Technology PR: a tale of two coasts

Nikki Festa

Navigating the technology scene is like standing in a crowded room, shouting someone’s name and hoping the right person notices. It’s likely a few with the same name might turn, but the noisy congestion will certainly make it hard to pinpoint where that voice is coming from.

odwyers.pngSource: pexels.com used under CC license.

How does the technology industry differ from coast to coast?

While the above analogy can be a reflection on either coast, we’ve seen a huge amount of growth on the East Coast, specifically Boston, with that city taking the lead for digital entrepreneurship, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The environment is academically charged and fueled by uplifts to some of its hometown brands’ headquarters and relocations, including New Balance, Converse, Reebok and GE.  There’s also been a significant investment in the city’s quality of life.  Boston has mastered the art of having explosive growth without losing its innate charm, a strong sense of community.

The West Coast, is built on a fast-moving mentality, inspired by a highly competitive industry seeded with venture capital. It’s no surprise that if we’re talking technology, the Bay Area is the hub in focus, and what this area may lack in “community” it makes up for in relationship building. Knowing and finding the right people to involve in the business is a huge driver in finding success. No one does this better than the Valley, with approximately $21.7 million in startup funding in the last 12 months (compared to $4.5 million in Boston), according to Teleport, and more than 6,000 business launches between 2011 and 2015.

A unifying force between the two coasts that sets them apart from other cities and regions is the constant quest for superior talent.  Whether it’s locating your technology business steps from some of the most renowned universities in the world or networking with Silicon Valley powerhouses, it’s a game each coast plays and plays to win.

Do the requests for integrated marketing and PR services differ by coast?

Simply put, the requests don’t differ coast to coast. It’s all about building, keeping and leveraging the relationships that matter most. The channels continue to grow and the names and faces change, but the strategy and objectives are the same. However, one aspect that has changed, especially after the economic downturn in 2007 where marketing teams became a “party of one” in many instances, is the level of education and awareness.  Companies aren’t looking for just a strong media relations program or an increased social following, they’re looking for firms to turn them into influencers.

What should a networking strategy look like to dominate Boston and San Francisco?

Networking is key to any business and across all industries.  However, the coasts draw inspiration from different sources based on the nature of each environment. It’s based on preferences, like being a fan of Coke or Pepsi. Neither is better than the other, and each has its advantages.

The way each city networks is, in many ways, a reflection of the ideas coming out of the city. For example, the National Science Foundation has cited that academic institutions in Cambridge, MA, spend $4 billion on R&D each year, compared to only $1.3 billion for the entire Bay Area. Boston is largely idea-driven, prioritizes the user experience and likely spends a lot of time and investment on testing.  San Francisco is quick to the draw, looks to produce a product that will attract investment and is inspired by the future versus the past. Both approaches need a sound networking strategy to accomplish their goals.

Do client expectations of the PR program differ by region?

Every CMO views PR as a tool to impact sales, regardless of geography. The definition of PR has been evolving for decades, and what we’re seeing now is a convergence of PR, marketing and sales enablement. It’s now expected that every marcom activity aligns with the customer journey to create measurable outcomes.

According to the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations Global Communications Report out earlier this year, almost half of PR professionals surveyed believe PR will become more integrated with marketing over the next five years, and marketers agree: nearly 20 percent predict that PR will become a subset of marketing.

PR planning and sales coalesce around measurement. As PR practitioners, we have the opportunity to help clients set measurable objectives that influence sales and de-sign programs to achieve those objectives. At   the   implementation phase, content and digital storytelling become the primary driver of a brand’s story across owned, earned, paid and shared channels. Most often, PR has a leading role in the ideation, development and curation of that content, enabling PR professionals to influence buyer behavior at every stage of the journey.

Does cross-office collaboration help or hinder client communication?

There’s little doubt that operating bi-coastal teams demands a thoughtful approach to developing effective communications practices. Having one team span East and West Coast time zones has benefits 

for clients –  they essentially get a 40 percent boost in attention every day, as teams operate a follow-the-sun approach to meeting demands. East Coast workers take the early shift, getting a jump on announcements and breaking news; West Coast workers are available late into the evening.

The   keys   to   making it work come down to investing in the right tools and people with the right attitude. Both coasts are filled with digital natives who are at home with digital innovation and easily adapt to ever-changing technology. Online collaboration is part of their DNA. Collaboration across coasts is a game changer in providing exceptional service to clients and can drive innovation by integrating different points of view, background experiences, expectations and abilities.

Does geography matter anymore?

More than a century ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote, “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Kipling seemed to be saying that all of us are, to some extent, unable to adapt to the ways of others. Still, he might have gone too far in asserting that the two will never meet.  As more companies straddle both coasts and blend cultures through technology, agencies have an opportunity to help clients bridge the marketing divide by offering unified insight and expertise across geographies.

This post originally appeared in O'Dwyer 2017 PR Rankings issue, on page 20.

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