Tech stalwarts struggle to attract best comms talent

A spate of CEO and CCO upheavals in Silicon Valley is a telling reflection of fundamental changes in technology as legacy companies try to reinvent themselves for a cloud computing future.

Early last year I had the welcome opportunity to spend three months on the West Coast setting up PRWeek’s sister brand The Hub.

As well as providing an excellent opportunity to escape the New York winter, it also gave me an insight into the significant differences between the East Coast and West Coast business and PR scenes.

The PR agency behemoths of New York hold less sway out West, where their perceived heavy lifting philosophy is often eschewed in favor of a more nimble and entrepreneurial approach.

Tech specialists such as the Next Fifteen Communications Group agencies, other independents, consultants, and offshoots thereof predominate and are trusted with big brand work that would usually be the preserve of the top five shops back East.

And there’s always a new hot start-up that becomes the must-work-with player until the next one comes round the corner.

This next-big-thing trend extends to the clients the agencies work on behalf of. Innovation and start-up culture is the bedrock of the Valley and dictates that industry will constantly reinvent itself. Change is the only constant.

The pioneering spirit of the first startup, Fairchild Semiconductor, led on to Intel and a venture capital community that backed Apple, Tandem Computers, Oracle, Genentech, Cisco, Juniper Networks and many others.

Big brands came and went, such as Sun Microsystems and Compaq. New ones appeared, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and eBay.

Now tech is reinvented itself again. And there are more casualties. In the on-premises, off-premises software dynamic, everything is moving to the latter, software as a service, or computing in the cloud, arrangement.

The days of data centers and organizations running software on computers in their own buildings are fading fast. Everything is moving off-premises or to the cloud.

The traditional managed services model has become bloated and outdated and some of the legacy players are finding that their old, bloated models are proving too big to turn around – like a large tanker.

As PRWeek web editor Brittaney Kiefer outlines in an analysis piece published today, there have been many leadership and senior management changes at these legacy players such as Intel, Juniper, Symantec, VMWare, and others. As a knock-on effect, the comms and marketing teams are also suffering or even being canned.

Some tech behemoths are changing their business models completely in an attempt to turn the tanker. SAP is moving its business software company from a licensing focus to a pay-as-you-go structure under new CEO Bill McDermott. Dell went private to try and transition the business from pure PC and laptop sales to an enterprise-level offering, with converged infrastructure leading this revolution.

As always, there are numerous new players nipping away at every part of the legacy folks’ businesses, such as Hadoop, software that originated within Yahoo and was released as an open source product in 2008. Commercial applications stemming from Hadoop have been developed by outfits such as Cloudera, in which Intel has invested.

Like never before, the legacy tech players need the best communications counsel they can get. But for a smart PR professional working in one of the hottest markets in the world, why would you suffer the daily commute down south of Palo Alto – where most of these companies are based – to work for a legacy player where communications isn’t understood, you have no access to the CEO, and a clunky marketing department dominates?

You might bite the bullet for a Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn and do a couple of years to experience the unique entrepreneurial character of these places and sprinkle some gold dust on your résumé. But would you do it for a Juniper, Intel, or Symantec?

Most senior comms players will have been contacted by headhunters over the last few months in relation to these roles. I’m sure they pay well. But what possible change would you be able to affect and how much excitement would be involved? In the hot market that is Silicon Valley, these things matter more to the smartest communications pros than pure financial remuneration.

As regular PRWeek readers know, communications can only make a real difference if it is properly embedded within an organization and has sufficient access to senior business leaders who understand the contribution it can make.

That's one thing that's just as true on the West Coast as the East.

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