Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

PR Watch: No downturn down here as PR companies scramble for bodies

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 22, 2004

From a Wall Street vantage point the tech sector doesn't look that good right now. Earnings season is coming up and there are unlikely to be many positive surprises from Silicon Valley's public companies.

However, things are cooking in the private company sector, and Silicon Valley's PR companies are scrambling to fill new positions.
One large PR agency, which I'd rather not name...

...has 13 job openings. And many smaller PR companies are also looking for people. This is a good indicator of the strength of the local economy, since startups need representation. And increasingly, many startups are looking for PR companies to present their story to the business press, rather than just the trade press, says Marianne O Conner, president of Sterling Communications, one of the top tier local PR agencies. "Many companies have found that greater visibility in the business press can help them in many ways, such as making it easier to raise funding, and in recruitment," she says.

One problem, however, is that the mainstream business press mostly focuses on publicly traded companies. That is why stories about private companies are difficult to "sell" to the business press. And it is not just because they are small, either. SAS is a $1.3bn revenue software company, the largest private software company in the US. Yet coverage of SAS in the mainstream business press is rare. (There has been more press coverage on SAS in recent months, but that was in connection with the Google IPO, and comparisons with SAS' strong employee focus with that of Google.)

Silicon Valley PR agencies are hiring, but the work is tough, and some agencies are developing a reputation for burning people out very quickly.

This is partly because clients are demanding more and wanting to pay less. Clients have gotten used to being in the driver's seat over the past few years, when PR agencies were desperate for business. But now? I think there may be a rude awakening coming up for clients...and also one for those agencies that haven't taken care of their people during the past three very tough years. We are all vulnerable to better offers.

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