Wall Street Journal

How to read proactively to develop a business mindset for tech PR

By Lauren Edwards

To grow your PR career, you increasingly need to develop a business mindset.

To rise to SAE, you need to be a good media pitcher. To rise to VP, you need to be a good business counselor. To rise beyond VP, you need to be actively shaping your company or clients’ business outcomes.

How to grow in this way without the benefit of an MBA?

I’ve got a class on that! It’s called Business Mindset Starter Kit for Tech PR.

But here’s a simple list of things to look for now while doing your usual reading in the usual business publications — Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Wired, Reuters and Bloomberg Businessweek.

If you train your mind to actively seek out these elements while reading, you’ll develop your business mindset more quickly than those who read with a more diffuse agenda or no agenda at all.

Tune in more closely when you see references to:

1. Business modelLicense, subscription, direct sales, pay-per-click, etc. In other words, what is the mechanism for bringing in revenue, the method for interacting with customers and partners? 

Let me pause here so you can really take that in.

Business model = mechanism/method for money flow-through. How do dollars come in?

It seems simple and maybe even kind of boring. But it’s oddly useful to fixate on this mechanism, probably much more so than you’d imagine if you spend most of your time interacting with the news media and brokering relationships for your company/client.

You might now be saying to yourself, “What? I’m no accountant! I’m no CFO! I’m not in sales! This is not my thing!”

I feel you, brothers and sisters, but yes, you need this. Understanding this in greater detail will change your decisions about everyday tasks like setting up meetings, writing pitches and articles, and sending emails.

Business model is a big one, bigger than most PR people can appreciate at first. Typically, newbies to a team are trying their hardest to understand the company/client’s technology offerings  — what they do, how they work, who they’re for, how they differ. But this money flow-through mechanism is worth your time and attention, too. It disciplines your mind for greater effectiveness every day.

2. Competition – Who else is involved? How do their decisions affect our business? In what way are we deficient with respect to the competition? Who are we jealous of and why? In what ways should they be jealous of us? What opportunities does that suggest? See your company/client as part of a larger ecosystem.

3. Bigger or smaller “pie slices” – Marketshare, partnership, budget, etc. Whose position is potentially helped/hurt by the gains/losses of others? What reactions are likely? What’s driving change in the sizes of the slices? What does that presage? Try to look ahead. Notice the change and think beyond it.

4. Factors influencing trends – Accelerants, “de-celerants,” obstacles, external forces. Not just trends but the micro-factors that move the trend faster, slower or in a different direction.

This short piece in Investopedia is a good example of Nos. 3 and 4 above.  My paraphrasing and observations:

Reduced coal shipments and more gas pipelines have had the effect of reducing the price of railroad stocks. And economic growth generally has the effect of increasing railroad revenues, which raises their stock value.

When Warren Buffet and Bill Gates both increased their railroad investments, that put people’s attention on the meaning of railroads in the greater economy.

This isn’t about PR per se, but it’s a good example of the colliding waves of change that bolster or nullify one another, and the chain reaction of effects across multiple industries. Tech companies are ships that sail on these seas, and they’re also among the forces that effect change in the business ecosystem.

This shifting, flowing and chain-reacting is the thing I want to point out here. In PR, we may underestimate the story-making opportunities that arise from flux. If you’re conducting an executive visibility or “thought leadership” campaign, analysis of these kinds of moving parts and their meaning can produce good material for commentary, keynotes and contributed articles. You need to look for the ebb and flow of factors to see these opportunities.

5. Movement from one market to another – Residential to commercial, U.S. to Europe, tractors to nuclear reactors, PCs to MP3 players, private to public. (See 1-4 above!)

6. Specific industry/customer results – Business outcomes, value propositions, new channels and ROI. Not just time and money savings and other immediate product benefits.

7. Long-term strategy or business aspirations –– Think three to five years out. What are your company/clients’ SMART goals, sort of, for how they will reshape their business in the future? It doesn’t count to say: increase sales, generate leads or become a market leader. Those are not long-term business goals. Those are assumed  and too generic to be useful for PR decision-making. Each company’s goals must be differentiated.

8. Contrasts, comparisons, relationship of one part to its whole

These eight items are deceptively simple, and that’s partly why we don’t pay them enough attention. But they are entry points to the best ideas for PR strategies, tactics and everyday decisions.

They all connect to two central questions that are even more deceptively simple — that is, how does my company/client make money and what’s the plan for making more money — differently — in the future?

In your early PR years, you complete tasks and get coverage with a vague sense of the bigger business picture. But as you grow and advance, you increasingly appreciate that coverage needs to be a driver of business goals.

Coverage for its own sake is a luxury or vanity. Coverage that changes the bottom line — albeit indirectly in most cases, through third-party validation, brand management and the advance of ideas — is the real reason you’ve got your job.

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Lauren Edwards is a former reporter for the Associated Press. She has been creating, customizing and delivering workshops for technology PR teams since 2000.  She also coaches engineers to reach wider audiences while staying true to their convictions. Current clients include NASA Ames, AppDynamics, New Relic, Upwork, Roku, Intel, and Highwire PR.

WriteCulture is now booking workshops for spring 2019. Contact us now to start the conversation.