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B2B Tech PR Agencies vs Consumer Tech PR Agencies

I’m going to make the assumption that you, the reader, are looking around for PR support for your tech company and you need to work out which agencies look suitable. So, if that assumption is correct, read to the end of this article and we may save you a year or two of frustration and possibly even your job.

Martin Smith

11th Jan 2021

Let’s take a step back to put this into context. Early in my PR career, I remember the press release from a watch manufacturer client announcing to the world that they now had a website. That was the 90s and you could get away with calling this news, because, well, it was the 90s and not every business had a website. Fast forward to today with the billions of websites, apps and smartphones on planet Earth and, very clearly, tech in one form or another has infused itself into almost every aspect of our lives.

And therein lies the problem. What is “tech” now? Where does tech start and end? And by extension, what exactly is a tech PR agency?

In reality, tech PR agencies come in three “flavors”. There are B2B tech PR agencies, like Sonus PR (we’re the best one of those incidentally – check out what our clients say). Then there are B2C or consumer tech PR agencies. And then there are some, but realistically very few, that can do B2B and consumer tech PR effectively. Choose the wrong flavor of tech PR agency for your business and you’ll run into problems, sooner or later.

What does a consumer tech agency look like?

Obviously, they don’t all look the same, but there are certain things you will typically see.

In the client or case study section of their website, you’ll probably see some cool-looking logos and tech. You might see images of flashy phones, drones or headphones. You might see a household-name consumer tech brand or two. You might see photos of someone holding a phone with an app running on it. And you might see logos for app- or web-based services for rideshare services, real estate or fitness brands.

In their case studies they might reference Instagram influencers (not a thing in B2B tech) and there will likely be few mentions of trade or specialist publications. In summary, consumer tech agencies, as the name suggests, are focused on helping promote their clients’ goods or services directly to a consumer audience.

What does a B2B tech agency look like?

A B2B tech agency, like Sonus PR, is a very different beast. We’re the type of agency that will proudly declare their technical expertise and experience. You’ll likely see references to 5G, AI, automation, cloud & edge computing, cybersecurity, digital transformation, industry 4.0, IoT and space tech.

Expertise matters for a B2B tech agency. A consumer tech PR agency doesn’t have to be expert about the ins and outs of the headphone industry to promote a cool new set of headphones to the consumer media. On the other hand, if you’re promoting a business that is providing solutions to mobile operators that help manage data across 5G networks, then you absolutely have to be experts in that field. You have to understand the market, the technology, the trends, the rival players and the media and other influencers that serve that market. If you don’t, you won’t have a clue what to do or how to impact the bottom line of that company.

You have to understand the market, the technology, the trends, the rival players and the media and other influencers that serve that market.

 

What about agencies that say they do B2C and B2B tech PR?

Some consumer tech-focused PR agencies claim to do B2B tech PR too. But take that with a pinch of salt. They’ll often give themselves away by claiming that B2B tech PR “doesn’t have to be boring” or something like that. That’s a major red flag. That means they almost certainly do think that their handful of B2B clients are boring compared to their cool consumer-y tech clients. If you’re a B2B company, don’t expect great things to happen for you from this type of agency – they probably won’t have sufficient expertise nor would their heart be in it.

But, like I said, there are some agencies that manage to do both effectively. And I’ll repeat that they’re a very rare beast. The ones that do it well typically have separate divisions for B2B and B2C. The disciplines are so different that it doesn’t make sense to have the same people doing a bit of B2C and a bit of B2B. There is such little crossover that PR staff wouldn’t have any transferable knowledge between the two disciplines. So, if you’re a B2B company and you have team-members at your PR agency that spend the rest of their time on B2C projects, that gives you zero value. They’re not learning new things or making new contacts that are applicable to you – the net result is that you’re not getting experts on your team.

If you’re a B2B company and you’re considering a hybrid B2C/B2B tech agency, then tread very carefully. Ignore the B2C logos and treat the B2B work as though that is the only work they do – and judge them on what they can do for companies like yours. You’ll be fooling yourself if you think the B2C work and results has any application to your situation.

Does it matter if you choose a B2B tech agency or a consumer tech agency?

Oh yes, it really does. We’ve had a handful of prospects (who have since become clients) come to us complaining that their previous agency didn’t understand their technology or their business. When you work out who their previous agency was, the reason becomes crystal clear after spending 20 seconds on that agency website – they were bamboozled into working with a “tech PR agency” that had virtually zero B2B expertise.

These prospects (now clients) fell into the trap of thinking that they could replicate what the consumer tech agency’s other clients had. And what those other clients had was mainstream consumer media coverage, meaning those clients sometimes got into high-profile publications that everybody already knows and respects – and which would impress a less marketing savvy CEO.

That’s not to say that B2B tech campaigns can’t get into mainstream titles that will impress the pants off your CEO. They can, of course – we do it all the time for our clients. But there are two points here. Firstly, the audiences for B2B tech has to be really well thought through. Of course, it’s great when you get that article in Forbes or the BBC, but those places aren’t always the most effective or efficient means to reach a particular audience with a particular message. Forbes is not the most efficient means to reach mobile operators in emerging markets and the BBC is not the most efficient means to reach IoT cybersecurity developers. And secondly, the B2C and B2B contacts at mainstream media titles may not even overlap at all. The gadget writer at a mainstream media title will be useless for a complex B2B campaign – they’re unlikely to stop writing about cool, shiny gadgets for a day to cover your complex back-end B2B technology.

What skills does a B2B tech PR agency employ that a consumer tech agency doesn’t?

One big one is thought leadership content development. For a B2B tech agency like Sonus, this needs to be a core expertise. We tend to go beyond what most B2B tech agencies are capable of, as we can write long-form whitepapers, reports and eBooks for our clients on highly technical subjects. But at a bare minimum a B2B tech PR agency should be able to write, say, a 750-word article about a technical subject for a technical or business audience.

The other skill that you will usually see at a B2B tech PR agency that you won’t see at a consumer tech PR agency is analyst relations. In most tech sectors, industry analysts play an important role and are (most of the time) the second-most important set of influencers beyond the media. That means that this needs to be a core expertise too. On our team, we have former technology industry analysts and we help our clients punch way above their weight in analyst circles through our own research, intelligence and tenacity.

Industry analysts play an important role and are the second-most important set of influencers beyond the media.

So, what does that all mean?

In summary, buyers beware. If you’re working for a B2B company, meaning you don’t sell direct to consumers, don’t ever fall in the trap of choosing the entirely wrong category of tech PR agency. We’ve seen it happen way too often – and the companies that choose a B2C agency when they should have chosen a B2B tech PR agency will often keep the agency on board for a year or so, before deciding to fire them. In the meantime, they won’t have moved the needle for their company, the CEO won’t be impressed with your efforts and you’ll have wasted a lot of budget on the entirely wrong type of supplier who was never going to deliver. But now you’ve read this article from start to finish, you at least won’t make that mistake. You’re welcome! 😊

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