Interview: Andy Getsey

Andy Getsey is the cofounder and CEO of Atomic PR, a technology firm established in 1999 and based in the San Francisco Bay area. Getsey spoke with PRWeek about its upcoming work with BitTorrent, tech PR, and working in the post-dot-com Silicon Valley.

Andy Getsey is the cofounder and CEO of Atomic PR, a technology firm established in 1999 and based in the San Francisco Bay area. Getsey spoke with PRWeek about its upcoming work with BitTorrent, tech PR, and working in the post-dot-com Silicon Valley.

PRWeek: I'm going to start by referencing a story that we published on January 22 announcing your new relationship with BitTorrent. Can you talk a little more specifically about what you have in mind for them?

Andy Getsey: I think BitTorrent is such a fascinating new client for us. We all here know BitTorrent pretty well historically. It was very exciting to start working with them because they sit right at the hub of a very interesting shift in our culture. Already there are 135 million BitTorrent users, [many] of which we refer to as the BitTorrent generation. And this particular group of people has a voracious appetite for online content.

Where BitTorrent sits is at the collision of several different generations, with several different thoughts about what entertainment is, several different opinions about how to treat IP, and different business models between the physical production and distribution model and the digital production and distribution model.

There are all these users of BitTorrent technology [downloading] things. There are movie studios, television networks, and users of all sorts wanting to put up content. But, there are colliding business models. So you have movie studios and record labels and things like that that have to deal with pricing issues that came out of physical production and distribution. They're now trying to move content to an audience that is familiar with the differences between what things cost when you have to produce discs versus just posting them online. Over the next decade and longer we're going to see a lot of rethinking of intellectual property rights, copyright law, pricing models, etc.

BitTorrent technology has been associated with piracy, but they're getting ready to launch an online entertainment destination that will have more movie content than any other online site, more HD content, and more studio partners than virtually any of their rivals.

Where once they were associated with something that the studios were concerned about, now more and more studios are coming to partner [with them] to find ways to charge for the content. So it's going to be a pretty interesting ride.

PRWeek: Does this new situation pose any PR challenges for your firm?

Getsey: I don't think so. We're pretty much in intellectual lock-step with all sides of the argument, so we understand all of the various challenges.

I think the key for BitTorrent is to be authentic to their own point of view while still accommodating the practical realities of working with commercial partners that need to be paid.

They're going to have much more content than other options, the ability to use the content is very open compared to some of their competitors like Apple or Microsoft, and their pricing model is interesting in that it provides a really good alternative to piracy.  The research shows that many BitTorrent users are willing to pay for content if it is priced more in line with online distribution.

PRWeek: Advances in technology seemingly happen at a rapid fire pace. Can you give some tips on how to keep up with it all and how to not get ahead of yourself?

Getsey: First, there is not one technology market. People use it as a catch-all phrase, but there are many different technology markets. Most of them are connected by common themes. What we try to do is understand those macro themes before we dive down into the details of a particular client's story.

I think that is one of the tricks for tech agencies, in general, is to try and get clients out of [discussing] the details and get more into how the technology will impact people's lives or, when possible, culture in general. We're living in times when we're seeing all of this happen.

Before we launched [seven years ago] we did several months of R&D. We worked on an application to analyze communications context. We call it CommContext, and we've built a lot of our agency workflows around this application where we track groups of competitors or groups of similar concepts over time. We look at press releases, media alerts, and the resulting coverage in print, broadcast, blogs, and online destinations, etc. Most agencies track things, we just built this into a database so that we can use the information when we wanted to.

By taking different analytic views of all this information, we can find everything from macro trends, like what are the key memes that run through certain blocks of coverage or certain industries at any given time, down to granular intelligence about what individual journalists/bloggers think about any particular thing so that we're on an informed basis when we start working with them.

There are a couple of macro tools [out there] that are pretty slick. eWatch: I think most people know about that one and we've integrated that into our workflows as well. Magenta provides a pretty good tracking tool that's not overly-expensive. A lot of corporations use products from Symphony and Biz360. Our own CommContext tool is similar to that.

There are a couple of things that are really cheap and quick and very cool for figuring things out fast. Topix.net is one of my favorite places to go. And Google Trends is pretty interesting as well.

But I think the key to all of this is not to get so lost in detail that you miss the big things. Most people in the [mass] culture are not interested in the minute detail, but they're interested in the critical detail. We keep attentive to things that make a difference.

PRWeek: You were at the CES show. Can you talk a little bit about what you pulled from there?

Getsey: We had several clients and a number of teammates there. The first impression that many of us got was about the growing volume, quality, and ingenuity of online media coverage. We're big fans of analog media - print and broadcast - and I think they did a good job also at CES. But certain online destinations [had] very ingenious-type stuff. They had more postings than most of the more established media and a lot of it was pretty clever. Some people did some infiltration onto the floor beforehand and were doing blog postings. I think they were dressed as maintenance people. They were taking digital photos and posting them to blogs before the show opened.

One of the trends [there was] the ability to get content and move content from anywhere to anywhere. That was a big theme in the coverage and in speeches, in keynotes and demos. A lot of people were talking about this whole "content everywhere" idea.

Our client Avvenuu made an announcement at CES introducing a player that allows you to access your iTunes library from anywhere and send it anywhere. [And] NetGear also made an announcement with BitTorrent that was part of that "content anywhere" trend.

[Another] interesting [trend was] everything going HD. For a long time, everyone was talking about that, and [it's] really happening now. There's still the standards war going on between HD DVD and Blu-ray. Most of us that have been around for a while know that a standards war doesn't really help anybody, but LG had an interesting strategy. They introduced a hybrid DVD player so that you could play HD or Blu-ray DVDs. I think the reason people would buy that is because different studios are converting their libraries to different formats and they're not all doing it at the same time. So if you want to get a lot of HD content, you'd need to have both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

We do a lot of work in the storage arena. As more of the mainstream adopts media server-type technology in their homes, really downloading more content of all types, it will take a lot more storage. There are a lot of really interesting storage devices and the price points are plummeting to where people can archive tons of stuff for a reasonable price.

The last thing that was interesting was that iPhone was the big news at CES. The news from MacWorld encroached on CES and, for one full day, the iPhone was the talk of CES. From a PR standpoint, it's a testament to the idea of having a focal point as opposed to having so many things to try and pay attention to.

PRWeek: All of these things that you've talked about sound really techie, but they're intended for the average consumer. Can just anyone go in and just purchase these things?

Getsey: I think that's certainly what we'd like. Some of the stuff is a little more technical than plugging in your TV. But when you look at the difference in generations, especially when you get down into the younger generation today, I don't know that the word "techie" is actually meaningful because that is the generation that lives on their mobile phone, they live in text messaging, they all know how to work PCs and Macs, they all know how to network things.

So when we talk about the mainstream, there are two different kinds of mainstream, and I think they cut at a certain age. Above a certain age, the stuff does seem highly technical, but for people in their early 30s and their 20s, it is kind of a slam dunk for them.

PRWeek: Turning to the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco area where you're located, there have been more stories about companies out there getting back into the game after the post-dot-com slump. Can you talk about what you're seeing?

Getsey: When you talk to agency people all across the Bay area, everyone has the same story: there's a lot of business out there, there are a lot of accounts available, and a lot of agencies are full (we're close, we're operating at a comfortable capacity). Most agencies are trying to hire as we are. Our usual approach is to bring on bandwidth before we take on new assignments. We take on three or four new teammates, get them trained, and have them help out on things, then reorganize a bit and take on new accounts.

There's still a bit of Web 2.0 mania happening where you hear as much about very solid Web 2.0 businesses such as [Atomic clients] Blurb and LinkedIn, and the MySpaces and YouTubes, etc, [as] other start up companies that have a have a shakier idea of how they're going to make money.

I had lunch with a fairly well connected consultant yesterday and his perspective was that there are a lot of people that are doing [again] what was happening in the dot-com bubble. They're creating these companies around a technology that may not actually have a crystal clear purpose yet, but they're hoping to be acquired by the larger entities that are gobbling up the Web 2.0 and other social networking-type [companies].

Most of the agencies that I know are looking pretty carefully at the management of startups, their track records, and, more than that, [asking about] specific offerings. Is it truly useful? Does it have a chance of surviving?

The second thing that we're seeing is that clients of all sizes, whether they're startups or well-known brands - are looking for leadership from their agencies and they're looking for value. They want to see the connection between their investment and what's happening on the PR front.

There's a little more consolidation lately within the tech PR industry. There are a number of little agencies that are spinning out of the bigger agencies, which always happens when there are a lot of startups and lots of opportunity. [Many] middle and senior folks use the opportunity to cut out on their own and grab some clients.

At the same time that that's happening, there are larger agencies that are consolidating and buying up sector specialists, and tech is one of the hotter sectors. That's what you saw last year with Edelman acquiring A&R Partners. There were a couple of other acquisitions like that. And I know from talking with other people that the holding companies are always looking for growth opportunities with agencies that specialize.

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