Ten years ago, said one PRO, a career in technology was viewed as
the public relations equivalent of a diplomatic posting to Kazakstan. He
was only half-joking; the sector has traditionally been in the shadow of
its more attractive sibling, consumer PR. 'It's not only boring, it's
scary,' said another. 'Ask anyone what goes on in a PC or mobile phone
and they stare at you blankly'.
A recent report backs up this view. Dr Cherry Taylor, MD of research
agency Dynamic Markets, is author of Resourcing the Hi-tech PR
During interviews at the end of 2000 she found that the sector remained
unattractive to job seekers.
And although sector growth was estimated at 'conservatively' 30 per cent
this year, the pool of available staff has only grown by an average of
12.5 per cent over the last 12 months. 'It is seen as a bit naff and
boring and not that sexy,' she says.
But in-house PROs at technology companies refute this negative picture
of the industry. Vodafone Group UK head of PR Corinne Norris says that,
while understanding the products is important, 'technology is the
It's the application that's interesting'. As are the add-ons, she says,
which include high-profile sponsorship deals such as the one with
'Applications change so much faster,' she says. 'Mobile phones have only
been around since 1985 and strategy and tactics have to change faster.
It has also become more global.'
Cisco Systems UK and Ireland senior PR manager Angela Hesse agrees that
technology's place in the scheme of things has changed markedly: 'Ten
years ago it was less sexy to the general public. It was harder to make
people listen and you had to sell it out of trade publications and into
the national daily press.' That is not so much of a problem anymore, she
'There are not too many industries where new technology is developing
and becoming part of more and more consumers' lives,' says Dell UK and
Ireland home and small business PR manager Annette Condon. 'Instead of
being seen as the preserve of the computer nerd, products look sexier
and the interfaces are easier.'
From the punter looking for a laptop to the company seeking storage and
servers there is a range of interest in technology, she says. 'People
are less interested in 'speeds and feeds', especially at the consumer or
small business end. We certainly don't have a problem with staff
attrition. It's fast-moving and exciting. The rewards are good too.'
It is a mark of how much technology PR has changed in the last decade
that talking to the trade press about widgets is no longer the only game
in town. Connecting to the small business landscape and working with
mainstream media such as broadcasters and broadsheets to build brands is
seen as crucial while talking about products has, in many cases, taken
the back seat.
Nick Mason Pearson, director of corporate communications at search
engine Ask Jeeves UK, agrees: 'In technology PR, there is definitely an
advantage to having 'broader than technology' experience. With us,
there's a need for brand marketing rather than widgets marketing.'
David Josephs, whose clients tend to be infrastructure firms fuelling
the dot.coms, agrees that the received wisdom of technology PR having
less allure is changing. However, the Citigate Technology MD says: 'It's
a challenge; a lot of technology companies say they want to talk about
business issues but traditionally they are more comfortable talking
about the technology.'
There are still varying degrees of interest for potential employees,
says Edelman director of technology David Ingle. This is the difference,
say, between handheld devices and mainframes. With PalmPilots, 'it's GQ
or Loaded, it's edgy, you're out there, you're connecting,' says Ingle.
'But give them an AS400 to worry about ... and no.'
Simon Merrick is PR managing directot at SNS Group, a Kent-based agency
whose clients are involved in software, semiconductors and industrial
technology. At the graduate account executive end, 'PR and marketing was
their focus, they have good writing skills and have gone on to learn the
technology,' Merrick says.
Grant Butler Coomber head of human resources Paul Morris agrees with
this approach: 'We aren't looking for highly techie-type people. Our
focus is on finding people with top-class PR skills. Every aspect of
business is almost completely integrated with technology anyway. You
want an eye for a business story, rather than tech wizards. You're no
longer selling a piece of business software to newspapers, you're
selling a story. But there is a shortage of people if you were
recruiting at a very senior level.'
And this means that poaching staff is a fact of life. 'Yes, there's a
good network of practitioners, a core set of skilled people,' Ingle
says. 'Our staff regularly receive phone call approaches.'
Josephs says: 'It is no secret that staff turnover rates in the
technology sector would seem to be worse than other PR areas. I always
feel it takes people six months or so to understand the landscape; you
do need to understand the context. It is more intellectually challenging
than consumer PR or 'old style' technology PR.'
Clive Armitage, managing director of Bite Communications agrees that
there is a perception that technology PR is 'dry and boring'. 'When I
started out I had that view but found that the reality turned out to be
that it's a sector that is challenging intellectually.'
Anthony Wilson, Hotwire founder and managing partner agrees. 'A lot of
people leaving university would tend more towards consumer PR.'
But broader social changes should be to the advantage of the technology
PR industry. 'Today's graduates are more at home with technology: all
understand the internet, all students use e-mail. Look at quoted
technology companies - they are so much a part of everyone's life. Two
years ago, no-one really knew what a dot.com was,' says Wilson.
But it is not a homogenous beast, he says. 'A lot of people say they
'do' technology but we thinks it's rather dated as a concept.' Hotwire
has six practices, including new media, enterprise computing and
telecoms.' This inevitably leads to a degree of specialisation early,
which suits someone with an interest in, say, IT storage and security
but may not appeal to someone who likes the stimulation of dealing with
a computer manufacturer one day and an entertainment dot.com the next.
On the other hand, Wilson says, the agency is 'giving people the chance
to follow their passion'.
But passion for technology is not the only thing to worry about; it is
increasingly difficult to ignore the chill west wind of recession.
Things have certainly changed since the heady days of 2000. Potential
staff for agency and in-house technology jobs have been aware of their
worth during the tech boom of the last two years.
Ashley Chace, MD of specialist PR recruitment agency The Works, sums up
what they have been looking for: 'August.One and Text 100 have very good
packages, including duvet days and a menu of benefits you can pick
from.' Toni Castle, HR director LEWIS, says the way to attract and
retain good staff is the same as in any business - 'Good salary, and
benefits package ... and a structure that allows them to develop'.
So are there good candidates out there? 'At a senior level, people lured
away into dot.coms are now back on the market,' Chace says. 'There is
still a shortage at the lower end. But there are fewer consumer tech
jobs around. It tends to be B2B.'
In fact, according to Market Dynamics' report, today 40 per cent of
technology PR firms are not recruiting at all; the focus of those which
are is at account manager, rather than account executive, level; and
only nine per cent are recruiting at all levels.
AskJeeves is one of those with no recruitment plans at present. 'People
are beginning to evaluate and revise their business plans in the light
of what's going on in the US.
The companies laying off the big numbers are the global companies,' says
Mason Pearson. 'But in Europe things are slightly different; the UK
advertising market has not cooled off as severely as in the US. But
there will be some retrenchment and budgets will be squeezed.'
Argyll Consultancies chief executive Crispin Manners says there is
trouble on the horizon for those not geared up for change: 'Pretty well
any company in the IT Top 200 has announced redundancies. Those who've
got their product right and communicate it well will do well. The next
six months will be extremely hard and I will be very surprised if there
isn't some business pain.'
As US tech clients retreat back inside their own borders away from
Europe, Mantra co-founder Debbie Wosskow says: 'We will see some pushing
back on fees and we will see people being more results-focused. This
year is not about growth, it's about consolidation, being sensible,
hoping you've picked the winners and come out the other side.'
But whether catering for the dot.com explosion or the subsequent
'dot.bomb', in-house departments and agencies still have to find the
right people. And Taylor still thinks agencies are missing a trick :
'Hi-tech PR has its own PR to do.'
RECRUITING AND RETAINING TECHNOLOGY PR STAFF
The predictable things are important when it comes to attracting and
retaining technology PR staff: interesting products, decent training and
varied work. But salary is, of course, also important.
According to Dynamic Markets MDCherry Taylor, graduates with a year's
experience could be earning pounds 21,000, rising to pounds 40,000 or
more five years later: 'There is vast room for improvement in terms of
communicating that to potential employees.' Last year, agencies were
scrambling for staff - with remuneration to match - as dot.coms and the
rest expanded. 'They are now committed to those salary brackets,' Taylor
continues. 'What are they going to do, demote people? It is a very
interesting time for them.'
Salaries have dipped since last year, says Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of
Mantra - which has gone from two to 30 people in 15 months: 'It is
cheaper to recruit now than it was eight to ten months ago.'
Porter Novelli Convergence Group MD Tom Watson insists that employers
must be clear about what they are looking for: 'Everybody who works with
us is a PR professional first and a technologist second.'
Wosskow agrees: 'It's not about techies anymore; it's about people who
can bring learning from the old economy.'
Hotwire co-founder Anthony Wilson says culture is vital: 'PR is a
creative business and people are looking for a culture where they feel
It's not the money that's important, they are looking for an exciting
career. We have a meritocratic approach: people can immediately be
travelling abroad and dealing with the national media if they prove
they're up to it.'
NOKIA LOOKS TO NEXT COMMUNICATIONS CHALLENGE
That old Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times' certainly
applies to the telecoms sector at the moment, particularly in mobile
Every week another of the big players seems to announce thousands of
redundancies, thanks to the market for mobiles reaching saturation
point, and the beginnings of a global economic downturn.
Couple this with the halting transition to 3G technology and ongoing
fears about the safety of mobile phones, and the communications
challenges are certainly interesting.
Nokia is the global market leader in mobile phone units, and despite its
strong brand and solid profits, it is not immune to the difficulties of
finding good people for its communications function in such a
Speaking to PRWeek, Nokia corporate communications senior vice-president
Lauri Kivinen says he believes more skilled young people are attracted
by PR because the impact of globalisation and the fast growth of
technology businesses means the function is more respected.
His concern is that despite being more attractive to people with broader
business backgrounds as a result, in-house PR, particularly within a
specialist market, is still often viewed as a narrow function.
Nevertheless, Nokia has the benefit of being a strong brand, which has
helped in recruiting. The company is open to where its communications
people come from, and also encourages moves into PR from within other
departments. For example, the recently-appointed UK senior
communications manager is Mark Squires, previously its business
development manager (PRWeek, 11 May).
'We still need new blood and skills. Mark knows the company and the
product and has been a key spokesman. Giving him this job will also
challenge the way we communicate because he will bring fresh ideas,'
He is a firm believer that because 'PR is about a love of language and
communicating with people', it's important for PR managers in each
market to be natives. 'In Hungary, we have a Hungarian PR manager, and
so on across the world,' he says.
Nokia now has around 100 PR people in-house across the world, based in
key markets and where the individual businesses are big enough to need
their own communications support outside that handled from head
This is unlikely to grow much further, though.
'In the past five years, the number of our PR people has roughly doubled
to 60,000, along with the number of countries in which we do
The next step will come not through adding people but through
The use of the web in communications is at a very early phase, and we
will see tremendous improvement to the service we are able to offer
journalists, for example,' says Kivinen.
One area where he thinks there will be growth is employee
communications: 'It's an area where professionals will clearly be
needed, especially in fast-changing and developing environments.
Businesses like ours are changing fast, with global challenges and high
pressure, and our global head of internal communications has to work
very closely with the HR function.'