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Tech PR — different spin

Posted by Andrew Shephard on 6th November 2020

Technology bosses can still struggle with understanding how PR relates to what they do and how it helps reach their audiences.

There are plenty of accessible opinions and guidance on what actually constitutes ‘tech PR’ (technical PR). I’m not going to regurgitate that but, on the whole, I’d say many of them are mostly right. I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years and there’s a kernel in the process that I’m happy to share.

Deploying technical PR all comes down to consulting more [a lot more] with the technology provider/client and, most importantly, to being informed.

Explaining informed

Before I expand on what being informed means, here’s what it’s not. It’s not taking pre-packaged news and pitching it out ‘til you’re blue in the face, nor is it presenting thinly veiled promotional material as byline articles. It’s not attempting to build relationships for C-level spokespeople with media, because they’re bound to find that useful and insightful.

Technical PR is fundamentally different. It works best because the people implementing it are informed enough.

Test the brief

Informed enough to understand what the client is telling you — from the first briefing. “It’s nanotechnology that can be built with standard CMOS process,” they said, “it’ll revolutionise the way devices can be uniquely serial-numbered or the way fuses are deployed within memory chips during manufacture”. It’s really-thin, tin-foil flaps held in place with static electricity, I said — yes that’s right.

Cutting any proposition back to the basics quickly by asking questions and testing statements builds confidence and makes the process so much simpler. Tech PRs should have that skill and you should expect them to dig deeper to uncover and understand the core of any proposition.

Every audience is different

Informed enough to understand who their audience is, what they do, where they work and what’s actually important to them. Personas, or thumbnail descriptions of actual people, really help here in understanding audiences.

If you, as a PR team, can’t build a picture of the person the client needs to influence you should go no further. If you don’t know, or your client can’t tell you, whose mind needs to change, you can’t figure out what they read or where they seek information. And so you can’t get into the head of the correct editor or correspondents to understand what’s a good or useful story.

Get the audience right and, following some good old-fashioned reading round the subject, you can generally generate opinions and illustrative articles that contribute to the discussions being had. These articles might mention a client’s product or service in passing but more importantly they will carry the byline of the client and his or her business.

Tell the client’s story better

And at the third illustration, informed enough to concisely relay what the client tells you (about their product or service) in a way they still recognise, but that genuinely resonates with the audience.

Once you’ve understood what the client is telling you and simplified the proposition to a level that could be explained to a 12-year-old, the next task here is to build the story back up and develop messaging that helps differentiate the client, and their offering, which they feel fully invested in and can then relay naturally to existing clients and prospects.

It’s a bit like focus groups in the consumer world but uses the PR team’s experience and processes to produce results a lot faster. The importance of the client’s involvement in this process cannot be over-stated because it’s their story and they tell it best.

Repackaging the story in this way ensures it will land easily with the audience but also gives the client real ammunition to deploy on the war for technology profile. Furthermore, if you’re lucky, the personalities in the business are highlighted by the process of repackaging the story, to give additional sparkle to your resulting tech PR campaign.

Technical PR is more about a deep understanding, context and relevance and is much less about what’s new, or impressive research statistics.

Creativity really matters

And one last point, being informed doesn’t mean creativity isn’t necessary or important — it is. For some technical PR campaigns ‘creativity’ will still simply result in subtle nuances and wry smiles. But, importantly, being informed develops the confidence to really step forward and confidently deliver forthright engaging opinions and stand-out ideas, knowing everyone involved has the background and ability to back them up and perpetuate the discussion as thought leaders. Technical PR is cleverer.

Photo: Lotus Evija all-electric 200hp hyper-car, the sort of product that probably doesn’t need the tech PR treatment.

Andrew Shephard

Andrew’s engineering background and ‘fluff-free’ attitude combined with probably the broadest knowledge of technology installed in one PR brain ensures critical insight for Wildfire’s clients. He has driven campaigns for major forces in the semiconductor industry over 18 years including NEC Electronics, Sun Microelectronics and TSMC along with game-changing start-ups like Achronix and Nujira.