Research schedules and coupon clipping

Gartner, Forrester and most other analyst firms are getting increasingly open about their research schedules. This is good news for strategic AR managers, but a dangerous and disorienting temptation for amateurs.

By publishing their research schedules, analyst firms are able to set their clients’ expectations, increase the pressure on analysts to deliver on time and reward their clients by giving them that has previously been inside information.

Analyst relations professionals can also benefit. They save the analysts time, and themselves, by not having to ask what is in the pipeline. They are able to preempt analysts’ information needs and send them useful information. They are also able to start earlier to assemble and get approved information that vendors might often struggle to approve promptly.

However, many AR managers have been led astray by using this as a strategy, rather than a tactic.

We see this in the public relations world. Many media communications professionals use forward features tables, which show stories scheduled to be written, to save time. By focussing on highly relevant articles, PRs can ‘pick the low-hanging fruit’: they can supply information about their clients’ solutions to journalists who are already planning to write on the topic. There is no need to pitch in the relevance of the topic: only to suggest why the client should be mentioned.

As a PR tactic, this is perhaps harmless and productive. However, as a strategy it would be dangerous. To prioritise the forward features would mean that one would not react to the news, nor would one target media with shorter cycle times such as the daily papers. One would probably focus on getting mentions, rather than getting favourable mentions in target media.

This is certainly a danger in the use of analysts’ research schedules. Some AR managers focus increasing effort on the analysts who publish their schedule, and who schedule the most research. This encourages AR managers to over-emphasise firms who write more but shallower research over those who write fewer, but better. They also over-allocate resource to firms that publish schedules. This leaves the field clear for their competitors to spend more time with the other influential analysts.

In conversations with clients, I liken this to clipping money-off coupons. These coupons are in the medium-term interest of consumers (although research shows they offer no medium- or long-term advantage to sellers since they mainly support pricing parity). Frugal consumers can use coupons to reduce the cost of the things they want to buy. However, what would happen if you based your shopping strategy on what you had coupons for, rather than what you wanted? You might by lots of things simply because they were inexpensive. When shopping for food, you might get lost of things inexpensively, but still find you have nothing that make a meal. Many housemakers feel that the secret to economical shopping is leaving the house already knowing what you’re looking for. If you react instead of plan, then you will struggle to accomplish your goals.

So it is for analyst relations managers: research schedules can help to you time and tailor your interactions with analysts. However, it would be mistaken to allocate total resources differently simply because of the research schedule: resources should be primarily by analyst impact on sales. Your services levels, and targets, for interaction volume and quality need to prioritise the influencers, not just those who publish schedules.

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