MARKET FOCUS <b>Technology</b>: Technology teammates

With tech in recovery, clients and PR agencies are partnering in new ways.

With tech in recovery, clients and PR agencies are partnering in new ways.

As the technology industry matures and evolves to reach beyond specialist media to consumers, so do the PR needs of technology firms, regardless of whether they sell IT services, storage-management software, or digital music. Here are five new relationships that reflect those changing needs for PR. Veritas/Edelman "The company has been focused on enhancing its brand," says Marlena Fernandez, VP of corporate communications. "We've always enjoyed a healthy relationship and reputation with IT managers. But we're looking to build a relationship at the CXO level at Fortune 500 companies." While brand recognition is important, brand resonance is the mission. The brand Veritas is trying to project is one of a more mature company. And it hopes that as the C-suite sees Veritas as a trusted partner, that will help take Veritas from a $1.2 billion company to a $5 billion one. But Fernandez recognizes that doesn't happen overnight. So in came Edelman. From the agency's global presence to the variety of practices it could bring to bear on the account, Fernandez says Edelman provided the right mix to help mature and evolve the company's image and brand. "They were just very creative and have some very interesting programs," explains Fernandez. "And they have a very good consumer practice. It is exciting to me to adopt consumer practices in a technology business. They work with companies that are seen as trusted partners, and that is how we want to be seen." Veritas is one of those companies where its customers' executives are not even aware that they use Veritas' products, says Luca Penati, EVP and GM of Edelman's Silicon Valley office. "Our first goal is getting Veritas included in the pertinent stories about the utility computing space," says Penati. "It needs to be perceived as a key player in the utility computing space, and we need to differentiate it from the competition. We're starting with an aggressive media relations campaign focused on business and trade media. And the use of customers is going to be key." Maxtor/Fleishman-Hillard The hard-drive company decided to consolidate its global PR needs from 22 agencies down to one. As the company's brand has become more global, so have those of its competitors. And with the growing immediacy of the internet, the company wanted to communicate single messages globally and make sure the teams that developed those messages were working tighter and better. Maxtor picked Fleishman-Hillard for the job. "It's the only agency that responded on a global coordinated level," says Stephen DiFranco, VP of corporate and brand marketing. "I felt like I was talking to one agency everywhere I went. And I flew to London, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, and Washington, DC." But Fleishman isn't offering a one-size-fits-all approach. While being in sync globally, Fleishman offers not just a plan for Asia that is different from the plan for Europe, but a plan for Vietnam that is different from the plan for South Korea. Yet each region takes into account Maxtor's global needs, and Fleishman's global infrastructure services on a regional and global level. Fleishman SVP Melissa Schoeb works with the regional leads as the account's main point of contact, which is key to making such a global relationship work. While close contact between regional offices allows for global oversight, Fleishman strives to avoid a cookie-cutter approach, she says. Fleishman has produced regional workshops to balance global and regional needs, and has developed a containment program for negative news that contains the news where it breaks and allows Maxtor to address the news before it spreads around the globe unanswered. "PR has become the advertising of this generation," says DiFranco. "For technology products, it is a medium that is better suited for the internet and for the viral nature of how we market today. And it lets us broadcast our company's core benefits and values." RealNetworks/SutherlandGold Communications When the digital-media software company decided to hire an agency to focus on its online music services, the company wasn't hopping on the digital music bandwagon. RealNetworks, which handles most of its PR in-house, has been in the space for a few years already. Instead, the decision to hire SutherlandGold to focus on RealRhapsody was part of the company's larger desire to be seen more as a consumer and entertainment brand, and less as a technology brand. "When you look at our revenue over the past several years, our business has shifted to being 75% consumer," explains director of PR Erika Shaffer. "Whether it's our music or games or other content, the market is growing incredibly, and our business is really delving into entertainment." RealNetworks picked the boutique Bay Area firm based partly on its track record as the consumer agency for TiVo. Shaffer cites SutherlandGold's proven record of getting consumer media coverage for technology in "magazines we all read." With TiVo, SutherlandGold has taken a technology many people didn't understand and attracted great coverage, making it one of the hottest consumer tech products around, she adds. Ideally, the same kind of coverage for RealNetworks' music service will not only attract more subscribers but also build up the brand and entice people to associate the service with entertainment on their PC. Shaffer says she also likes that the agency is a boutique, ensuring senior guidance on the strategic, big-picture communications for which they hired the agency. "We've only taken a few clients, so we can work closely with those companies; that way the relationship can be intimate and honest," says agency partner Lesley Gold, adding that she is focused on getting people to associate the brand not with the company's technology, but with the services it ultimately provides for the end user, and what those services allow consumers to do. Siemens Business Services/Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek When Carol Wallace arrived at the IT services division of Siemens earlier this year, she found that her budget as director of marketing communications had brought her from rags to riches. While the division had only been around for about three years - created through an acquisition - the marketing budget had been limited to sales support, including PR. But as Siemens IT services division has grown to a $6 billion business globally - $450 million in the US - senior executives decided to light a fire under marketing. "I knew that I wanted to own the strategic planning," explains Wallace. "I also knew that I wanted an agency that could help with creative strategy and execution." Because Siemens already has a strong brand, Wallace was looking for an agency that had the right connections to help leverage that brand in a market that already had several 800-pound gorillas, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Asserting that analysts often have greater influence than journalists over companies' IT buying decisions, Wallace selected Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek (CJP) largely for its relationships with analyst firms like the Meta Group, one of the agency's clients. Siemens recently came from Gartner's IT outsourcing summit, and CJP helped get a high-profile media impression on Forbes.com, with a quote from John Ryan, Siemens Business Services' VP of marketing, capping off a story that also included comments from CNN's Lou Dobbs and MIT speakers from the summit. The agency will continue to leverage its analyst and media relationships to show that Siemens' offering in the IT outsourcing market is larger than many people recognize, says agency managing partner Jennifer Prosek. "We understand the mentality of the analyst community," says Prosek. "We know how to build and maximize those relationships." "They are really going to help us develop our core messaging and creative thinking," says Wallace. "We are identifying thought leadership issues that we can be a part of with integrity. And relationships will be key to making that happen." Sony Electronics/Ruder Finn Sony has been the king of the consumer electronics hill for as long as anyone can remember. But the company isn't about to rest on its laurels. With PC companies like Dell and HP delving into the consumer-electronics market, along with some new companies coming out of Asia and its traditional competitors, that hill is beginning to get a little crowded. The company also recognizes that the media environment has become more complex and wields more influence over the perception of the company and its products, thanks to blogs, websites like Epinions.com, and other opinion-centric sites. "The free-flow of global communications and casual commentary has its way of getting into headlines or influencing journalists," says Gretchen Griswold, director of corporate communications. "And with people doing more research online than ever before, we have to be extremely nimble and strategic in the way we implement our communications. Our brand was built on effective marketing, cool products, and making sure we're one step ahead. That's harder to come by because there are a lot of good technology companies out there finding strength in niche markets." So Sony was looking for an agency that would have great chemistry with the in-house team, and be able to step in at a moment's notice and almost be one step ahead. "And we placed a huge premium on a sense of humor, thick skin, and being able to roll with the punches. We're not easy to work with. We don't have the time to make people feel good about the mistakes they made." Ruder Finn fit the bill, handling consumer electronics PR, except for audio and video products. Led by San Francisco MD Jessica Switzer, the team has exceeded Sony's expectations, says Griswold. Ruder Finn understands the issues Sony faces and the sensitivities involved, says Griswold, adding that the agency has an intuition that allows it to absorb a number of issues and arrive at the right decision quickly. "They did a great job of setting our expectations," says Switzer. "We knew what the expectations were. We went in with our eyes wide open. But one thing you can't prepare for is chemistry. That came naturally."

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