In a dramatic about-face, the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) last week decreed that it’s now OK for PR firms to accept stock from dot-coms in exchange for services, reversing a position it has long held.
In a dramatic about-face, the National Investor Relations Institute
(NIRI) last week decreed that it’s now OK for PR firms to accept stock
from dot-coms in exchange for services, reversing a position it has long
The first thought is that NIRI is leveling the playing field: a number
of highly respected agencies have taken stock in their clients, and the
ruling ensures that NIRI members don’t lose out on the windfalls now
available. It also helps NIRI agencies retain staff by offering an
attractive alternative to the lure of a stock-offering dot-com.
Still, was the timing of the announcement merely ironic (given that many
dot-com stocks are almost worthless now, and agencies are successfully
wooing pros back) or was it actually deliberate?
By making the switch, NIRI showed that it is moving with the times. But
it also demonstrated once again that it is focused on the interests of
its member companies. NIRI had found that the restrictive policy was in
some cases encouraging companies to go to stock promoters flying under
an IR banner - simple hucksters - and it felt this could actually damage
the reputation of the IR profession. Or as NIRI president Louis Thompson
tactfully said, ’Companies were not availing themselves of legitimate,
sound IR consulting.’
Nonetheless, it will take some careful monitoring to ensure IR
professionals do not themselves morph, subliminally, into simple ’stock
promoters.’ In IR, as in all aspects of PR, there is a fine line when
representing the interests of a client. (If you’re not trying to nurture
the stock price, what are you being paid for?) The inclusion of cash in
that equation complicates matters even further.
Hi-tech PR ain’t what it used to be
Remember Grumpy Old Man, the character played to perfection by Saturday
Night Live’s Dana Carvey? One can easily see the old codger looking at
our hi-tech rankings (p26) in disgust, saying, ’Phooey! In my day,
technology PR didn’t include investor relations, or public affairs, or
even that change management malarkey. We did product launches and trade
shows and we liked it!’
He’s got a point. These days, just about anything can be construed as
’hi-tech PR,’ and it usually is. Taking a retailer online? That’s
Dealing with Wall Street analysts or Beltway regulators? That’s
Or is it really?
Put it all together, and hi-tech PR rose a whopping 57% last year and
now accounts for 39% of total agency revenues, up from 32% in 1998.
Driving the growth are the global giants: Fleishman-Hillard’s hi-tech
operations constituted 36% of its PR income in 1999, up from 20% in
1998; at Burson, it tripled from 8% to 24%; and Hill & Knowlton’s
hi-tech share increased sixfold.
This is all well and good, but how much of the growth is coming from the
bread-and-butter work that created so many industry giants and is
responsible for the prominent role of PR in the technology world
Put another way: Are agencies reclassifying consumer/corporate/financial
PR work as hi-tech to goose their numbers? Some agencies reported
revenue growth that was beyond impressive - it was ludicrous. Which begs
the question: what is hi-tech PR? One thing’s for sure - it ain’t what
it used to be.