Putting the tech into tech PR

Do you have to know about tech to do tech PR? I’m hoping not, because hardly anyone seems to know hardly anything.

My background is fairly techy I guess. I had a ZX81, and a ZX Spectrum. I did a degree in IT. I’ve been a programmer at a large bank (lasted about six months), a technical author for a financial software house, a designer at a multimedia hardware company, and a publications manager for another financial software house.

So, whereas I wouldn’t say I’m deeply into tech, it’s always been around me. I just enjoy it. I especially enjoy the creativity it affords me (I’m also into home-based music production based on a PC – warning, yes, this is me, download of about 6.5MB MP3). And, in turn, it gives me an appreciation of what I’m writing about, or the nature of the messages we’re trying to promote.

But it often strikes me that the people I work alongside know diddly squat about it. As in, almost zero knowledge, across the board. Recent episodes have involved someone wondering why it took longer for their home page to load because they’d set it to a corporate website rather than, say, a blank page or Google (yes, you see those pictures…?); being asked why I would want to save something as a separate graphic file rather than a Word file (still not sure about that one); and someone taking two hours to install a printer on their machine (how long…?).

I know there’s an argument that ‘non-technical’ people (whatever that means) might be better at tech PR because they get a new, fresh angle on what’s good about it, and the mechanics of PR should operate no matter what specialism you adopt.

But I do think there are often astonishing gaps in people’s knowledge which, to my mind, put them below the bar for truly grasping what they’re actually supposed to be talking about.

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10 thoughts on “Putting the tech into tech PR

  1. You’re dead-on when you say “I just enjoy it.” Let’s face it, highly technical people (deep coders, etc) aren’t going to go into PR or marketing tech. However, you need to have a passion for technology if you are going to communicate what it means to other people. I’ve been doing tech PR for 12 years now and the best people in my business have been the ones who would always be classified as a geek.

    I’m a geek, and it helps.


  2. I believe that if you work in PR one of the skills you need is to be prepared to be interested in everything and anything. That means talking to experts, reading and learning about whatever it may be that is relevant to your area.

    In the case of in-house people, that means a real immersion in the business, and for those in consultancy, developing an in-depth knowledge of the sector and the client.

    I don’t believe you need a degree in IT to be an effective techy PR. But you need to be prepared to understand what you are talking about. That might mean asking dumb questions in a safe environment, but being prepared to listen to the answers and learn so next time you are less ignorant.

    When I started in automotive PR, I had an interest in cars and the industry. But I wasn’t a technical expert. That didn’t stop mean learning about diesel engines, four wheel drive systems, etc etc. I also got to grips with materials science for recycling stories and read papers on environmental issues. This involved building relationships with engineers and other contacts who helped me understand the technical side, so that I could translate it into interesting information that was of value to the media, the public and other stakeholders. That’s our job.

    It isn’t about where you start from in knowledge terms, but how quickly and effectively you are prepared to gain an understanding and build the expert contacts.

  3. Hola, disagree with Kyle’s first point and agree with Heather’s first. Its not about having a passion for technology, its about having a passion for PR! Have hand eye coordination and then know where your arse and elbow are.

    The old adage about being able to converse intelligently with a senior client about the ramifications of the latest blade rollout and the exquisite nature of the perfectly created martini makes our job, in my opinion, one of the few that can encourage real thought.

    The key is less about knowledge of tech and more about knowledge of PR itself. Throughout my time with your corner of our networked world, the people who’ve succeeded in really kicking on have been those who understand the fundamental tenants of what our core area is rather than those who are specialists – and vocalists – in say, deep technology. Tech is the best part of PR for me as if you can do that well, the rest will come. For those who don’t know technology, I just hope they understand the PR.

    Right, I’m off my high camel, there’s a martini to be had. Ramadan Kareem habibi.

  4. Well, let’s put it this way. I am not an alcoholic (not even a big fan of alcohol) but i have a single malt whisky client whom I handled the regional PR for. I am not a fashion designer but I managed high profile fashion brands and can tell you all the latest Fall/ Winter trends and the materials, colours etc for the season. And yes, I am a geeky girl and I can’t fix my broken mac/ PC but I am managing tech products and spent 80% of my waking hours online.

    I agree with Heather’s point about if you are in PR, you need to be versatile and the basic PR skills can be applied across different type of brands, clients, products.

  5. It’s a question of degree though isn’t it? We all seem to be saying that knowing a little about the subject matter is good, but applying PR techniques is better, and that part of PR is being interested in stuff generally.

    I see nothing to disagree with here, but what I’m saying is, I *keep finding that people in tech PR don’t know anything about tech – at all.* So, knowing a little is good, knowing a lot *could* be good, might even be bad, but knowing nothing can’t be good. Can it?

    I’d further qualify this by saying that, if we agree that part of PR is interest in the client, then why don’t non-tech people try to educate themselves? Why do they shy away from installing printers or burning CDs? Why do they roll their eyes in boredom when tech is mentioned, even though they’re representing it?

    When I came to PR I knew very little about it, so I found out. I read books. I read the industry mags. I tried to immerse myself and find out what was going on. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded quite yet, but at least I tried. Goddammit.

  6. Agree with the part on at least (1) having the passion/ interest (2) an effort to understand the subject and topic.

    To side track a little, in the case of the whole web2.0 and new media/ PR2.0, I am finding alot of my peers/ colleagues paying very little attention or have very little understand about the topic and the reason/ excuse I have been hearing – “I am not very tech savvy, not my kind of “PR”.” It often amuses me hearing that.

    So, yes, to your point about reading books, mags and immersing in the industry to learn and find out more – this blog definitely shows your success and understanding.

  7. I think the point about social media is that really, it’s *not* technical. It is just conveyed through what is perceived as a technical medium and often promoted by so-called technical people – myself included. I’ve even commented as such.

    There used to be a dictum: managers can’t type, therefore they will never use a keyboard. Now, does any manager really think they’re using technology when they’re sending an email, or writing up a report, or figuring out finances on a spreadsheet? Do they really think they’re doing what until a decade or three ago was considered impossible on a desktop computer?

    No. I think the more people use Facebook to contact friends, or YouTube for ‘a laugh’, the more they’ll get used to this idea of expressing themselves via technology. The monitor and keyboard – and web – will eventually disappear, figuratively if not literally. The more ubiquitous it becomes, and the better adapted to the way people interact, the less it will be apparent. As I often say, that’s when you stop seeing communication (hence the moniker Friendly Ghost!)

    Possibly people who really believe in this new medium of many-to-many interaction are slightly ahead of their time. Quite frankly, the reason for me making the original post was that I felt that way. Hence the slightly bleating tone.

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  9. Doesn’t it boil down to “should people who are carrying the message actually know what they are talking about?”

    Seems to me that this is what separates the hacks from the tech PR pros.

    You need to understand what you are talking about, not necessarily at a programmer’s or engineers level, but at least in terms of top user and business benefits and related issues.

    True, you need a passion for PR, but the media and other influencers know when someone is just flogging a script or press release without any real idea of what they are talking about.

    There was a good post about some of these things on the Fusion Forum blog http://fusionpr.blogspot.com/2007/07/avoiding-gobbledy-gook-puke.html#links

  10. Let’s face it: we’re all pretty much talking about passion here. If you have that – if you can even create it without necessarily having a passionate gene – then you can work in pretty much any industry.

    I think PR is a strange beast. At the one extreme, good PR always involves creativity and passion. It means *wanting* to understand the product or service you’re promoting, it means *wanting* to do well for the client. But at the other, in the engine room of execs and, let’s face it, copywriters, you seldom get to meet the clients and you can be on a process treadmill of organising for the right journalists to be in the right hotel at the right time. That kind of process can kill off any passion.

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