Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's baaaaack ... and cooler than ever!

I just finished reading Stephen Astle's Op Ed piece in the October 30th issue of PR WEEK. Mr. Astle is SVP and co-chair of the technology practice for Fleishman-Hillard and if I was working in any one of the FH offices in his dept., that article would have knocked the stuffing out of me.

His article entitled "Time for Tech PR Pros Grow up" circles around the notion that technology PR is a lot different today than it was during the bubble years. He contends that it's time to start selling less of the "tech" and more of the business value proposition (I agree, but we've always done that). He even compares technology to dental floss (I hope his clients are reading this).

But his comment that technology would “never be cool again" really bowled me over. I did a double take, read it again and still couldn't believe my eyes. Tech not cool? Surely he jests.

While I agree we approach technology PR a lot differently than we did in the late-nineties, being enamored with technology is a prerequisite for any tech PR pro. Mr. Astle obviously earned his stripes in the tech field and probably had his share of nauseating tech demos, but to even suggest that technology will never be cool, is blasphemous! Not only is technology alive and well as he states, but it has never been more exciting! Tell McNealy, Gates, Ozzie and Jobs that technology isn't cool and you’ll be beaten with a fiber optic stick.

The tech bubble craze ushered in some very innovative technology like the full-on Internet experience, Blackberry, Bluetooth, RFID etc. And yes, perhaps we focused a little too heavily on the speeds and feeds of the story line, but the times dictated that particular kind of "go to market" speak. The Holy Trinity for a PR publicist back then was to espouse Feature, Function and Benefit.

Today, we lead with the socio-economic benefit of our technology clients’ stories blah, blah, blah so does everyone. But it's the features and functions that still turn a tech journalist's crank and ours too (as it should). It's what drives tech PR professionals out of bed. It's the "look what this can do" mentality that keeps us all actively involved in the sector. I love gadgets, gizmos, interoperability of anything, cyclone suction (see Dyson for that!) nano-technology, biometrics and mobile “thingies” .. yes, I am a full-on geek under this designer-wear veneer. For my team and I, it’s about the technology first and always will be.

And to prove my point, journalists will always be in love with the nuances of technology, that's why it's their beat. Just read any tech-media story about RIM’s new Pearl. Those who covered it, wrote reams of editorial on new functionality, form factor and features ... they did not lead in with the business story, it was all gizmo related. Cool, I definitely think so.

I'm really saddened that someone in Mr. Astle's esteemed position cannot find the coolness in today’s technology. Look closer my dear, jaded fellow, it's there and the best is still to come.


Dave Jones said...

Since I'm first to comment, I'll stick up for my FH colleague by perching on the fence and suggesting you are saying the same thing, but differently.

Choosing to key on his "tech will never be cool again" phrase is a fine thread to hang your post on, but I think you guys agree more than you differ.

I took from the piece that "cool" used to be enough and these days it's not. I also know you and your firm well enough to know that "cool" was never just enough for you guys.

Maybe it's one of the main reasons that you've grown from a primarily tech PR firm to a firm that services multiple lines of business.

That's my interpretation. Maybe Steve will pop by with his POV.

Steve Astle said...



I appreciate your zeal, but am afraid I remain unconvinced. Features and functions, gadgets and gizmos…they may be what gets you and you team out of bed in the morning, but I daresay you’re a vanishing breed.

I will admit that I overstated my “it’s not cool” case to make a point. But the fact is, what’s cool now isn’t what’s communicated about technology, but how: YouTube, Second Life, blogs, podcasts and other forms of social media are transforming the landscape forever, and in so doing, are presenting us communicators with genuinely exciting challenges.

It’s not a new idea – Marshall McLuhan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understanding_Media:_The_Extensions_of_Man) pointed it out before I was old enough to spell PR. But it is the sort of thing that gets my team out of bed in the morning, and, I hope, will help ensure that we remain not necessarily cool, but socially relevant - and gainfully employed - for the foreseeable future.

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Hey Steve, thanks for your note, well said, I really appreciate you even taking the time to comment. You and I at least agree on one thing: we will both be gainfully employed for years to come ... While you will stay the course on the "medium" is key to PR/communications, I still believe that content is "king" and it will all be about the innovation, idea and thoughtware that makes it into the hearts and minds of consumers, not the "how." I can probably sum up for you what is on 90% of blogs, YouTube, podcasts etc. in three words: CRAP-A-TOLA. We need to remind ourselves that content has to be meaningful, compelling and should be central in mounting any campaign. And credibility is the foundation to build it all on. Social Media space has a lot to learn and do in the credibility field.

I hope I'm not vanishing too much ... I am blogging after all ... baby step for now ...

Steve Astle said...

...and you're ahead of me, for one, on that front!

Anonymous said...

Dave, I am in agreement with you. Yes, the "coolness" was at some point the key, but I think the bloom is off that rose now, and has been for a few years. What was cool then, is passe now. I also agree fully with Julie, that tech is as exciting as it ever was. And of course, now the biz angle is important, ie ... how are you going to make moola, whereas in the old days, making mnoola was very secondary.