Want To Work In Tech PR? Here Are 5 Questions

Tech PR is an intensely competitive sector. Jobs are more in demand than ever, as brands in every vertical and size have come to recognize the value of positive reputation and third-party endorsement. As it has grown, PR has become more specialized, which has affected recruiting. Filling PR agency positions is harder than in the past, when press relationships, networking ability, and writing chops were all that mattered.
Specialized agencies have specialized needs. Take my agency; we focus on tech PR, with a particular focus in B2B technology. Press relationships, strong networking, and content skills still matter, but they’re table stakes. Understanding and articulating strategy as it relates to tech and vertical trade media and currency in hot topics like artificial intelligence or blockchain — these qualifications are now equally critical for success. With that in mind, here are five questions that anyone interested in tech PR — especially B2B tech PR — should be able to address in a job interview.

Good questions for a tech PR interview


1. Where do you get your news?

This is a make-or-break question— at least for some of us here. If you’re being interviewed for a role that supports several ad tech clients, for example, you might be expected to rattle off several relevant publications like Adweek, AdAge, Digiday, and AdExchanger. If you’re expected to support clients that build B2B AI solutions, you might boost your cred if you get news from publications like Forbes, TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, and CIO.

2. How would you support a product launch for [insert client]?

I like to ask candidates how they would support specific product launches from a media relations point of view for our B2B tech clients. Sometimes we get down in the weeds, discussing whether an embargoed or exclusive strategy might work, and though smart people can disagree, we’re usually looking for a realistic and informed approach. Would the New York Times care about an exclusive for a feature update from an AI-powered supply chain platform? Unless it’s a game-changing innovation, probably not. But VentureBeat or SupplyChainBrain might. Answers to these hypothetical strategy questions are very telling.

3. What are three interesting tech trends you keep reading about?

Successful tech PR pros routinely keep their ears to the ground, monitoring hot topics and trends for general intelligence and newsjacking opportunities. Being able to name several high tech trends — from AI to blockchain to voice and beyond — that are interesting or relevant can showcase your interest in the space and reveal an ability to identify new media engagement opportunities for clients. If you’re hired by a tech PR agency, you will eat, sleep, and speak these trends on day one, so you had better have some knowledge and interest in the sector.

4. Are you on Twitter?

This seems like a dumb question. Most in tech PR use Twitter religiously, either to catch breaking news in real time or to build relationships with key media. But that’s the point. I ask this question a lot and am always surprised by how few candidates can claim a true Twitter presence. For a tech PR expert, it’s this generation’s new RSS feed. If you tell me you don’t use it much, or, even worse, aren’t on it, I’m immediately skeptical.

5. What’s your crisis PR background?

In technology PR work, there is no shortage of land mines. I once worked on a well-known e-commerce platform that allowed you to design and sell personalized merchandise. At first glance, it seemed like a “safe” brand, unlikely to encounter reputation threats. But it turned out that a small group of designers were creating veiled racist apparel and selling it through the service. Problems erupt in this sector, often unexpectedly and with long-lasting impact. In B2B tech, the threats can be even worse, with data privacy and compliance issues potentially often lurking below the surface of the public conversation. One bad moment can lay waste to a brand reputation. For these reasons, I always ask about a candidate’s last client “crisis” and how they helped navigate it. If someone with several years’ experience can’t name anything significant, I may question their readiness for an account position.

These are several questions that, if answered adeptly, can help you land a coveted tech PR agency role. And, if you’re an agency, these questions can help you weed out weak candidates and compete for the best talent. As any industry becomes more competitive and specialized, asking the right questions will be essential to candidates and employees alike. See this earlier post for more on how to nail a dream PR job.

What Keeps PR People Up At Night

Aspiring PR agency professionals may be attracted by what seems like the industry’s more glamorous or high-impact moments. But if you talk to people who work in public relations, there’s plenty that makes for sleepless nights. In the agency world, there’s the daily stress of waiting for journalists to say yes, or the pressure of the big new client presentation, for example. Before taking that position at a PR agency, consider these things that PR people sweat over.

What keeps PR people up at night

Media ghosting

The PR pro got a hit for the client. She pitched the story, got a reporter to commit, facilitated the interview, and was told it would run. Hmm, don’t see it. The client is waiting. Refresh. Still nothing. The PR rep has been promised a story and in turn has made promises. But it’s not live and the reporter isn’t answering emails. What happened?
Sometimes breaking news will shelve a story. On rare occasions, a journalist may get sidetracked or overwhelmed and forget to communicate. Then it’s up to the PR pro to explain it to the client, which is a tough task, because she did everything right. It’s enough to keep a person up at night.

Will anyone come to my (PR) event?

Mounting any kind of media event is tantamount to planning a small wedding. But for the PR team, media attendance is a critical barometer of success. We manage thought leadership panels for B2B clients, and the best industry panels are well-attended, promoted, and covered by key media – but only if they show up! Sometimes the RSVPs come flooding in, but bad weather, breaking news, or simple bad luck can depress turnout. A typical PR team puts forth their best efforts, only to toss and turn all night hoping media who said the’d attend actually do so. A paltry turnout can spell disaster.

Orchestrating media interviews

PR pros like to be in control. We don’t like to be on the outside looking in when it comes to media interviews or briefings. So, when we’ve secured an out-of-town briefing between a client and journalist that we can’t attend, we tend to lose sleep. Will the reporter be on time? Will the client put his best foot forward? The PR pro plans for every contingency, but sometimes things happen – and those things keep us up at night.

Broken embargoes

Media embargoes are pretty common practice in tech PR, because skilled professionals want to make the most of any news announcement. Embargoes are a great tool for both PRs and journalists, but they don’t come without stress. One of the outlets may jump the gun and break the embargo. As a result, others may not publish the story as agreed, reducing the story count. The PR team can make a mistake leading to a poorly timed press release that breaks its own embargo, thereby damaging relationships with reporters. With so much that can go wrong with embargoes, it’s a wonder anyone gets any shut-eye.

Bad reviews

In the tech realm, clients may rely on positive product reviews from analysts and customers. In the same way customers look at comments on Yelp to choose a yoga studio or vegan bistro, most B2B decision-makers consider online reviews before making expensive investments on behalf of their enterprise. What if the result of the team’s efforts is rotten tomatoes? A powerful type of product review comes in the form of an analyst report. You can arrange a key analyst meeting, hoping for a glowing report that will position the client as an innovator and thought leader – and generate new business. But you can’t control the outcome, and at some point, it happens that a hard-working PR team has managed to facilitate… a bad review. Many feel helpless in the face of bad analyst or user reviews, because there’s usually nothing we can do to change them. See this earlier post for tips on better analyst relations.

Impulsive clients

There’s nothing worse than finding out about a client’s crisis situation by reading the news. When somebody inadvertently or purposefully leaks bad or damaging news, the PR pro is pressed into the unenviable task of damage control. Another insomnia-inducing scenario is when a PR team has an unpredictable or provocative chief executive who goes off-message on social media. The comms team (and the board of directors for that matter) for Tesla certainly lost some sleep this week over Elon Musk’s tweets about turning Tesla into a private company.

All the above PR sleep inhibitors have something in common. The things we worry about most are those we can’t control. It’s the same in any profession. So go ahead and pursue that PR career, but be forewarned. PR people work hard and play hard, and become addicted to the fast pace, especially in the New York PR agency world.
See this earlier post for advice on nailing that PR dream job!

Ten Lessons Of A PR Entrepreneur

Last weekend I had the honor of being part of an entrepreneurship panel at the annual Student Career Conference hosted by the New York Women in Communications Foundation. Some 300 students of media, PR, and communications gathered to network, learn, and be inspired by women who’ve made careers in the field. My panel featured an amazing lineup – life stylist and author Harriette Cole, beauty and style expert Jenn Falik, and Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra. It was a terrific discussion and a good time.

The conference also forced me to think about what I’ve learned in 15 years running my own firms, both with a partner, and, most recently as a sole owner. Here’s my list:

Know your business before you start it. Particularly in a creative service like PR, experience really counts. It pays to put in time at similar firms to gain experience and build contacts before starting your own. And why not learn on someone else’s dime?

All you really need is a client. I’ve talked to aspiring business-builders in PR and media who are very hung up on their own branding and marketing. Those things are important, and they’re fun. But in the beginning, you’re selling yourself. Just concentrate on getting one client to start.

Learn the business of business. As in, how companies make a profit. How products get to market, how a website is monetized, and, for PR, how brands are built and marketed. Just because you’re creative doesn’t mean you don’t have to understand your clients’ business. In fact, it’s all the more reason.

Ask for what you’re worth. It doesn’t pay to be shy about fees, or shrink from conversations around budget matters. Ironically, it’s often easier to stick to your fee levels when it’s not your own business, since the decision is out of your hands. But it’s even more important when building your own business.

Hire up. Never be afraid of hiring people smarter, better, or more talented than you. This is one thing I learned when at Edelman, which is today the largest independent PR firm. At times, it felt like they hired some individuals based purely on talent, then figured out later what to do with them. The point is not to be overly impulsive in hiring, but to look at talent as a long-term investment.

Take the long view. And not just when hiring. I used to gnash my teeth about losing a big pitch. But I can’t tell you how often a client who didn’t hire us has called back within the year to say things hadn’t worked out as they expected, and could we talk about working together? Try to learn something from every setback, and, above all, never burn bridges.

Manage your own reputation like you do your clients’. In the agency business we often become aligned with our clients. That’s why a sketchy company, or one who truly doesn’t understand your services, is nearly always a bad bet.

Ask for help. When I founded my second firm, I realized just how willing people are to help. The trick is in being specific about your needs (“could I ask for an introduction at X company?”) , and in doing so with the spirit of reciprocity.

Do it wrong (maybe), but do it quicklyMike Moran‘s famous call to action (Do It Wrong Quickly) is about experimentation and risk-taking. But, it’s become a mantra for me on prompt and proactive decision-making. Generally, it’s better to commit to something and regret it later than to never try something new, or worse, let key issues drift. And, after sharing responsibility with someone who had a painfully deliberate style on high-priority matters, I learned that a non-decision is a decision in itself. Usually a poor one.

“Fake it ’til you make it.” This was uttered by Jenn Falik and reiterated by nearly every panel member at the NYWICI Student Conference. The point is not that new business owners should be false or  misleading. It’s that when an opportunity comes, we should grab it, especially if it can push us to a new level of skill, challenge, and visibility. If the prospect scares you a little, maybe that’s a good sign.