Recently, a respected colleague - Stephen Astle of Fleishman-Hillard - published a critique of the technology PR profession in these pages (PRWeek, October 30). I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with him by turns, but after repeated readings, I felt that his views deserved debate.
The issue of elites. It's always difficult to discuss the subject of elites, whether they be political, economic, professional, or social. Those who are in an elite typically like it, and those who aren't a member typically don't. Those who oppose many elites often do so because of deep convictions about unmerited or undue political power and social privilege. I share and support those concerns.
But there is another reality here, and that is the existence of professional elites: those who've earned that status through the proverbial "blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
Paraphrasing Webster and other objective sources, professional elites most often result from the need to confront exceptionally difficult challenges requiring a degree of knowledge, skill, and daring to achieve success. Whether we're talking business, the military, politics, or one of the professions, those lines of demarcation have always existed and deserve to exist.
PR pros working in the tech and science-oriented industries - IT, pharma, biotech, etc. - rightly consider themselves an elite. This isn't because of any alleged "cool factor," but because of the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise required to do the job, the complexity and multi-issue convergence represented in the situations we deal with every day, and the often brutally discriminating nature of our audiences, whether consumer or enterprise.
Any elite status held by technology pros is earned each and every day in a crucible where the heat and pressure are extremely consistent and consistently extreme.
The return to business value. The reality is that the burst bubble of 2001 compelled most companies to make the business value of technology a very explicit focus of both their business model and their communications.
As publications continue to consolidate and the number of tech reporters shrinks, telling the larger, value-based story has only become more important. If you're not doing this, you're not relevant.
Technology is still cool. To assert otherwise is reminiscent of the proposal to shut down the US Patent Office in the early 1900s because it was believed everything of consequence had already been invented. The history of technological development is the history of sudden quantum leaps in capability, followed by plateaus of consolidation and popularization.
We've been in the latter for a number of years, and many experts believe the next big advance is near, with attendant jumps in stock prices for those companies on the leading edge. After all, for many people, the coolest thing about tech before 2001 wasn't tech itself, but the chance to make it big.
There are a couple of old sayings in tech PR. The first is, "Tech PR is so intense that your experience is measured in dog years." Anyone who has experienced the challenges of tech firsthand knows the truth of that. The second is, "Tech PR is like New York City. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." I submit that is still true and deservedly so.
Mark Stouse is the director of worldwide corporate communications at BMC Software.