VP of PR at
Atlanta-based Abovo. "Journalists in this area have been burned on the
'grand vision' story, and are still willing to look at the future, but
they want to know what it is that this company is making happen
That sentiment is echoed by Richard Pastore, deputy editor of CIO
magazine, which is aimed at information officers. He says CIO's audience
wants practical information on how to do their jobs better rather than
stories on why a new product may be better than another. "In the past,
companies were willing to let it go wild and fast, and now they want to
make sure they're doing it right for the long term," he says.
Thanks to CNNfn and CNBC, b-to-b tech companies get more than their
share of airtime, although the focus tends to be on stock performance
rather than any new products or services. MS&L's Cartwright says
publicly traded companies can still use quarterly and annual earnings
announcements to get on the air and deliver some of their key messages
and projections, although she stresses that PR firms and executives have
to be wary when making forward-looking statements. Cartwright says she
urges clients to agree to interviews even when delivering news that
won't help their stock prices. "A lot of companies have gotten burned by
not being up front and not being open and accessible," she says.
Targeting is the new industry standard
In general, the media outlets focused on this part of the technology
industry have been impacted by the decline in advertising.
Once-high-flying magazines like The Industry Standard, Red Herring, and
Business 2.0 (which recently merged with eCompany Now) have all
struggled recently, and layoffs and reduced editorial content have
robbed them of some of their luster.
But more importantly, many b-to-b companies and their PR firms are
realizing that it's the often staid trade outlets - rather than glossy
business publications - that end up driving new business simply because
those are the ones being read consistently by current or potential
customers. "Since the beginning of the year, those trade publications -
the verticals - have become more important than in the past," notes
Larry Meltzer, GM of Fleishman-Hillard's Dallas office.
Hausman concurs, saying, "If you asked me 18 months ago, I'd say I'd
much rather have a profile piece in The Industry Standard, but today I'd
rather be in CIO or Information Week."
The good news is that there are plenty of outlets for trade-oriented
tech stories, including regional and metropolitan business and
technology journals, as well as Internet newsletters and sites. "For a
lot of smaller companies, these are good places to be," notes Meltzer,
whose office represents Yahoo! Broadcast Services, among others.
"Obviously, you can't always be in The Wall Street Journal or Business
Week, but the online sites are also very influential for customers, and
we want to be where our clients' customers are."
While in most cases it pays to reach out to as many journalists as
possible, b-to-b technology is one of those categories where the right
story with the right reporter can go a long way toward positively
changing attitudes about a company. Virginia-based O'Keeffe & Company
targeted Ian Hopper of the AP for a story on the b-to-b applications of
the Palm hand-held platform. The firm flew Hopper to San Diego, and from
there to the deck of the aircraft carrier Constellation to write about
how the Navy uses Palm devices to track the quality of carrier landings.
"Obviously, we couldn't take eight reporters and put them on the deck of
the Constellation. That's not viable or allowable," says Steve O'Keeffe,
founder of O'Keeffe & Company.
The story was picked up by dozens of outlets, including The New York
Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Herald, and Los Angeles Times. "Working
with an AP reporter was a fantastic way to reach audiences across print
and broadcast media," says O'Keeffe.
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; Financial
Times; The Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; San Jose Mercury News;
San Francisco Chronicle
Magazines: Business Week; Fortune; Forbes; Business 2.0/eCompany Now
(merging); Red Herring; The Industry Standard; Upside; Fast Company
Trade publications: eWeek; Information Week; InfoWorld; Computer World;
MSI; Management Systems; Smart Partner; Federal Computer Week; CIO;
Managing Automation; Computer Reseller News; Accounting Today
TV: CNNfn; CNBC
Internet: ZDNet; CNET; SearchStorage.com; CBSMarket-Watch.com;