SUPPLEMENT: PUBLIC RELATIONS; Talking our language

The leading high-tech PR consultancies have cottoned on to the growing importance of both global branding and learning how to communicate effectively with consumers

The leading high-tech PR consultancies have cottoned on to the growing

importance of both global branding and learning how to communicate

effectively with consumers



Information technology PR is at a crucial moment of transition. In an

electronically wired society, IT companies can no longer communicate by

expert talking to expert but have to be understood by a much wider

audience.



And the audience is global. That is one of the reasons for the deal that

table-leader A Plus has made with international marketing communications

group Omnicom.



Omnicom has taken a 20% stake in the UK high-tech specialist, whose

clients include IBM, Novell and CompuServe. According to A Plus managing

director Mike Copland, more IT companies have to consider global

branding from the beginning, while at the same time having access to PR

capability on the ground in local markets.



They are also having to deal increasingly with consumers, says Copland.

A Plus wants to exploit that capability and move into new areas of

consumer electronics, something which the link-up with Omnicom can

further. ‘Building up this capability of working in the consumer area

opens up the door to a whole new range of clients that we wouldn’t

necessarily have worked with in the past but who are also increasingly

being driven by the digital way of life, and who need PR firms who

understand that market,’ he says.



One of the firms that had the foresight to develop expertise in the two

big growth areas of healthcare and technology is Harvard PR, where 60%

of turnover is based on high-tech clients like Motorola and Hitachi.

According to Gareth Zundel, group PR director: ‘Being a specialist in a

handful of sectors rather than exclusive to one has been beneficial to

us for years, but now we are seeing a new benefit.



‘Whereas in the 80s and early 90s, specialising in technology usually

meant communicating with IT, electronics and communications

professionals, today’s high-tech PR campaigns are increasingly seeking

to influence non-technical or even consumer audiences.’



He echoes the view of A Plus’s Copland, that ‘PR consultancies who have

built their business on reaching IT professionals and other specialist

influencers will need to acquire more consumer experience if they are to

move at the same pace as their clients.’



The Weber Group Europe, a US-based operation which crossed the Atlantic

in 1992, saw revenues from IT soar to pounds 1m from about pounds

412,000 in 1994. Coming on the back of its US clients, it has since

begun to establish a firm pan-European foothold with companies in the

new media/Internet-based arena. One of its new services, Thunder House,

offers a comprehensive package of expertise in all aspects of the

Internet and multimedia.



Greg Levendusky, managing director, says: ‘Many of our clients have

requested our help in unravelling the mysteries of multimedia and the

Internet, including how to use it to change the way they do business.’



For Firefly, where high-tech PR clients such as Compaq account for 95%

of turnover, and Bogard Communications, with 80% based on companies like

Unisys, there is one big issue: lack of skilled, experienced staff. As

Firefly director Mark Mellor says: ‘The chronic shortage of consultants

is indicative of the lack of graduates taken on by PR consultancies

recently.



‘We train our own, as well as bringing in people from outside PR, and

are recruiting at all levels. But I am horrified at the lack of

training received by many candidates - sometimes from well-known

agencies masquerading as professional PR companies.’



Bogard chairman Dan Bogard heartily agrees: ‘In the high-tech area,

there is plainly a shortage of competent, specialist PR executives. This

‘sellers’ market’ has led to an anarchistic, head-hunting war in which

silly remuneration packages are now being offered to tempt experienced

executives out of well-rewarded positions.



‘Our view is that when this ‘silly season’ is over, probably in two to

three years’ time, a number of really good people will find themselves

priced out of the market.’



For clients, the range of firms to choose from will grow, as the big

international consultancies like Shandwick and Hill and Knowlton

continue to add to their capability, while the specialists benefit from

organic growth and deals, such as that between A Plus and Omnicom. IT is

such a dynamic industry that there is also plenty of room for small

start-ups.



Mention should be made of firms like Bite Communications, a subsidiary

of Text 100, which began trading in May last year on the back of a

contract with Apple. It has since acquired clients like Oracle and ICL

Financial Services. Between May and July of 1995 its turnover was about

pounds 80,000.



Matthew Ravden, managing director, says: ‘We are witnessing a great

technology shift, from a time when the technology counted to a time

where all that matters is what you can do with it. Marketing technology

to consumers is where the best challenges lie, and it is where the

hottest technology is.’



------------------------------------------------------------------------

Top 40 information technology PR

------------------------------------------------------------------------

   Consultancy                Turnover 1995      Inf. tech PR

                                (pounds)           (pounds)

 1 A Plus Group                 4,260,000          4,132,000

 2 Shandwick UK                36,843,000          3,316,000

 3 Citigate                     9,774,000          1,955,000

 4 Fox Parrack Fox              1,916,000          1,916,000

 5 Hill and Knowlton           20,025,000          1,802,000

 6 Harvard Public Relations     2,880,000          1,728,000

 7 Firefly Communications       1,693,000          1,608,000

 8 The Argyll Consultancies     1,741,000          1,567,000

 9 Strategic Alliance Intl.     1,024,000          1,024,000

10 The Weber Group Europe       1,014,000          1,014,000

11 A D Communications             910,000            910,000

12 Profile Public Relations       838,000            838,000

13 Berkeley PR                    760,000            760,000

14 Lesniak Jones Liddell          893,000            697,000

15= Daniel J. Edelman           5,176,000            673,000

15= Mathieu Thomas/Herald       1,529,000            673,000

17 Bogard Communications          781,000            625,000

18 The Rowland Company          4,724,000            567,000

19 Insight Marketing Concepts     504,000            504,000

20 The Grayling Group           6,764,000            473,000

21 Manning, Selvage & Lee       3,605,000            469,000

22 Nelson Bostock               1,293,000            453,000

23 Words, etc                     416,000            416,000

24 Spreckley Pittham            1,584,000            412,000

25 Kinross & Render               672,000            396,000

26 Key Communications           3,256,000            391,000

27 Sheldon Communications         862,000            388,000

28 Ketchum Public Relations     1,311,000            354,000

29 Buffalo Communications         408,000            347,000

30 MMD Advertising & PR         1,094,000            328,000

31 Portfolio Communications       375,000            304,000

32 ICAS Public Relations        1,452,000            290,000

33 Keene Communications           972,000            272,000

34 Systems Publicity              623,000            249,000

35 Band & Brown Comms           1,642,000            246,000

36 High Profile Marketing         609,000            244,000

37 Countrywide Communications  21,263,000            213,000

38 Marbles                        531,000            212,000

39 Harrison Cowley              3,962,000            198,000

40 Cimma Marketing                301,000            187,000

------------------------------------------------------------------------



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