COMMENT: PLATFORM; Consumer PR must outsmart the hi-tech mob

Why is it so difficult to find an agency which can combine hi-tech knowledge with consumer PR flair? asks Alan Welsman

Why is it so difficult to find an agency which can combine hi-tech

knowledge with consumer PR flair? asks Alan Welsman

Imagine you are about to launch a highly technical, yet potentially mass

market product. It can’t be sold just on its features and benefits to

the consumer as it needs to be explained in depth to be understood and

accepted by the consumer. Which PR agency would you approach to handle

the PR for all of the audiences you need to reach?

When Sony first began looking for agencies to help launch the Sony

PlayStation it became pretty apparent that finding an agency that could

combine excellent consumer skills with a working knowledge of hi-tech

and a strategic understanding of a large corporation was going to be


The most appropriate agencies split into two categories: hi-tech

agencies and consumer agencies. The hi-tech agencies tended to be

impressed with the machine but had little real understanding of how to

introduce a consumer product; the consumer agencies were not really

interested in the product unless it had either a celebrity, controversy,

or two breasts attached to it. In the end we settled for an agency that

bolted on its technology know-how, which to date has worked reasonably

well, but certainly was not the ideal scenario. But why is it so

difficult to mix cutting edge technology PR with consumer PR?

‘Digital’ is the present. A company like Sony has committed to digital

in every area of its business. We all know it, but only some are acting

on it. Hi-tech PR agencies have grown phenomenally as the digital

revolution has taken hold, but this seems to have been at the expense of

the more credible consumer agencies. For the moment at least, digital

consumer products are every bit as popular as the business-to-business

products which make up most of the hi-tech agencies’ client rosters. So

hi-tech agencies, which tend to be more aggressive in winning new

business anyway, have started to explore consumer PR. Unfortunately,

their efforts often make a marketer feel about as comfortable as bumping

into their parents at a rave.

One of the problems with this whole sector is that until very recently,

in-house marketers have comprised of product, rather than consumer

orientated personnel. Consumer PR is as new to some in-house staff as it

is to the hi-tech agencies they have traditionally used for their less

user-friendly lines. This means most in-house staff will be dazzled by

consumer agencies and it will take a giant leap of faith for them to

move to a real consumer specialist from an agency that really knows

their product.

Sometimes I think good luck to the hi-tech agencies who have cornered

the market on what will be a hugely increasing market sector, but I know

that consumer agencies produce, on the whole, much better work in their

specialist areas. So I strongly believe that the impetus in bringing

together the skills needed for promoting technology to a consumer

audience should be coming from the consumer agencies. I have no doubt

that as the number of digital consumer products increases, so will the

number of in-house marketers from consumer, rather than technical

backgrounds and consequently the need for agencies that cover both

technology and consumer PR will grow and grow.

If consumer agencies don’t act quickly, the hi-tech boys, who seem to be

coping better with the shift in emphasis, will get it all and that would

be a great shame.

Alan Welsman is head of PR at Sony Computer Entertainment

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