Who's Leading, Who's Playing Catch-Up In Tech PR Game

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Tue, 9 Mar 1999 01:38:52 -0800

http://www.prcentral.com is an excellent bit fountain. Check out
their archives for _Reputation Management_ magazine. Great stuff on
effective CEO positioning, United's corporate ad campaign
effectiveness, treading safely as a multinational in India, and much
more. --RK

The following is from their _Inside PR_ weelkly email bulletin...

Who's Leading, Who's Playing Catch-Up In Tech PR Game
February 22, 1999

At the pace at which things are changing in the technology public
relations sector, even the most dedicated follower of the news needs
a scorecard. We provide one, with a quick assessment of the agencies
that have established themselves as leaders in the technology PR
field, those that are emerging as serious players, and those that are
playing catch-up.

Porter Novelli: Two early acquisitions, Copithorne & Bellows and
Brodeur & Partners, established Porter Novelli as one of only two
mainstream PR firms (Shandwick was the other) to play a significant
role in the development of the technology PR business. Questions are
being raised, however, about Porter's relationships: C&B is now
viewed as an independent unit of Omnicom and Brodeur Porter Novelli
seems to operate independently too.
Weber Worldwide: Weber is the only one of the major agencies with its
origins in the technology arena. It grew up in Cambridge, has a
formidable West Coast operation, and has added to its own competency
with acquisitions of Technology Solutions in New York and The Neva
Group of Boston.
Ogilvy PR Worldwide: The acquisition of Alexander Communications-the
biggest deal in the technology arena to date-lifted Ogilvy from
also-ran to market leader overnight, although it could still fall
back if the merger doesn't pan out the way principals Bob Seltzer and
Pam Alexander expect. But Alexander was one of the blue-chip
technology firms, with a great client roster and unparalleled
Shandwick: With its early acquisitions of Miller and Hi-Tech PR,
Shandwick established a strong bi-coastal presence. While Hi-Tech is
now part of Golin/Harris, Miller remains, and continues to do strong
work domestically while expanding internationally. The Shandwick
Interactive group, based in St. Louis, gives the agency cachet with
smaller clients.
Golin/Harris Communications: When Shandwick restructured its U.S.
public relations operations-a mish-mash of brands-it handed Hi-Tech
PR of San Francisco over to Golin. Although the agency continues to
perform pretty well, the brand has languished.
Edelman PR: Bought a small firm in Austin last year, but the Silicon
Valley operation was built organically. Of all the major
multinational firms, Edelman has done the best job of growing its own
technology practice, with clients ranging from industry giants such
as Ericsson and Microsoft to more entrepreneurial companies in the
new media arena.
Fleishman-Hillard: Its recent acquisition of Upstart provides a nice
complement to its existing technology operation. Although F-H was a
latecomer to northern California (its previous technology experience
defined largely by Dell), its San Francisco office has been gaining a
reputation for quality work, for large and small clients alone.
Upstart adds critical mass, credibility, and a brand name that has
cachet in the Internet space.
Ketchum: The acquisition of Susan Thomas Associates on the west coast
and Crescent Communications in Atlanta made Ketchum a player in the
technology sector, but it's still not thought of as a leader.
GCI Group: GCI's technology acquisition, Jennings & Co., was one of
the first, but the agency has not taken advantage of its early entry
into the Silicon Valley market to stake a claim as one of the
leaders. Another acquisition may be needed if GCI is to become a
significant force in the technology arena.
Hill & Knowlton: Prior to this month's acquisition of Blanc & Otus,
H&K definitely belonged among the "playing catch-up" crowd. While its
overseas technology capabilities are impressive, its U.S. operations
were best known for the quickly aborted partnership with Cunningham
to serve Oracle. B&O gives H&K credibility, and CEO Tom Hoog has
hinted that more acquisitions may be in the works.
Playing Catch-Up
BSMG Worldwide: No deals yet, but lots of rumors. BSMG has been
growing a respectable technology practice quietly, with a strong New
York business-to-business component and Chicago providing consumer
marketing expertise. A small but rapidly expanding Orange County
office adds a west coast presence, but BSMG is one of only a handful
of major firms without a presence in the Bay Area. That will have to
Manning Selvage & Lee: MS&L's first acquisition, Boston-based Rourke
& Co., didn't work out too well, and most of that company's senior
staff have since moved on. Its more recent acquisition, for Capital
Relations, is on a smaller scale than most of the other recent deals.
A solid base in New York, but light in the technology centers.
Ruder Finn: With no West Coast presence to speak of, Ruder Finn has
been growing its technology client base from New York and has done as
good a job as any of the majors in developing a business model that
attracts entrepreneurial, Internet-based clients. May not have the
cash reserves to get into the acquisitions game.
Burson-Marsteller: No deals yet, but lots of rumors. B-M needs to
make a move, because its profile in the technology sector is
certainly not commensurate with its status as the world's largest
public relations firm. B-M has done its best work for established
companies, including Sun Microsystems and (briefly) Apple, but it may
be that the firm's size, its focus on large global clients and its
reputation for bureaucracy hold it back when it comes to working with
more entrepreneurial clients.
Cohn & Wolfe: No deals yet, but some rumors. C&W has done some good
work in the technology arena, for clients such as NEC and BellSouth,
and has a strong technology practice in Canada, but in the U.S. it
needs to add critical mass and a presence in northern California.
Creamer Dickson Basford: The hiring of Michelle Clark and continued
investment in California signal CDB's desire to be a technology
player, but without an acquisition the agency is unlikely to be a
major force.
Rowland: Recently, quietly, opened an office in San Francisco, but as
yet not a major player in the technology market.
Leading Independents
Cunningham Communications: The big blue-chip name among the remaining
independents, respected for the quality of its
management and for its thoughtful, strategic approach to technology
public relations programming. A deal with Cunningham would make any
agency a leader overnight, but Cunningham has spurned all suitors to
Waggener Edstrom: At $40 million, almost twice the size of
Cunningham, and the margins are healthy, but Waggener Edstrom is
still regarded by many as a one-client shop. That client, of course,
is Microsoft, which means that this might not be the right time to
make a move: the way things are going in Washington, there might not
be a Microsoft a year from now.
Niehaus Ryan Wong: A great brand, particularly in the emerging
technology arena.
Applied Communications: Has done terrific work for Oracle, runs a
very aggressive business, and could be the next to fall.
Fitzgerald Communications: The best brand on the East Coast.
Schwartz Communications: The fastest growing of all the tech
companies, with offices on both coasts.
The Benjamin Group: Regarded by some as "Cunningham lite," one of the
Valley's best established agencies, much courted.
The Horn Group: Eight years old, $5 million in fees, and a good client roster.