Tech PR: Being the Boom, Not the Bubble
Sunday’s New York Times post isn’t the first story to ask if 2011 is partying like it’s 1999. But though the answer could be, “yes,” the underlying fact is that the first big dot-com bust didn’t exactly put tech innovation in the deep freeze. In fact, out of the rubble of malinvestment emerged a class of battle-hardened techies who’ve made creativity extraordinarily profitable. The question may not be, “is it a bubble?” but “who cares if it is?”
There’s a flavor to the dot-com history story that strikes me as absurdly negative about technology in general — in a way that is entirely contradicted by a simple reality check. No, the fireworks of the first online explosion didn’t land us all in a new world of fun work interspersed with trips to the multicultural cafeteria and the in-house massage therapist. But out of the wreckage came Google, eBay, and Amazon, joined later by Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and other money-making tech powerhouses. Considering their impact and success, perhaps we should look back on the late-90s bust as something more akin to labor pains than death throes.
Will many of the VC- and angel-backed startups in today’s crop be little more than narrative tumbleweeds ten years from now? No doubt about it. But will others emerge with new ideas and new profit models that subtly or drastically change how we live and do business? Equally incontrovertible. Bubble or no bubble, technology keeps moving.
So where is tech PR in this musing? If today’s startups and funders are smart, in a central advisory role, making sure that the storytelling never takes the place of a company’s substance. Yes, there is value to hype; there is value to excitement, and zeitgeist, and capturing the public’s imagination. The companies who raked in millions in investment $$ a decade ago only to fold without issue can tell you that.
But seasoned PR people will deliver on those fronts, after we’ve confirmed you’ve got some there there. We’ll ask tough questions about products and services, and unleash a journalist’s eye for weakness, marketing fluff, and pure BS. Why be so tough on clients? Because it’s our job to prep you for the skeptics who print their opinions, and it’s our responsibility not to lend our credibility lightly. Bubbles are blown with baseless optimism; booms are driven by creative realists.
Kate Schackai is the Vice President of Crawford PR and co-host of #askthePRpro. She blogs for Crawford on general PR issues, social media value, and professionalism in the age of Twitter.