On my first day at my first real job out of college at a Big Three automaker, I was introduced to the head of the media center during the initiation process. Here was the guy who oversaw the company’s PR machine. However, it wasn’t the person or the spacious corner office that left an impression on me. It was the framed news clipping on the wall that announced they had been cleared in a major feud – a feud that, arguably, had no “winners”. But he seemed to be convinced that it was no longer their fault, because the local paper said they were cleared. Even though drivers died because of negligence at both companies involved in the feud, a top-level officer proclaimed this a “win”.
In what might have been my first official public relations gut feeling, I began to wonder if they were going about it all wrong. I started to believe I was working for a company that felt it was entitled to positive press and tried to force it upon the media. Just because they had been in business for over a century and was a Goliath in the industry did not mean this was true.
And that entire line of thinking seemed skewed. It’s not crazy to think that the feud started this automotive company on PR-related downward spiral. Nowadays it seems that media is only interested in bad news coming out of their camp because they had been successful for far too long and took it for granted.
So what does their story have to do with us, a tech PR firm? Well, it’s starting to look like major companies in the technology sector are beginning to veer down a similar path.
It seems like you can’t pick up a magazine or browse a tech Web site without reading a negative story about Microsoft Vista or a scathing story on their software asset management program.
But while Microsoft’s sometimes poor reputation among some members of the media does not seem to be self-induced — it seems more like the syndrome many automotive companies are experiencing — it does represent a unique challenge for us as PR professionals who work in the technology arena. As an established Goliath in the tech industry, these companies are no longer let off the hook when they mis-speak in public or push back a ship date by a few weeks; the media is just waiting for them to slip. These luxuries are now afforded to a “fascinating, mesmerizing company” like Google.
So we are forced to raise our game.
For the most part, it’s no longer a cinch to set up an interview just because you’re calling on behalf of an acknowledged industry leader. The message we’re conveying has to be crisp and clear; we have to have a greater understanding of what a specific reporter is looking for and more importantly, what the biases are that we need to diffuse at the outset. Even if the product or initiative that we are advocating is the most progressive thing since sliced bread and literally, has the potential to cure cancer/solve world hunger or bring world peace, there is simply a ton of competition clogging the marketplace and, thus, vying for the media’s attention.
For me, representing a Microsoft corporation that is watching its 30th anniversary recede in the rear view mirror – an accomplishment in an of itself and ancient in technology years – I see first hand the level of innovation that they are bringing to market and how it stacks up against some of the company’s earlier achievements. Microsoft’s chronological age and the changing marketplace don’t mean they aren’t as innovative as they were when they were founded. We know that better than most. So it’s our job to make sure Microsoft, and other clients, don’t get discriminated against solely based on their “age”. It only means we have to work harder to hone our skills and become as good a communicator as we possibly can.
And that’s not a bad thing.
— Brad Marley