Long arm of hi-tech PR reaches deep into pockets of companies

WASHINGTON, DC: With the hi-tech PR market showing no signs of cooling off, dot-coms and other tech titans grudgingly continue to play by the rules set by top-level PR firms. But according to several companies surveyed by PRWeek, frustration with spotty service, inexperienced account execs and high fees is coming to a head.

WASHINGTON, DC: With the hi-tech PR market showing no signs of cooling off, dot-coms and other tech titans grudgingly continue to play by the rules set by top-level PR firms. But according to several companies surveyed by PRWeek, frustration with spotty service, inexperienced account execs and high fees is coming to a head.

WASHINGTON, DC: With the hi-tech PR market showing no signs of

cooling off, dot-coms and other tech titans grudgingly continue to play

by the rules set by top-level PR firms. But according to several

companies surveyed by PRWeek, frustration with spotty service,

inexperienced account execs and high fees is coming to a head.



Given the monthly retainers the best hi-tech PR firms request and

regularly receive - six-figure sums are not uncommon - companies are

beginning to wonder whether they’re getting satisfactory bang for their

buck.



’Fees are exorbitant,’ said Penny Karas, manager of PR and events for

e-business systems builder Cysive. ’I came from an agency and worked on

major accounts but didn’t see anything like this. (Firms) charge

indiscriminately while turning away business.’



While Karas wouldn’t reveal Cysive’s PR budget, she said the company’s

biggest problem wasn’t fees. Rather, it couldn’t find an agency to take

its business. After talking with six firms that cited conflicts of

interest (Cysive didn’t agree that the conflicts existed), the company

settled on Ruder Finn earlier this year.



Rica Guarnieri, director of PR for YelloBrix, said PR firms have to

strike while the iron is hot, ’before the economy turns down.’ Like most

tech companies, the company has high expectations for its PR firm. ’I

expect someone who will look at the company’s goals and increase sales,’

Guarnieri said. ’If I wanted to grind out press releases, I’d work with

PR Newswire.’



While acknowledging that practicing hi-tech PR is more challenging than

ever before, PaymentPlus.com CEO Jeff Foster said that firms charging

thousands of dollars per month better be prepared to deal with difficult

clients.



’I expect to be in magazines every week (and) announcements to be picked

up on all the newswires,’ he said. ’I want to be in The Wall Street

Journal and Forbes - it’s not asking a lot for dollars 600,000 a year. I

don’t care if my name is in the paper; I want people to buy my software.

Getting my name out is a lot of self-serving crap. Just sell my

product.’



Agencies claim that they are not only meeting the demands of even the

pushiest clients but have also become more accountable and focused on

bottom-line results.



’We have clients paying dollars 70,000 a month,’ admitted Shandwick/DC

tech practice EVP Ben Boyd. But in exchange for such a princely sum,

Boyd said that clients get a full scope of services, including ’trade

shows, trade press and senior hand-holding.’



FitzGerald Communications prexy Maura FitzGerald similarly believes that

hi-tech companies will get what they pay for. But she cautioned that

companies have to work with their agencies to ensure that the goals of

each PR program are realistic: ’Unless there is a mutual clarity of what

the objectives are, no matter how much money you spend, you won’t be

happy.’



Regardless, several agency sources questioned whether greed will come

back to haunt hi-tech firms.



’There are those in our business who have opportunistically charged fees

because of demand,’ said A&R Partners managing partner Bob Angus, whose

agency bases its fees on goals accomplished. ’Every client wants Wall

Street Journal coverage, but it’s totally unreasonable unless you have a

story.’



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