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  • Writer's pictureChris Holscher

Together we can

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

Ok — if you’re not a PR or Analyst Relations pro, this may seem a bit too “inside volleyball”. But if you’re in product management, sales, strategy or marketing, you’ll love the effects of AR and PR teaming up because they directly elevate your game. And you should understand how.

(I’ll abbreviate Industry Analyst Relations with AR, because it’s been around since times when “augmented reality” was mostly considered a medical condition.)

We know that industry analysts are consistently rated the top influencers of b2b tech buying decisions. It is business critical to get this relationship right.

Here’s the problem: One frustration of industry analysts reaches me every other day: PR doesn’t understand AR. Someone even coined the term “PR-ish AR” as short for mistreating analysts primarily as megaphones. Which kills all opportunity for a productive and strategic relationship.

Harsh words, I know — bear with me.

“Never waste a good crisis.” — Winston Churchill

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. This article speaks about AR and PR as roles and tools, not about people.

We need to understand and differentiate how we use our tools.

To get from conflict to invincible, it helps to closely examine the strengths and struggles of all involved.

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. Make them become a lead. See? You need a PR wizard to pull this off.

Structuring content to make it effective in different formats requires an understanding of 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, talent 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.

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

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. They 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 with copy that needs minimal retouch while captivating audiences instantly.

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 “sure, and so claims everybody else”… The tech comms game has become brutal.

Now what about those 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, much is not an outbound but inbound information stream. These non-public, inbound aspects are where PR struggles in their relationship with analysts and internal stakeholders. It’s just not what PR is made for and analysts as well as your internal leads in product-, strategy-, and business development 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, the two largest analyst houses, now make USD 5bn in combined annual revenues. Here’s how: Put simply, while PR is hired by vendors to raise awareness and to form positive public opinion about a product, Industry Analysts are hired by tech buyers to protect them from “overly confident” sales and marketing.

Obviously, this makes the PR-to-Analyst relationship somewhat tricky.

On the back of analysts’ buyer insights and relationships, they are also hired by tech vendors to help them improve their offerings and strategies. Remember: The non-public inbound part.

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

Analyst-to-vendor relations take place at the level of c-level executives and select specialists. That is to put current facts and events — the good, the bad, (and the ugly) — into the bigger strategic perspective. Think: Infinite Game.

…where Industry Analysts struggle

Let’s walk a mile in an analyst’s shoes.

Imagine your client plans an investment that’s worth millions and that will affect their tech architecture for years. It is your job to unravel the spaghetti of b2b tech vendors’ capabilities. To separate truth from claims. You’re paid to deliver insight well beyond business tech consultants because as an analyst you’re expected to have greater depth of vendor insights. Any notion of unsubstantiated bias towards one vendor or the other could break your reputation of impartiality and thus risk your market value, even your career. Scary, isn’t it? Industry analysts can only survive as notorious BS-detectors as found in “slideware” and suggestive language. They must be ruthless. It takes lots of working through complex materials, listening to briefings, questioning, comparing, cross-checking data and questioning again.

Analysts want to find the gold — but must avoid false positives by all means.

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 factual information that captivates attention through intelligence and relevance to their end clients’ problems.

Where AR excels…

Now off with the analyst shoes and put on the Analyst Relations hat.

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

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

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.

Why? Because playing down weaknesses or hiding problems would pull the rug from underneath any future communications because analysts would remain sceptical of the vendor for a long time. It would also deprive the vendor of getting valuable insights back into their teams (inbound AR) to resolve, improve or even leapfrog the issue at hand. This is where AR must excel because products, programs, or strategies always have weak points.

AR knows how to share “difficult to share” information in a way that all sides appreciate as productive and valuable.

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

Inbound AR must drive all AR activity as new insights amplify the value of your best people and projects and accelerate product development and go-to-market ahead of the competition. Favourable placements on reports and on lighthouse customer shortlists are only the 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 and systematically use these with your teams in strategy, product development, sales and marketing. The internal end of the AR bridge. AR is the perfect application of what Simon Sinek calls the “Infinite Game” — and if played with experience, easily demonstrates ROI.

Don’t let people tell you to measure AR by number of analyst conversations, mentions in publications or “moving a dot” on a report. It takes more than counting spreadsheet entries. AR value creation and measurement happens at the shopfloor of your business (yes, metaphorically). But that’s another article, DM me if you like.

…and where AR struggles

Orchestrating the exchange between external and internal experts in sync with programs and ad-hoc needs in business-critical areas is a genuinely intense task. But that’s ok.

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

  1. 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.

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

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

Also, AR depends on precise language. Industry analysts are researchers. They rely on accurate terminology to understand and reliably explain differences. For example, “mission” and “vision” describe two fundamentally different things. “Efficient” and “effective”, are not just clever sounding alternatives for “good”. And “product” does not equal “technology”. etc. 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.

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 super powers to contribute to successful AR cannot be over-stated.

A vibrant system

So how can we bring it all together? No matter whether inside your own organisation 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, their workflows, external and internal 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 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 as a 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 close to or directly involved in these projects.

  • Help PR to strategically 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, dead ends, learnings and next challenges. It helps create information that matters to target audiences and stories that stick.

  • Guide PR with your own combined analysis, strategic context, tactical perspective. Give them clarity with precisely drawn red lines to indicate 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.

  • Contextualise the information. Add a story angle 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. I’ve been lucky to have experienced it. That’s a real force. A force for product management and business development that’s able to make bolder decisions faster. A force for marketing and communications that is perceived as relevant and powerful. A force for sales that helps elevate conversations from transactional to strategic levels. Again, a different article to write.

I am fully aware that there is a lot more to say about the interplay of PR and AR. I just wanted to provide a more productive base as an alternative to the conflicts that I hear so often. Not only is this perspective more successful — it’s also a lot more fun along the way.


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