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The press police

The press police

In the computer industry it's traditionally been the public relations (PR) companies that kept the press on the track. At least that's what they tell the clients. The PR company's job is to get the information out, keep the client's products at the fore, and put the right spin on everything that happens.

Some vendors keep their PR internal, and some of these people do a good job, but the norm is still to hire an external agency. A typical job would be to publicise a new product, let's say a new Unix server. The vendor gives the pertinent facts to the PR consultant who then contrives to hide these facts in a complicated press release. The consultant then sends this out to journalists from a five-year-old list, enclosing black and white photos for colour publications, colour slides to those who need black and white prints, and huge collections of both to radio stations. A cynic would also add that the publication which specifically asked for photos wouldn't get any!

Then, a few days later the PR person rings around and says, "I sent you a press release last week, please tell me which issue it will appear in," as if we all have just the right amount of space to use every press release we receive. The truth is that we receive far more press releases than we can ever use, and there are many reasons why some get used in preference to others. The "winning" release might have a good photo, a concise facts box on the front page or an attractive, easy presentation. Likewise the "losing" press release might be difficult for the journalist to understand, look like every other press release that company has ever issued, or have sufficient misleading or missing information to make the journalist give up.

Changes

There are around 10 technology PR companies, mostly in Sydney. They tend to have only one of each type of client, know the press well, and range in size from two to more than 20 staff. In most cases they do a very good job. There have been some interesting changes over the past year, however. A couple of the larger, non-IT PR companies have taken on large IT accounts - such as Burson-Marsteller with Microsoft.

There has also been a trend for companies to get their ad agencies to handle the PR. In most cases this has been a very bad move.

The third trend is for the established IT PR companies to lose long-established clients, either to new, small PR companies run by breakaway consultants, or to a vendor-internal PR manager.

In future issues of ARN we'll spend some time looking at PR in the Australian IT industry, talking to or profiling some of the buyers, providers and recipients of "Public Relations". Please contact us if you have any comments or areas to be investigated.


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