In late 2015, Hewlett-Packard split into two listed companies, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, resulting in roughly 30,000 job cuts. Against that backdrop, HPE was eager to assuage concerns among existing employees and inject a new esprit de corps.
Enter W2O Group. The PR agency had represented the old Hewlett Packard for several years and was now tasked with engaging Hewlett Packard Enterprise employees posthaste.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '17 Technology PR Magazine
W2O quickly created “BeHPE,” or “Be part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.” The program, which launched in early 2016, provides a “way to empower employees and encourage them to use their voice on behalf of the brand, driving interest in the company’s vision,” said Madelyn Varella, head of integrated planning at W2O Group.
As part of the effort, the agency trains HPE employees how to share content via their personal social media channels and spark conversations online regarding the company’s brand, products and services. HPE, in turn, promotes the program via the company’s social platforms, thought leadership initiatives and live events.
“BeHPE” exceeded its goal of 10 percent participation among company employees — within the first 18 months of the program — by the end of 2016, Varella said. “We want to help employees stay engaged, position their stories better and get the right messages to the right places.”
W2O Group’s efforts on behalf of HPE help to illustrate the changing PR demands among technology clients. In a post-digital age, tech companies are looking to their PR agencies for more strategic communications and to reach out to a growing number of disparate audiences both internally and externally.
PR campaigns focused on extolling a new technology or gee whiz algorithm continue to serve their place. However, with technology having a growing impact throughout the business sector and society, PR agencies have started to expand their aperture on behalf of tech clients to include multiple issues ranging from cybersecurity to privacy to public policy.
APCO Worldwide, which generated $10.7 million in tech fees in 2016, with growth expected for 2017, works with both enterprise companies in the tech space, such as Adobe, as well as startups like OneConcern.
“We need to engage global institutions and talk about broader issues through a CSR (corporate social responsibility) and public-policy lens, rather than a commercial lens,” said Evan Kraus, President and Managing Director of Operations at APCO. “Tech clients are aware that they need to have those conversations, rather than just doing ‘PR.’”
Peter Prodromou, President and CEO of Racepoint Global, stressed that it’s more important than ever for PR agencies to educate tech clients how to effectively communicate to a broader set of constituents than in the recent past, as tech companies face growing scrutiny from government regulators.
“The implication is how to formulate business strategies and deal with a potentially harsh regulatory environment,” said Prodromou, whose clients include AT&T, Extreme Networks and Panasonic. “That’s a very different ask.”
Indeed, tech clients want their PR firms to cultivate an integrated communications model and work with a broader array of business departments within the company.
“Silos still exist, and there are some communications strategies that are not done as holistically as they might be, but the market is moving so fast that clients are being forced to change their thought processes,” Prodromou said, adding that more and more of his tech clients now ask him to attend C-suite meetings to discuss their PR and marketing efforts. “We’ll continue to do great creative for products, but the agencies that will win in the future are the ones who can provide new strategic services.”
Tech continues to be a dominant sector for Racepoint. In 2016, the agency garnered $23.7 million in tech-related fees, with an increase in such fees projected for 2017.
To bolster the agency’s portfolio, Racepoint in September launched a thought leadership initiative called The Think Tank. The multifaceted program, which is designed to show all clients how technology is changing their markets, focuses on the macro issues affecting tech companies, including job displacement / job creation, civic leadership and social responsibility.
W2O Group, whose clients include Intel, Verizon and Visa, is also working more frequently with tech companies’ marketing and advertising departments to encourage an integrated model.
The change is reflected in W2O’s tech fees: It generated $19.5 million in tech fees in 2016, and anticipates a 10 percent increase this year.
“We’re sharing insights about digital influencers, which media outlets are key, and the relationship between earned media and marketing,” Varella said. “It always helps the client become more integrated, and those are the teams that get the visibility, funding, and usually have more success in their organizations.”
Christa Conte, Senior VP and head of digital commerce at PR agency Hotwire, amplified Varella’s comments. “Integrated communications is commanding a more significant share of the marketing mix than ever before,” she said. “This means developing communications strategies to support lead and demand gen, in addition to traditional awareness building activities such as events and media relations.”
Hotwire, which garnered $13.3 million in technology revenue in 2016, with a five percent increase expected this year, continues to ramp up its influencer engagement programs. For retail tech company Velocity Worldwide, for example, Hotwire targets specific tech audiences via salon dinners, email newsletters or bespoke partnerships.
Influencer marketing is just one of a slew of new digital PR channels that are becoming more pronounced for tech clients.
Ross Levanto, Senior VP at Highwire, said tech clients are providing more budget to execute the firm’s ideas for content marketing.
“There’s a strong interest in going beyond earned media and taking a compelling idea and turning it into a video, an ebook or blog, to achieve marketing objectives such as aiding brand awareness and lead generation,” Levanto said.
Take Highwire’s integrated PR program for Norwest Venture Partners, a global venture capital and private equity firm.
Highwire uses both earned and owned media to show how Norwest helps entrepreneurs develop their businesses. It also creates content tying Norwest to entrepreneurial topics such as ecommerce, and positions senior executives at the company as thought leaders.
“Content marketing has to be part of the mix,” Levanto said.
Highwire generated $14 million in tech fees in 2016, and anticipates a 17 percent increase for 2017.
Matthew Schwartz is Editorial Director of Gould+Partners.