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Public Relations and the Technology Sector: After the Bust

At the turn of the decade, you couldn’t open a newspaper without reading a story about some high-flying dot-com or tech company. The coverage of these companies bled from the business pages to the feature sections to the front-page. And when the dot-com bust came, the coverage faded back in the opposite direction — the downfall of a tech company went from the front-page to a small mention in the business section. Coverage of the technology sector has stabilized, but it has also shrunk. Some newspapers eliminated entire sections or supplements. The media is still a bottom-line business; fewer ads mean less editorial space. Which makes public relations for tech companies that much more difficult.

The media doesn’t find the technology sector as intriguing as it did when it was new and threatening. The launch of a new online service in 1999 certainly attracted more attention than it does now. And the launch of a new networking gear company in 2000 was probably worthy of some publicity. Unless the company’s headquarters mysteriously explodes, it’s doubtful you’ll find that networking company’s name in a newspaper. Why is this? There are some simple and not so simple answers.

1. Overkill

How many stories did we read about technology sector that claimed some product would revolutionize our lives? One common misperception was that new technology would change our lives in a fashion so radical that those changes would be apparent overnight. The truth is that technology slowly weaves its way into our everyday lives.

2. The Bust

The dot-com bust has created enormous change in the media’s coverage of the technology sector. In addition to shrinking newspaper space, a lot of trade and niche magazines have folded. The dot-com bust also forced journalists to become more skeptical about what makes the technology sector newsworthy.

3. The Past

The technology sector is one of the few where prominent executives have been able to quickly establish themselves in new industries. Unfortunately the technology sector has a track record of failure and the media likes to focus on the negative. The same public relations consultants pitching “can’t miss” companies during the dot-com boom are already back at it. And the same executives who threw away $50 million in financing are getting ready to flush another $50 million down the drain. The media is weary of the technology sector and rightfully so.

4. The Economy

Lastly, and most importantly, one reason for shrinking coverage of the technology sector is the state of the economy. With the economy in flux, business media tends to focus on news of direct interest to consumers. Tech and web start-ups are not of as much interest in an inflationary economy.

Still, public relations consultants should keep an eye on the following five newsworthy technology sectors:

— Wi-Fi
— Digital music
— Biotech
— The Online Sector
— Convergence

The digital music space grabs headlines for obvious reasons; t involves everyone from big name artists and media conglomerates to individual consumers and shady offshore companies. With villains like the Recording Industry Association of America, digital music remains a compelling story and there’s always creative opportunities for publicity.

Biotech is perhaps the most interesting tech-related sector out there, but there are not as many biotech experts in the media as there should be. There are also too many speculative biotech companies that are really nothing more than shell companies with a couple of guys in a lab or an office. Journalists are wary about covering biotech companies that might end up being run from an office in a strip mall.

Public relations consultants working in the technology sector have faced tough challenges from suspicious journalists and shrinking word counts in the aftermath of the dot-com bust. But a little ingenuity and perseverance can help weather the transition from a tech-crazy culture to a world where the technology sector is just another industry trying to get a piece of the public relations pie.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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