Calling tech an emerging market might offer a contender for understatement of the year. Digitization’s rise and subsequent consolidation, the technologicalization of just about everything, has resulted in countless cross-over opportunities for PR professionals working for tech-based businesses and clients, as a host of traditionally non-tech companies now enter an ever-widening market, signaling one of the most profound changes to hit the communications field in recent years.
The numbers speak for themselves. The top 10 PR firms ranked by O’Dwyer’s for technology this year brought in a combined total of nearly $466 million in tech-related fees in 2018, a 7.3 percent increase—or about $32 million—from last year’s $434 million. Eight of this year’s top 10 tech firms were up in total billings last year—four of them by double digits—and all save one gained in tech-related fees last year.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '19 PR Firm Rankings Magazine
We asked several of the top PR firms representing the tech marketplace to weigh in on some of the advances and unlikely alliances they’ve experienced in today’s tech spaces, and what future changes we might expect in a world where tech seems to be everywhere.
Hotwire expands foothold, talent
Hotwire maintained its position as one of our top-ranked technology PR firms, gaining more than $3.6 million in tech-related net fees last year to take the number-two spot in O’Dwyer’s 2019 rankings of technology PR firms, with $36.8 million in 2018 tech-related billings, nearly three times what the New York-headquartered agency accounted for just three years before.
Hotwire President of North America Heather Kernahan told O’Dwyer’s that a continued expansion in North America played a sizeable role in the agency’s success, as did bolstering Hotwire’s capabilities in the areas of strategy, brand and marketing services and insights, as well as positioning the firm as a challenger brand that can attract the right team talent.
The U.S. and U.K.-based tech PR specialist also launched a series of pop-up offices across North America, with the agency’s downtown Minneapolis outpost adding five additional staff and anticipating to double its headcount by the end of this year. Kernahan said the pop-up office model allows the agency to enter new markets quickly and respond to customer requests while adding top talent across growing markets. The agency plans to open additional locations this year.
Kernahan noted that marketers today are taking more of a stand on high-stakes issues. A March report issued by the agency, which polled business decision makers, company marketing leaders and consumers to gauge opinions regarding the private sector’s handling of social matters, discovered that more than half of marketing leaders surveyed (61 percent) believe their organization should take a more proactive stance on tackling key high-stakes issues. Among CMOs and senior communications executives, 78 percent said high-stakes issue planning is at least as important as any other factor in their marketing and communications plans.
“The top issues for marketing leaders in the U.S. are immigration, mental health and sexual harassment,” Kernahan said. “These aren’t issues that would show up on the B2B priority list in the past, but the melding of B2B and B2C means there are fewer boundaries on issues.”
Kernahan also posited that strategy will gain importance in the months and years to come, as PR leaders have begun taking a stronger leadership position in brand strategy conversations, a trend Kernahan said she expects to continue.
“Communications professionals looking to grow their skills should seek learning opportunities in the areas of strategy and insights,” she said. “Those who can turn complex topics into simple-to-understand narratives will position themselves ahead in the field.”
ICR inches into top five
ICR gained more than $1.1 million in 2018 tech-related fees to total nearly $18.3 million in this practice area, joining O’Dwyer’s top five tech firms for the first time this year, up from the number-six slot last year ($17.1 million) and number-eight in 2017 ($12.7 million).
The New York-based agency, which staffs about 190 and is known for its financial communications and investor relations work, also gained nine percent overall to $69.1 million in total 2018 billings.
Partner Bo Park, who leads ICR’s tech, media and telecom practice, cited an ability to blend the agency’s Wall Street roots with traditional PR to engineer programs around its clients’ individual business models as key to its success.
“Leveraging that framework to anticipate the next stages of growth, we’re able to deliver a holistic story across audiences—from investors to customers, partners and employees—so that technology companies can enhance their profiles where it matters most,” Park told O’Dwyer’s.
Park cited multiple factors at play in the agency’s tech growth last year, including an increase in non-tech companies across industrial, retail, financial services and healthcare sectors now seeking to reinvent themselves as technology-driven enterprises. According to Park, companies sought ICR’s expertise to uncover their areas of innovation, build compelling storylines and amplify those key messages in a bid to reposition their corporate brands.
Park said her agency has also noticed “furious” development in areas such as AI and blockchain disrupting segments in supply chains, infrastructure and enterprise, with emerging brands now seeking to incorporate PR into their marketing mix in an effort to showcase their solutions to prospects, while simultaneously seeking IR guidance as they enter the next stage.
Finally, Park said ICR expanded its focus in autonomous driving and connected cars, particularly in global markets, and saw an increase in alternative IPO activities, including RegA+ offerings and Special Purpose Acquisition Corp.
“We expect to see these trends continuing to grow and taking even bigger shape this year and next,” she said.
PAN puts emphasis on ‘X-tech’
Philip Nardone, Jr.
Boston-based PAN took the number-seven position in O’Dwyer’s tech rankings this year, clearing more than $17.3 million in 2018 tech-related net fees, an uptick of more than $2.2 million that reveals an ongoing climb from the agency’s number-eight spot last year (or $15 million in 2017 billings) and number-nine position in 2017, or $11.7 million.
Philip A. Nardone Jr., President and CEO of the tech and healthcare specialists, told O’Dwyer’s that no single factor could be attributed to the firm’s forward mobility and instead cited a combined effort across the board from its PR, marketing, HR and finance teams, as well as a recent expansion of PAN’s executive team which resulted in the firm’s highest retention rates to date, allowing the agency to focus its time and energy on meeting customer demands.
“Our growth in the technology sector specifically was two-fold. We have a strong pipeline of emerging and enterprise tech brands looking for integrated offerings, and they’re leaning on mid-sized agencies like PAN because of our ability to meet their needs on a global scale, while continuing to deliver personalized service,” Nardone said.
Nardone noted that the second factor contributing to its growth comes from what he referred to as “X-tech,” industry disruptors currently causing headwinds in today’s tech market. “We’re seeing more and more inbound requests from AI-tech, insurance tech, real estate tech, etc., brands that are earning attention from investors and need PR and marketing services to support. That’s an area we look forward to expanding in 2019,” he said.