PRs Irrational Exuberance

Imagine sitting at your desk fielding 50-plus calls per day from people who have no idea who you are or what you do. That’s 300 per week from people who call you only because they have your number. Three hundred useless and annoying interruptions.

Sound bizarre? It happens to a friend of mine every week, without fail. He’s a technology industry analyst who covers a very narrow niche. Every day he gets calls from people representing application service providers (ASPs), desperate for analyst coverage. The problem is he doesn’t follow the ASP market, and really couldn’t care less about it.

Then he told me how many calls the ASP analysts get a day. No wonder they never answer the phone. Their phone set must look like Howard Stern’s during a segment on “Why I Want to Marry Julia Roberts.”

So here’s the uptake. We, the PR industry and our clients, are smothering the analyst community. The ASPs are among the worst-offending segments in the high-tech marketplace, and they’re making it hard for the good guys who actually do their homework.

Some words of advice. ATTN: ASPs Put the phone down! I’ve heard ratios of 1,000 to one for every 1,000 calls an ASP analyst gets, there’s one gem in the bunch, and analysts are so busy screening flak that they can barely do the gems justice.

That said, allow me to apologize for picking on the ASP community. You are not alone. Lots of tech markets share your sins. The ASP sector just happens to be the transgressor du jour.

Not all PR firms fall into the hype trap. Unfortunately, those that do punish the rest. Use whatever metaphor you want, but the really bad spin shops have put PR in a downward spiral in the view of many analysts and journalists covering technology (not that our profession is held in particularly high esteem anyway).

There’s also plenty of blame to be placed on the analyst community. Trying to find the right analyst, regardless of what database you might be using, can be a difficult chore. Many firms do not list their analysts or their coverage areas on their web site, perhaps for fear of exposing them to an onslaught of unsolicited emails and phone calls.

All this points to an amazing opportunity for the “coverage” community, high-tech companies, and their representatives to work together to find a solution to a hugely wasteful process.

Here’s the proposal: Let’s get a group of analysts together with some PR folks, and decide on the requirements for a dialogue… a screener that tells hungry start-ups eager for attention that no one, absolutely no one, will pay attention to them until they can demonstrate revenue and earnings, distribution strategies, go-to market strategies, satisfied customers, industry partners, sustainability, and vision. This checklist will say, in effect: “If you don’t score at least a passing grade, no one will talk with you, and we, the PR community, will not risk our reputation pitching a story that we know is doomed to failure.”

I think it’s a great idea. I also know it won’t work. There are enough hungry industry analysts who get paid by the quote, enough PR firms that get paid by the quantity of their output, and enough companies that are totally blind to the realities of the marketplace to make an industry covenant useless before it’s written.

But wouldn’t it be nice to put some rationality back into the process? At least that way the telephone could cease being a nightmarish gadget and reclaim its role as a helpful device that allows people with a common interest to speak with each other at their mutual convenience. I’d rather have someone hang on every word than hang up.

Of course, any company’s ability to get on an analyst’s agenda is dubious at best. The analysts are all too busy screening calls.

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