Expert Q&A: Travis Van, founder, ITDatabase

ITDatabase is a research tool specifically for tech media that launched on May 4. Company founder Travis Van talks about what makes tech media unique, media relations for the tech industry, and why the company decided to launch now.

ITDatabase is a research tool specifically for tech media that launched on May 4. Company founder Travis Van talks about what makes tech media unique, media relations for the tech industry, and why the company decided to launch now.

PRWeek: What is unique about tech media and tech media relations?

Travis Van: The tech industry is especially rich with buzzwords and acronyms, and therefore there is both an initial learning curve and an ongoing duty to stay on top of emerging technologies. It's also exceptionally competitive. There are literally hundreds of "network monitoring and management" vendors, for example, and within just that category, there are 20 or more "network monitoring and management" vendors with an "open source" angle to their products. So it's hard to differentiate a product in the tech industry.

In the tech industry, typically neither the journalists nor the PR pros have computer science backgrounds.  Frequently in tech PR (with the exception of consumer tech), you see folks writing about datacenter products that they will never personally use or experience on any level. The communications professionals bringing them information and story ideas similarly have never personally used the product. So the vetting process is a little different for tech industry coverage and journalists must often look to other indicators to validate its newsworthiness, such as whether a product is seeing a lot of market traction. Tech journalists have heard all the different hyperbole and obvious pitch angles, so you really have to bring an airtight argument just to get your foot in the door.

PRWeek: Much has been said about how turnover at publications is impacting media relations. How is this specifically impacting tech media relations?

TV: The real consequence of the turnover at the tech publications is the quality of the writing. I've never seen more "advertorial" content. For years now, tech trades have been outsourcing a large percentage of their content to third-party authors. The consequence of this is that you see many trade publication blogs and columns being written by people with a commercial axe to grind. You also see tech analysts use their columns or blogs in otherwise reputable tech publications as a vehicle for promoting their paying clients. Typically there isn't much disclosure about these obvious conflicts of interests.

But if you look past all the doom and gloom there are literally thousands of active tech bloggers and rich discussions taking place within every tech product domain. Often these are bloggers who do have direct experience with the technologies they're writing about, and whose commentary is authentic to other technology buyers.

It's common that new blogs are launched, only to have just a few posts and then fizzle. The challenge for tech pros in getting traction with bloggers is to make sure they are using their outreach energies with the ones that are actively writing and have an engaged audience. They must also be careful about pitching bloggers who are merely using their site as a platform to sell their services.

PRWeek: Why is it important to have a media research company dedicated to the tech industry? And why did you decide to launch now, when the economy is in a slump?

TV: The tech industry has so much author churn and new sources popping up each day that it's really a tremendous amount of work to track all of the new authors and content. We believe that other solutions have been really inadequate for tech industry marketing and PR pros. We set out to build the product that we always wanted with the degree of precision that would enable organizations to effectively follow tech media.

When we founded the company in 2007, we weren't exactly aware of the severity of the pending recession. But the timing of our launch is actually quite advantageous. This is a time when tech PR firms and vendors are being ruthlessly efficient in evaluating new tools and technologies that they decide to pay for. We can afford to price our product at a much more reasonable rate because we don't have the tremendous operating expenses of the big incumbent research product vendors do. I like our chances.

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