Featured Article: October 2021

Together We Can

Chris Holscher

Public Relations and Analyst Relations are very different in nature, yet they can play ball – and should. One frustration of analysts and clients alike reaches me every other day: PR doesn’t understand AR. Someone even coined “PR-ish AR” as short for mistreating industry analysts primarily as megaphones and thus burning strategic opportunity. Harsh words, I know – bear with me.

I’ve got two souls beating in my heart. One feels the frustrations above – and the other admires the qualities of great PR. I know people in PR firms who deliver outstanding AR services. So this article speaks about AR and PR as roles and tools, not people.

We need to understand and differentiate how we use our tools. That is not only to avoid negatives but to reach a symbiosis that’s much needed – especially by analysts. I believe PR and AR can move this forward together – by a lot. To find out how we can benefit from, and help each other, it helps to examine the strengths and struggles of all involved. The result can be greater than the sum of both.

Where PR excels…

I look up to the ability of tech writers to turn complex facts into compelling information and stories. (In case you wonder: Facts are dry truths, information is facts that matter to the audience, and stories are information in context.)

Do try this at home: Write 500 words (no adjectives) to capture a reader’s attention with, e.g. a new middleware offering. Don’t lose them after the second paragraph. Make them remember key points and take action. Become a lead. See? You need a PR wizard to pull this off.

Structuring content to make it effective in different formats requires understanding media consumption, production processes, reader psychology, etc. And then, of course, the ability to bring out key points in a way that resonates with expert audiences. It’s objectively difficult. It requires experience and focus time.

These unique skills and contributions of tech PR empower vendors to reach their target audiences and win them over. People want information, and they love stories – better yet: People remember and share them.

We’ll get back to this. With the explosion of b2b tech, PR’s relevance has gone through the roof. Bill Gates famously said, “If I had 2 dollars to start a business, 1 would go into PR.” Who wants to argue.

…and where PR struggles

Today’s most significant challenges for PR are partly the results of its greatest successes. Tech media grew, information speed and complexity grew, competition grew. Now, journalists are drowning in PR overflow.

Journalists as target clients of PR are massively understaffed as they find themselves amidst an insane market noise and in fierce competition for speedy publications. To succeed on the media side, PR must be extremely fast to provide journalists with topics that matter and copy that needs minimal retouch while captivating audiences instantly.

It’s a superpower that cannot be over-estimated: Making shared opinions.

On the client side, market density pushes for greater creativity to distinguish products at all. And if there comes a true innovator – you get to hear “so claims everybody else”… The tech comms game has become brutal. One great way out is to nurture vendor-owned channels and make them shine.

On to the relations with industry analysts. PR stands for public relations, and industry analysts are part of the public. However, much of analysts’ value proposition is not of public nature. And from the vendor perspective, it’s not outbound but inbound. These non-public, inbound parts are where PR often struggles in their relationship with analysts, and analysts have accumulated reservations.

To understand this, we must step into the shoes of an industry analyst.

What Industry Analysts need…

The growth of b2b tech has driven the demand for industry analyst services equally steep. Gartner and Forrester alone now make USD 5bn in combined annual revenues. Put simply, while PR is hired by vendors to raise awareness and to form positive opinion about a product, industry analysts are hired by tech buyers to protect them from “overly confident” sales and marketing.

It makes the PR-to-Analyst relationship somewhat tricky. (Probably one reason why AR was born.)On the back of analysts’ buyer relationships, they are also hired by tech vendors to help them improve their offerings and strategies.

Both main business models rely on understanding vendors’ most intimate facts, capabilities, experiences, struggles, ideas, failures, and plans. Analysts need vendors to share even the problematic bits unvarnished and based on trust or confidentiality policies.

Here’s an example to terrify you…

Analysts want to find the gold –

but must avoid false positives by all means.

…where Industry Analysts struggle

Let’s walk a mile in an analyst’s shoes. Imagine it was your job to unravel the spaghetti of b2b tech vendors’ true capabilities. To separate claims from truth. Because your client will make an investment that’s worth millions and affect their tech architecture for years – all informed by your insight. Any notion of bias towards one vendor could break your reputation of impartiality and thus risk your market value, even your career.

Industry analysts can only survive as notorious BS-detectors as found in “slideware” and suggestive fluff. They must be ruthless. It takes lots of working through materials, listening to briefings, questioning, comparing, and questioning again.

The other challenge of an industry analyst: Being human.
Data, architectures, and briefings can be really dry. In a way, they must be. Yet, there is only so much capacity to remember things. This is especially true amidst the constant stream of “new” offerings that claim to be “innovative” but often cannot even prove to be “different” at all. No wonder analysts suffer from allergic reactions towards hyperbolic marketing and can experience sudden e-mail syndrome during briefings that waste their time by being “salesy”.

Analysts need a balanced diet of factual information that captivates attention through relevance and intelligence.

Where AR excels…

Now off with the analysts’ shoes and put on the AR hat.

The core of AR is to nurture a solid exchange between experts: On the one side, we have industry analysts with their breadth and depth of market insight, and on the other, we have our company’s best brains with their hands-on r&d and customer project experience and creativity.

The “relations” bit of AR is bi-directional.

1) Outbound AR helps industry analysts best understand our company’s thinking and, hopefully, our strengths. But as a unique specialty, AR also explains which areas we’ve chosen not to cover and even our not-so-chosen weaknesses. Playing down weaknesses or hiding problems would pull the rug from underneath any future communications because analysts would remain skeptical of the vendor for a long time. It would also deprive the vendor of getting valuable insights back into their teams to resolve, improve or even leapfrog the issue at hand. Since every product, program, or strategy always has weak points, this is where AR excels.

Prominent purposes of outbound AR are to enhance our position on a vendor report, mitigate for crises, and ensure the accuracy of shortlist recommendations. While obviously, these are all important, they are also secondary in nature because they can only follow as a result of the primary purpose: insights generation.

2) Inbound AR must drive all AR activity as new insights amplify the value of your best people and projects and accelerate your GTM ahead of the competition. Report placements and shortlists are only results. For this to happen, AR continuously pushes for the opportunity to identify, interpret, and bring insights from briefings, reports, inquiries, etc., back into the company to systematically use these with your teams in strategy, product development, sales and marketing. The internal end of the AR bridge.

AR done well is the perfect illustration of what Simon Sinek calls the “Infinite Game” – and if understood, rarely has to justify ROI.

…and where AR struggles

Conducting the exchange between external and internal experts in sync with programs and ad-hoc needs is a genuinely intense task.

But AR’s fundamental problem is equally crucial to the program’s success. AR needs specific forms and quality of supportive content:

a) Customer awareness and enthusiasm affect industry analysts’ baseline perception of vendor relevance. By a lot. Customers love good customer stories – as do analysts. That is, as long as such content doesn’t disqualify as advertainment. Factualness is key.

b) Further along the analyst engagement path, AR then needs concise content to contextualize specific messages. Content that proves practical relevance and outcomes. Content that makes things memorable in a few carefully chosen sentences

The biggest challenge: AR needs these types of content in a form and quality that is shareable for someone who must remain impartial.

Most importantly, AR depends on precise language. Industry analysts are researchers who rely on accurate terminology to understand and express differences. For example, mission and vision describe two fundamentally different things. Efficiency and effectiveness, too. Product does not equal technology. Analysts get frustrated with amateur language where precision is needed. It can kill their trust in the story, the presenters, the product, the company. But getting language right can catapult us ahead of everyone who doesn’t. It seems obvious – yet it’s a constant struggle.

AR can explain what is needed and what to avoid. But AR does not have the capacity or even the expert writing skills to produce it. This is where PR’s ability to contribute to successful AR cannot be over-stated. Not only in publications – but every day on short-dial.

A vibrant system

So how can we bring it all together? No matter whether inside your own organization or if you work with external partners: The key is that we don’t confuse, equate or even rank AR and PR as roles. Only when we understand how AR and PR are fundamentally different – in the characteristics of their audiences, workflows, internal and external contributions, measurement, strengths, and struggles – can we achieve a productive symbiosis.

It seems obvious to think of a virtuous circle: Analysts rely on AR, AR relies on PR, PR relies on results to share… But it’s not really a sequence where one entity leads a phase until the other entity “takes over”. A “throw it over the wall” mindset doesn’t help. We need permanent teamwork. Hence I see this more like a pulsating system of core competencies, each supporting and benefiting from the others.

How we make it work

The old networking rule applies: Give, give, give. Each role has so much to offer that’s helpful, sometimes crucial to the success of the other. Help them shine. It will be appreciated and mirrored.

AR can help PR in its quest for market-leading and interesting content because AR primarily and constantly operates at the heart of these conversations.

  • Help PR to transparently and consistently tell your company’s own story, possibly via their own channels.
  • Provide PR with analyst information, quotes, perspectives, and data. Explain the link to the latest internal programs, projects, progress, pilots, and learnings. It helps create information that matters to target audiences and stories that stick.
  • Guide PR with your own combined analysis, strategic context, tactical perspective, and precisely drawn red lines what they can say and what to avoid.
  • Make this a proactive routine – and count it.

PR can help AR in their need for high-quality, special-purpose content and visibility.

  • Embrace the need for content that is also sharable by industry analysts who must remain impartial.
  • Insist on precise terminology. Carve out key communication points and impress with factualness.
  • Contextualize the information. Add a story that can be remembered. Carefully include portions that make sharing cool.
  • Help AR raise the profiles of analysts who are great to work with. Quote their research. Close the loop.

Imagine a setup where this interplay just works. That’s a real force. For product management, business development, marketing, communications, and also for attracting new talent. An exciting place that is set for solid results and is able to communicate them.

I am fully aware that there is much more to say about the interplay of PR and AR. I just wanted to formulate a more productive and common platform as an alternative to the conflicts that I hear so often. It’d be great if you could contribute more insight to the conversation. Back to Mr. Sinek’s infinite game: Not only should we know that “together we can” but also that together it’s a lot more fun.

Chris Holscher

Chris Holscher helps European b2b tech startups and scaleups use the power of industry analyst relations for their growth journey. He’s the initiator of the “State of Startups & Analyst Relations” survey and co-lead of the Institute of Influencer and Analyst Relations, IIAR> in the DACH region. He’s admittedly addicted to all things Scandinavia and third-wave coffee, which is how you always get him. Chris lives with his wife and two children near Hamburg, Germany.

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