High-tech PR expertise in short supply

Here's the PR challenge: Your client, a dot-com enterprise targeting the business market, is eager to make its mark at the upcoming Internet World show. How do you ensure that the firm gets the kind of attention it wants? Do you:...

Here’s the PR challenge: Your client, a dot-com enterprise targeting the business market, is eager to make its mark at the upcoming Internet World show. How do you ensure that the firm gets the kind of attention it wants?

Do you: (a) send out as many press releases as time allows; (b) get on the phone and start calling venture capital companies in the hope that they’ll listen to your story; or (c) rent a tank?

If you chose (c), congratulations! You may well have what it takes to specialize in high-technology public relations – in which case, there are some PR agencies that would very much like to speak with you.

The tank idea, as it happens, is one that Toronto-based Cohn & Wolfe has developed for client Salesdriver.com, a firm offering sales incentive programs over the Internet. And, according to Carol Panasiuk, C&W’s senior vice-president and general manager, it serves to illustrate an important point about high-tech public relations: It may be complex new terrain for some practitioners, but it still demands the same basic skills as a more traditional practice area, such as packaged goods.

Now that said, it’s also true that many high-tech clients prefer working with public relations professionals who can talk the talk – who have a sound grasp of the technology fundamentals, and know how to speak the language. And industry insiders say there just aren’t enough practitioners out there with that kind of skill set.

‘There’s a huge demand for people to service [the high-tech] sector,’ says Ruth Clark, vice-president, human resources with Toronto-based Hill & Knowlton.

The technology practice at H&K employs approximately 30 people. There are openings at all levels, Clark says, but it’s the junior positions that tend to be easier to fill.

‘You see a lot of graduates coming out of school now for whom technology has always been a part of their lives,’ she explains. ‘They’re already comfortable with the technology. It’s very intuitive for them.’ (Indeed, junior candidates for high-tech positions will often refer Clark to their own Web sites to promote their skills.)

As a rule, good senior people prove somewhat more difficult to find. ‘There’s not much out there,’ says Panasiuk, who notes that Cohn & Wolfe recently ran into difficulties trying to recruit a vice-president to lead its technology practice.

It’s not necessary to grasp how a microchip works in order to help a technology client tell their story, Panasiuk says. Dot-coms and other high-tech firms, after all, have the same communications needs as companies in any other sector: crisis management, investor relations, the handling of mergers and acquisitions, and so on.

When it comes to recruiting high-tech practitioners, she argues, the best approach is to hire a candidate with top-notch communications skills who’s capable of learning the essentials of the technology.

It’s not hard to figure out why there’s such an under-supply of high-tech PR practitioners these days, says Sandra Matteson, president of Matteson Management, a Toronto-based firm specializing in public relations recruitment. Dot-com enterprises have proliferated in the past several years, and a growing number of them are beginning to realize the importance of PR to their overall communications strategy. At the same time, many high-tech specialists from the agency world are breaking away to start their own boutiques dedicated to serving dot-com clients, and are poaching skilled staff from other agencies or technology firms – all of which just serves to heighten the perceived shortage.

Matteson says the PR industry as a whole needs to work on reducing this under-supply. For starters, she argues, agencies should be more willing to take well-educated generalists and teach them the necessary technological knowledge.

When students in PR programs come to her, Matteson says, she generally points them toward high-demand practice areas such as technology or pharmaceutical. And it would be helpful, she suggests, if there were more effort throughout the industry to steer young people in these directions. Agencies, for example, could offer workshops for PR students while they’re still in school. ‘Where else are we going to find these people?’

Also in this report:

* Dot-coms put best face forward: PR playing a larger role in communication strategies of online enterprises p.B2

* Branding dot-coms with PR poses challenges: Companies must resist impulse to move too quickly, or to shift positioning constantly p.B4

* PR meets investor relations: Disciplines converging in high-tech world p.B5

* PR firms must show creativity in hiring p.B7

* Web impacting corporate reputation: Companies want to know what’s being said about them online – and by whom p.B8

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.