It’s that time of year when many tech CMOs and marketing VPs are evaluating the pros and cons of hiring a new tech PR agency. With the calendar having flipped to December, the RFP process is most likely completed (or very close to it), proposals have been submitted and in-person or virtual pitches have taken place. A decision is imminent, isn’t it?

From retainer pricing and subject matter expertise to agency location, reputation and proposed account team management, there is no shortage of factors that go into the decision-making process. (Our Rethinking the RFP Process whitepaper has some tips if you need them). But often reaching a verdict about who your company’s next tech public relations firm will be is more complicated than sorting through objective criteria from firms A, B and C.

That’s because far too many b2b tech marketers have been burned by their agency partner(s) in the past, as evident by the agency-client tenure shrinking from 7 years to less than 3. As such, the lingering flames of disappointment often add elements of hesitancy and complexity into the equation.

The negativity bias and its impact on the tech PR vetting process

This negativity bias, in which past adverse experience(s) are both consciously and subconsciously given more weight than past positive experience(s), often prohibits tech marketers from getting excited about a potential agency partner. No matter how well the potential new PR agency partner presented their strategy, how pristine their reputation is or how persuaded you are by their subject matter expertise, negativity bias can heighten sensitivities to regretful agency experiences of yesteryear. This can subsequently:

  • Create false equivalencies between a past partner and a prospect
  • Cause a company to default to choosing a “safe partner” rather than the energetic and creative option out of fear of making the same mistake twice 
  • Choose the legacy status quo agency because they can’t actually visualize how one firm is a better-suited partner than the next
  • Hinder and even potentially permanently delay the decision-making process

This isn’t to say that tech marketers and CMOs shouldn’t draw upon their lessons learned from past, less than optimal experiences – they absolutely should. After all, finding the right PR partner is incredibly important not just to the company, but also to your reputation internally. 

Nonetheless, the impacts of negativity bias in the tech PR agency search have reached a fever pitch, and there are several agencies that exist today because they were inspired to do better than their workplaces of the past.

Yes, ARPR is absolutely one of them.

Four questions to overcome the burn and select your next tech PR partner

I’ve previously written about specific questions that companies should ask when searching for a tech PR agency. While those questions are important, there are additional questions that CMOs and tech marketers, especially those who have been burned by an agency in the past, must also ask.

These questions are important because negativity bias just doesn’t go away. Yes, having a basic awareness of its existence can help reduce its presence, but ultimately it will exist until positivity replaces the experiences you’d like to forget.

To help reduce negativity bias in your next agency decision-making process, consider asking these four questions to help 1) fully vet the subjective characteristics and emotional intelligence of each agency, 2) appease any lingering pessimism and 3) have confidence that you made the right decision.

Such questions include:

1)    What does transparency mean to you?  Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book Talking to Strangers, argues that in spite of humans’ best efforts at transparency, we are “inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have profound effects.” There is perhaps nothing more imperative to a successful agency-client relationship than transparent communications. But if the relationship begins with both parties having different interpretations of what defines transparency, then the partnership could be doomed before it even begins.

2)    Why are you passionate about my industry?  Any tech PR agency worth consideration will have specialty areas. At ARPR, we specialize in cybersecurity, HealthIT, FinTech and Cloud. But experience is commonplace; what’s extraordinary is passion. During your next search take the time to understand why each of your PR partner prospects is passionate about the industries that they serve and verticals that their customers sell to. Entrepreneur Jennifer Hirsch cites the benefits of working with passionate PR agencies as one of the main things she learned from working with over 50 PR firms.

3)    How is client service core to your business? Far too many PR agencies forget that they are in the business of customer service. And for those that do recognize it, they often confuse it with appeasement. With tech PR in particular, client service should reflect the agency’s commitment to helping the client reach their goals and objectives. But doing so means providing affirmation when they’re right, pushing back when they’re wrong, and educating when they’re unsure, while also acting with compassion, humility, confidence and understanding at all costs. This balance is not easy for many firms to achieve.

4)    Why do you want to partner with us? It’s a simple, yet often overlooked question that every marketer should ask of its prospective agency partner. This is a great way to truly understand if the agency will value the partnership beyond the obvious financial and reputational benefits. While answers will vary, and it won’t always be easy to tell who’s being genuine and who is not, the best answers reveal aspirational and emotional vulnerabilities that you likely didn’t get during their spiel on the next great content marketing campaign.

Negativity bias is powerful. And no matter how well a prospective agency partner impresses you during the pitch process, the negative experiences stuck deep in your conscious will certainly impact decision-making, even when time may be of the essence. 

As you search for your 2020 tech PR partner, challenge them to answer tough questions that are usually not proactively addressed. In doing so, you may be able to dampen some of the flames fueling your fire. Looking for a new tech PR partner to take your brand into the next decade? Let’s chat!

Evan balances his time between scheming up client service initiatives, talking hacks and zero days with cybersecurity clients and serving as the agency's de facto CISO.

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