Targeted PR builds partnerships

David Terry is president of ITPR, a Toronto-based agency specializing in public relations for business-to-business technology firms....

David Terry is president of ITPR, a Toronto-based agency specializing in public relations for business-to-business technology firms.

When 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote his seminal work, Leviathan, he noted that life in the days before civility took hold tended to be ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ It’s a description that could just as easily be applied to the lives of technology companies in our new Internet-driven roller coaster economy.

Hobbes pointed out that as the human race evolved socially, people began to grasp the benefits of partnerships – of community, of working together towards a common goal. So, too, have many of today’s business-to-business technology firms. And as a result, the role of public relations in this sector is changing rapidly.

Partnering for Success

B2B technology companies face a number of challenges in the 21st century – starting with survival. Investors, pounded by the rise and fall of tech stocks, have grown wary. Most technology companies can no longer count on a significant and sustained public investment.

So how are they going to make it? In a word: partnership. It’s the key to success in today’s IT world.

For example, one of our clients, the European software giant SAP, traditionally known for its high-quality software engineering, has gone dot-com with its strategic mysap.com solution, and has signed a US$200 million partnership with Commerce One to jointly promote and develop e-marketplaces. This much-publicized strategic union has helped give SAP a major stock and revenue boost. Ariba, IBM and i2 Technologies have also recently joined in a three-way B2B platform partnership.

Smaller players are at it as well. SoftQuad Software and Whitehill Technologies, both Canadian-based XML developers offering software solutions for e-businesses, have set about pursuing higher-profile partners.

A lot of factors are essential to making these partnerships happen. And effective B2B technology PR is one of them.

PR’s Role in Partnerships

For smaller companies, pursuing a partnership with a mammoth software or hardware firm may seem like an impossible task. While their products or services may have much to offer, larger companies likely have little idea who they are or what they do. The little guys need to be seen, heard and identified as potential partners – and that is where targeted public relations can save the day.

A targeted PR program can heighten credibility and raise awareness of the company though positive coverage with the prime influentials. This is more than just media relations – it’s a process of creating a program that will position the company as an expert in its specific field. This can help open the door to negotiations that will lead to partnerships.

In short, our role is to ensure that the client’s positioning is optimally represented to the media, to analysts and to potential investors – and to begin the process of positioning the company as undisputed leader in its specific niche.

Facilitating the partnership, of course, is only half the battle. Partnerships are only as good as the results they produce for the companies involved. Here, again, a B2B public relations agency can play an important role, working with both companies to help raise the profile of the new partnership, and finding ways to highlight the benefits that it brings to customers.

Building PR activities around the new partnership can help add longevity to the relationship, and ensure that both companies realize ongoing benefits. Without this kind of support, such relationships often wither and die from neglect.

The Branding Challenge

Corporate branding, by means of a unique and sustainable positioning, is key to the successful promotion of any organization in the B2B space.

Branding strategies in this area tend to differ significantly from the more common business-to-consumer methods. Simply put, it’s not enough just to create publicity. The positioning program has to leverage the company’s strengths, visions and distinguishing characteristics – which, in turn, will drive the entire PR campaign. Potential partners want to do business with a company that demonstrates real growth, a dynamic corporate culture, strong revenue forecasts, outstanding technology and blue-chip customers.

Creating a positive image in the eyes of potential partners isn’t something that can be done through advertising. It’s a job for public relations: targeting an influential audience with a specific message and a compelling story.

The Bottom Line

Partnerships have become a way of life in the Internet economy. And PR can be the catalyst for bringing companies together. It can make the initial introductions through targeted campaigns, and help the different players realize the benefits of working together in partnership – while leveling the playing field for all.

Also in this report:

- Candour gaining currency with execs: Once seen as a necessary evil, media relations is now considered essential to building corporate and brand reputation p.24

- Media convergence good for PR: Fewer gatekeepers, more open gates p.25

- Ongoing PR can be crucial to success of corporate ethics programs p.26