Technology Companies and IT Analyst Relations
History is a great teacher for understanding the changing Analyst Relations (AR) landscape. Years ago there were only a small handful of IT analyst relations firms and a very few large companies that interfaced with them. IDC may have been among the first to be founded (1964), followed by Input (1974), Gartner almost 15 years later (1979), Forrester Research (1983), AMR Research (1986) and Aberdeen (1988) and Meta Group (1989). Back then, these firms focused their research primarily on the big hardware (IBM, Control Data, etc.) and operating systems space. They had well-defined, highly targeted practices and probably had less than 100 employees total for all of them combined. The people that contacted and worked with these firms were largely the IT folks in giant firms, or very technical product heads.
Fast forward to today where there literally are hundreds of IT analyst research firms, along with a hybrid of software deployment/research businesses whose primary focus is still on the installation side.Boutique analyst firms, with very industry-specific practices, like ChainLink Research (founded in 2003) offer a wealth of very targeted analysis, research, and trending services for specific vertical markets and technologies. Whereas analyst firms were once largely a micro-vertical industry subset of the U.S. tech sector, today there are thousands of analysts working in firms all over the globe. And as I’ve written earlier, few tech companies can make it to the big-time without well-planned and executed analyst relations programs to reach them.
How PR Tech Rookies Can Ruin Your Company’s AR Efforts
With the transition of analyst firms to more business-oriented (versus pure tech-oriented) practices, a funny thing has happened: poor AR business practices. It’s hard to say what the real root cause is. Perhaps it’s a mistaken perception that it’s okay to dumb down business contact practices, since the target market doesn’t seem so “scary” (i.e. most analysts no longer write research that can only be understood by .001 percent of the population)? Or, maybe it’s the proliferation of PR firms that try to equate good press outreach to best practices for analyst outreach? Possibly, it’s the mistaken belief that Sales or Product Marketing heads make great strategic CMOs and they are mistakenly assigning the wrong people to the AR task?
Whatever the root cause, assigning either an in-house or outsourced PR “technology rookie” as your analyst interface can be a fatal error in techno-speak. Sometimes companies don’t even realize this occurs if they’ve outsourced the function.
How? Many tech companies mistakenly hire PR agencies that may have an impressive IT client list due to a tech-savvy founder. These deeply experienced folk were likely all over you in the sales process and could stand up to the tech sniff test when queried. Their proposals, their plans and their programs conform to where you want to go, your competitive landscape, and they speak your language.However, unless you are dealing with a single-person consultancy (like JRocket Marketing), this is NOT who is going to represent your company to the analyst firms.
PR agencies are notorious for hiring marketing/PR greenhorns right out of college (to pay the lowest salaries to them and maximize their profits). It’s formula. I know this; just a few years out of college, I was hired by the then largest independent PR agency in New York City (Ruder Finn). And the simple truth is this: I knew absolutely nothing about 90% about the industries of the accounts that I was assigned to promote! This is not uncommon. It’s not illegal but it’s a classic bait and switch.
I would strongly recommend that you not hire a PR agency — unless it’s a highly-technical PR agency with great depth on the bench of people deeply experienced in the tech sector (ask for the resumes). There is a world of difference between contacting reporters, versus contacting analysts. The interface is completely different for each and I speak from experience: I’ve sat in all 4 chairs: a reporter, a PR representative, Chief Marketing Officer to multiple high tech companies, and as the head of an AR/Strategy firm. Unfortunately, the typical high tech company buying AR services doesn’t understand the ramifications of these differences (or how much poor AR outreach can hurt them)!
5 Typical Goofs that Try the Nerves of Busy Analysts
Here are just a small handful of bad practices that can cause an analyst firm to cease contact with you, and are usually the result of using a PR rookie.
- The AR contact doesn’t know your company, industry, products, technology or competitors very well.
- The AR contact hasn’t checked (or been given) the contact history with that analyst; i.e. and leads with “I’d like to introduce you to abc company” when the analyst already knows them quite well.
- The AR contact hasn’t researched the analyst’s coverage area and pitches a product/service/technology that is completely outside the analysts’ interest/responsibility area.
- The AR contact assumes that the analyst is going to be thrilled to hear from them and gets annoyed when they don’t jump on the meeting invitation.
- The AR contact follows up with the analyst regarding a press release that is either poorly designed, in an area not important to the analyst, attempts to make news out of no news, or clearly is better suited as company sales material.
Says Ann Grackin, founder of ChainLink Research: “While there are multiple bad AR practices, one of the worst AR bloopers is the press releases I get from greenhorn PR people who try to disguise bold-face advertising as breaking IT news. I usually delete it because it’s clear they have no idea that analyst firms are judged on their industry knowledge, objectivity and ability to decipher advertising from real news. But, in some cases, when I feel sorry for the client, I write to their management so they are not further embarrassed.”
How to Do it Right the First Time (And Every Time)
Analysts equate a ‘well-backgrounded,’ smart contact from someone who understands an analyst’s priorities, as a sign of respect (and the opposite actions as disrespect or sloppiness). Those negative feelings toward the rookie AR person are transferred directly to the company that the AR person is representing. As I’ve written in prior columns, there are many great ways to legitimately leverage analyst programs to not only build positive, useful relationships, but also third party validation of various elements of your company’s go-to-market strategy.
Here are three great ways to build a solid analyst program with multi-year benefits:
- Hire an AR professional — whether internal or outsourced. Critically review the resume, call analyst references to see how they are perceived, and ask to see their AR results. AR programs — which of course cost money — should never be black holes with no real outcomes. A great AR person can quickly show you a list of quantifiable results on past AR programs that they have been responsible for. Don’t mistakenly think you can “grow” your PR person or other young marketing program into the job without a lot of tutoring and education from an experienced AR professional.
- Establish a 12-month AR program each year with solid deliverables that tie to the company’s objectives and technology/product/service strategies. AR is not a hit-and-run exercise tied only to product launches once or twice a year.
- Don’t think of analysts as a means to an end (a report, a quote, a ranking, etc.). Make sure you hire AR people who operate from a spirit of mutual collaboration — “people” people with not only the right experience, but who genuinely care about understanding the analyst’s business needs and objectives. Analysts KNOW what you want (coverage, optimum placement). If you want to build their trust, you need to foster the kind of two-way communication that leads to caring on each side to facilitate the other’s objectives.
About the Author: Judith Rothrock is President of JRocket Marketing since 2001, and the recipient of more than a dozen marketing awards. The company was recently named as a finalist against marketing firms 1,000 times its size at the Creative Media Awards, held January 2015 in New York. JRocket Marketing offers both strategic positioning and analyst relations services. Contact Judith directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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