ANALYSIS: Profile - Growing a tech shop by leaps and bounds/Like many PR pros, Glenn Abel does not like to call attention to himself. But with his Texas hi-tech practice doubling in size, the South African has proved he is a breed apart. Sherri Deatherage

If you’ve never heard of Glenn Abel, you’re not alone.

If you’ve never heard of Glenn Abel, you’re not alone.

If you’ve never heard of Glenn Abel, you’re not alone.



The soft-spoken president of Springbok Technologies doesn’t brag

much.



And he’d rather hobnob with venture capitalists than rub elbows with PR

types.



But over the last six years, Abel quietly has grown Springbok into one

of Texas’ largest independent hi-tech agencies with clients like Nortel,

Ericsson Components and Sabre. Sixty employees strong, Springbok’s

revenue doubled to more than dollars 4 million last year and should

double again in 2000, Abel predicts. He hopes a strong showing will earn

his firm a spot on Inc. magazine’s list of the nation’s 500

fastest-growing companies.



Abel jokes about being from the Deep South, but his accent isn’t one

Texans are accustomed to hearing. His native home of Cape Town lies at

the tip of the African continent - as far south as you can get in the

Eastern hemisphere.



South by Southwest



As a high school student, Abel visited the Lone Star State and returned

in 1981 to study at the University of Texas at Austin. There, he earned

his journalism degree and entertained two job offers - one writing for

the Dallas/Fort Worth Business Journal and the other with National

Public Radio in Rochester, MN. The day he visited his radio prospect,

the city shivered through its coldest day on record. ’To print

journalism I went,’ he quips. In those heady days of the early 1980s oil

boom, Abel’s local weekly occasionally sent him to Europe chasing

stories.



After a disenchanting stint at a small local PR firm (which Abel

declines to name), he returned to business journalism as a writer for

CommunicationsWeek, now titled Internet Week. ’It was an amazing time to

be a reporter,’ recalls Abel, who covered the break up of AT&T. A

one-square-mile area in the Dallas suburb of Richardson became more

densely packed with telecom companies than any other spot on the globe.

’All of a sudden, the market was wide open. That’s where the genesis of

Springbok Technologies began.’



But first, Abel put a few years of corporate experience under his

belt.



He worked for two companies that didn’t survive the fierce competition

following the AT&T breakup and the late ’80s economic downturn.



Abel founded his own company in 1993 and named it after the springbok,

an African gazelle known for its speed, gracefulness and ability to

outpace pursuers. Still harboring skepticism from his negative agency

experience, Abel added the word ’technologies’ to the name instead of

’communications’ or ’public relations.’



’There’s something of a stigma associated with public relations,’ Abel

observes. ’It means anything and everything to the uninformed.’ In his

opinion, his previous employer and many other agencies focused too much

on execution and not enough on strategy, offered clients few

business-to-business opportunities and made little effort to measure

results. ’When I was at CommunicationsWeek, with some exceptions, the

folks who were building relationships with me were former reporters who

had been hired by these young companies.’ With that in mind, Abel set

out to form an agency made up entirely of former reporters. But seasoned

journalists proved hard to come by, so he hired the smartest people he

could find and trained them to think like reporters. Today, Abel’s

employees include former marketing, advertising and PR execs, as well as

journalists and lawyers.



As Springbok expanded, it added investor relations, creative services

and, most recently, a healthcare division. It formed affiliations with

other PR firms around the world through the Global Technology

Network.



The company also is reorganizing its IT, finance, human resources and

other functions into an operational division to coordinate the logistics

of growth.



Melinda Hart, Abel’s first employee and now a VP, moved to Austin in

1997 to be with her husband as he studied for an MBA. Recognizing

potential in Texas’ capital city and wanting to keep Hart involved with

the business, Abel opened a two-person satellite office. Since then, the

Austin office has moved three times and grown to a staff of 20. ’I never

would have anticipated the growth,’ Abel admits. If the Dallas expansion

had been ’phenomenal,’ he describes Austin as taking off at ’warp

speed.’



Moving beyond traditional PR



Abel remains unimpressed with traditional PR. Springbok calls itself a

hi-tech media relations agency, although its activities go far beyond

pitch letters and press releases.



’Mindshare’ is a word often repeated at Springbok. Agency

representatives seek peer-to-peer relationships with client companies to

help with strategic planning. Much of Springbok’s growth results from

its efforts to help clients expand their own businesses. Abel puts

particular emphasis on introducing clients that have things to offer

each other beyond the traditional realm of business-to-business PR. For

example, Springbok matched one start-up with a venture capitalist and

still represents another that has been purchased twice.



To encourage top-level networking, Springbok in January joined with

PricewaterhouseCoopers and the American Electronics Association to

sponsor the ongoing Texas Xs and Os (executives and officers) symposium

series, where an invitation-only group of execs pay to hear nationally

recognized business leaders.



Abel hopes the Xs and Os will take their show on the road and expand

outside Texas.



He sees no end in sight for the hi-tech PR boom: ’Technology always

fuels the next generation of products, and someone’s got to be there to

market them.’ Hi-tech PR firms not only should stick to their chosen

speciality, but should also use technology effectively in-house, Abel

says. He’s particularly proud of a new E-Room software package his IT

staff has tailored to serve as an intranet for staff members across the

state, and as an extranet to keep clients in the loop and reduce

errors.



Springbok consciously avoided self-publicity during its formative years,

but Abel recognizes the need for more exposure now that his company has

flown ’above the radar’ in the Texas PR world. Forget the lion - it’s

time for the gazelle to roar.



Glenn Abel



Founder, president



Springbok Technologies



1983 Earned journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin

1983-92 Wrote for Dallas/Fort Worth Business Journal and

CommunicationsWeek, served stints at a small PR agency and two

technology companies



1993 Founded Springbok Technologies



1997



Springbok opened an Austin office and created Global Technology Network.



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