The following article was published in the November, 2016 issue of O’Dwyer’s, Vol. 30, No. 11, page 18.
Technology companies based overseas often have a difficult time gaining traction among media and influencers in the U.S. Here’s how a consistent communications program can change all that.
By Matthew Pugh
Over the last two years, we’ve received dozens of RFPs and referrals from technology companies based overseas looking to increase their brand awareness in the U.S. Fortunately, we’ve been able to respond to and turn several of these companies into clients. While each client we’ve worked with is different with respect to their location, products, and culture, they’ve all faced many of the same challenges when it comes to getting noticed by the media – and ultimately by potential sales targets – here in the states.
As communications practitioners, we’re often placed in the uncomfortable position of balancing unrealistic client expectations with the harsh realities of the business and the world we’re in. To avoid discomfort, some PR firms simply tell prospects or clients what they want to hear in order land or keep the business. This is, of course, the wrong approach.
Clearly, prospects and clients are better served when they receive straight-forward, experience-based counsel on what they can and should expect, especially when their goal is creating buzz in America – no small feat. While some foreign tech companies have been able to make a splash stateside with little effort, most will have numerous hurdles to overcome that they may not want to hear about, but need to know.
You’re a Small Fish in a Big Pond
Your tech company may be the belle of the ball in your market, making millions in revenue, employing hundreds in the community, offering a “cool” solution, being led by a dashing CEO, and garnering media coverage at the snap of a finger. All of these things are great, but they usually mean nothing to a U.S. reporter or influencer.
Keep in mind: 14 of the 25 largest tech companies in the world hail from the U.S., including seven of the top 10: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Intel, IBM, Cisco Systems, and Oracle. All of these companies are public, all have reporters assigned to cover them specifically, and on any given day one or all of them can dominate the tech news cycle.
Foreign tech companies that are swimming in local media attention often don’t understand why the latest version of their software or the 5K race their CEO ran doesn’t make headlines here. The answer is simple: when it comes to tech, the U.S. is a much bigger pond with lots of big fish.
U.S. Media Prefer U.S. Tech
One could speculate that U.S. media tend to ignore non-U.S. tech companies for a number of reasons: the potential for misinterpretation through translation, a suspicion of foreign products, a perceived lack of credibility, and so on. What it most likely boils down to, however, is convenience.
Let’s say a reporter based in California is doing a story on coding and needs a source from a software company for comment. As we all know, reporters are very busy and often don’t have the time or inclination to research and track down an “interesting” or “new” perspective on a topic, something that could very well come from an international source.
When you couple the fact that California alone has literally hundreds of software companies with the deadline demands reporters have, chances are high they will reach out to a source whom they already know at a nearby software company. The media’s preference for choosing the familiar runs parallel to the next point.
Lack of U.S. Based Customers
If you’ve worked with the tech media – or almost any media for that matter – you quickly learn that they are almost always more curious about what your customers have to say about your company and your products than what you have to say. Having a third party talk about your company or product typically carries more weight than doing it yourself. Additionally, leveraging the voices of outside organizations helps to drive the creation of content, news, and relevant information.
The disadvantage that tech companies from outside the country often have is a lack of U.S. customers. We can cite numerous examples when we have been able to interest reporters in a foreign tech client, only to have those same reporters ask if they can speak with one of the client’s U.S. customers. If the client doesn’t have one, the reporter’s response is typically “get back to me when they do,” even if the work the tech company is doing or the solution it is offering can be applied to U.S. markets.
Logistics Can Be Tricky
Anyone who’s tried to coordinate meetings between multiple people in multiple locations in the U.S., where time zones only vary by three hours, knows how problematic it can be. This obstacle increases significantly when trying to coordinate calls between time zones that differ by 10, 12, even 18 hours.
Unless you’ve established an office and/or a spokesperson in the U.S. and there is ample time to prepare, the chances of connecting with a reporter on deadline are slim. A reporter who needs a comment for a Monday story isn’t going to reach out to a company that’s halfway through Tuesday. And ironically, the technologies available to connect with U.S. media from other parts of the world aren’t always reliable.
It Takes Time
Having said all of that, it is still possible to gain traction with the U.S. media without any domestic presence, customers, or connections. The climb is certainly more difficult, but getting involved in the discussion is possible through the creation of partnerships, the placement of byline articles and other editorial content, and by leveraging social media. Ultimately, it will take time to realize the kind of results from your PR efforts that will move the needle.
Chances are your company didn’t become an overnight success in your own backyard. Gaining awareness in the U.S. requires building relationships, educating many new people about your company and products, and a constant drum beat of consistent communication. While this is happening, hopefully you will be making inroads into establishing the other factors that will help along the way.
Matthew Pugh is Vice President at Weiss PR.