I’ve been C-Listed!

When I see the TV trucks pull up to an industry event, I know what to expect. Basically, I know that I’ll be put on the back burner.

You don’t have to cover the IT industry, or any industry, for very long to see where the priorities are. It’s broadcasting first, major newspapers and consumer

magazines second, and then, at some point, there’s room for trade publications.

This is not a universal rule but it’s consistently applied. I remember a while back when a fairly senior executive with one of the world’s best-known outsourcing firms (Oh, let’s just say who it was: EDS’s former chief exec, Dick Brown) was coming for a visit. We were promised one-on-one interview time with him following his keynote speech to one of the Canadian business clubs. At the last minute, however, we were put aside. There would be a sort of scrum, which was curtailed due to time constraints, but you only got a one-on-one if you had the Globe and Mail on your business card.

It’s not like this was the first time. Even when I get scheduled interviews with the so-called big names, they’ve often shuffled around at the last minute, often without reason. I later figure out the reason, however, when I see The Toronto Star‘s Tyler Hamilton or the National Post‘s Robert Thompson walking out of the room ahead of me. The best part is being part of a media dinner afterwards, during which the PR firm flutters around the newspaper star, assiduously making sure their needs were met. Both of the reporters mentioned above got their start at the IT Business Group (at Computing Canada and Computer Dealer News, respectively), so I always wonder what it must feel like to suddenly be treated like first-class media citizens.

Of course nothing, and I mean nothing, comes before broadcasting. The bigger the television camera, the larger the IT executive’s ego inflates, and there’s no question that any remaining interviews will be running a little late, if not abandoned altogether, in favour of more time on the idiot box. This is true not just of business-oriented channels like ROBTV but even smaller outlets with an audience that probably matched the fictional cable network where “”Wayne’s World”” appeared.

I realize this all sounds like one big, long, whiny gripe, and that’s because it is. None of it would be quite as galling were it not for the sycophantic treatment trade magazines receive when we’re the only ones interested in a particular type of story — the launch of a new product, for example, or the revamping of a firm’s channel program. It’s also aggravating when we’re bumped for something insignificant. Recently, for example, we were offered a briefing with Symantec Canada’s general manager about the company’s annual IT security report. We’ve tried to get an interview in advance on this before, but were told it was under wraps. The day we were granted the interview, the story had already appeared in the Globe. We were told we weren’t aggressive enough. Rest assured we are learning to be more aggressive.

You can’t blame the clients, who in many cases are probably more acquainted with the names of the daily newspapers and the TV stations than they are local trade publications (especially ours, which are exclusively focused on the Canadian market and don’t recycle content from American parent companies). In terms of PR, these opportunities probably represent maximum exposure. That doesn’t mean they will always represent the optimal exposure.

Most IT companies have realized they have to take a more targeted, focused approach to reach new customers and grow revenue. Successful PR strategies have to adapt accordingly, which means educating clients about the fact we reach their customers — the ones who will make buying decisions that could affect their stock price and, consequently, their newsworthiness to daily newspapers and TV stations. Trade magazines might never move to the front of the line, but it might be worth reminding clients that, in some cases, we belong there.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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