Farewell UK tech journalism and PR?


I’ve been given a tip by a very reliable tech journalist source that a certain UK IT publishing house is showing signs it might be  considering upping sticks to the US.

So what?

The reason for concern on the part of my source is that they believe this has much wider implications both for the future of UK tech journalism, and by definition, UK tech PR.

Here is a summarised version of our recent conversation and a detailed outline of the argument:

"Is one of the major UK IT publishers slowly in the process of decamping to the US?  If true – and despite all the arguments about the Internet making physical location irrelevant – it makes sense. Most of the action is led from over there and there is still no alternative to being on the doorstep.

If that is the case, others will follow. And thus a much reduced case for the existence of UK tech hacks. And no reason at all for the existence of UK PR agencies. Leave it all to the loving arms of WagEd, etc. Companies who think that Europe is probably part of New England, but just could be Nova Scotia. And who most certainly don’t think it represents countries that need individual PR treatment.

In which case, there may well be no need for UK tech PR operations, or significant UK marketing budgets.

I can see this particular UK IT publisher becoming a smaller and smaller `branch office’ of a US-based HQ – which in turn means there is less reason for any PRs in the UK to talk to them, because all marketing and promotional activity will be done in the US.

So there will be less need for any UK-based tech PR.

A cynical view perhaps, but I think it is something that PRs in the UK need to think about…..ie shift the balance away from tech – for the signs are it is dead, we just can’t smell the carcass.

The UK is now seen by US companies as a satellite (in business terms) where investment in PR is (or very soon will be) no longer necessary. Let the US PR companies run it. And the evidence is they don’t actually understand that different countries outside the US have different cultures, different needs and are not all clamouring to be 51st, 52nd or 53rd State."

Strong stuff.

I’d welcome comments on this issue before I add my own ten pence worth.

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Comments

  1. I don’t think this arguement has any legs and takes a rather dated US-centric view of the world. If I have understood correctly, few of us will want to wait until the hacks awake at 5pm on the west coast to get that day’s tech news. If hacks are left behind in the UK to report ‘European’ news the best place for them to be pitched to will remain the UK so you will still need PR people in the UK. However, any agency/client whose media list doesn’t extend beyond the likes of ZDnet et al, is indeed in trouble.

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  2. Thanks for the input – I thought posting here was best way to flush out opinions and reactions – any more for any more??

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  3. This is such a peculiar view of the situation, that I can only imagine it was written to provoke. The basic premise that only new tech is coming out of the US is obviously flawed. After that, the whole argument collapses.

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  4. Ben – I suspect there is an element of provocation in there – though I don’t doubt the person concerned does sincerely believe there is some veracity to the argument stated. I agreed to post it on the basis that it would get people talking about it. Which is happening. And is nice.

    However, I think we all know that budgets aren’t getting any bigger – and yes, there is clearly going to be less demand for pure tech journalism and tech media relations – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is the end for tech PR – I just think the nature of the work we do is changing ie less emphasis on traditional media relations but expanding into other areas – we’ve certainly seen that here eg big uptake of video testimonial work, digital, etc.

    And given recent annoucements of US tech PR agencies setting up UK/EMEA operations, I don’t think they’d be doing that if they felt the UK/EMEA tech PR market was contracting.

    Anyway – more than happy for more people to throw their hat into the ring on this one!!

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  5. Is this ‘Felix doesn’t want as many magazines and is selling Maxim to the US so obviously all the other mags will go too?’.

    US titles and attitudes don’t match UK interests – writing for both I find obvious differences. Switching to US based coverage will end up with unhappy readers. Of course that wouldn’t necessarily stop it happening!

    BTW, this captcha thing for every comment is becoming a tad burdensome… if I’m in a hurry it can stop me commenting. Totally appreciate the spam issue but I thought I’d mention.

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  6. Mary – I’ve turned captcha off – hopefully I won’t have a return of the comment spam that caused me to put on in the first place – but I’d hate to think you were being deterred from commenting.

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  7. Andrew,

    This is depressing reading, so it’s probably true.

    What’s missing is an Orwellian analysis of the situation. Surely you’re the man to give us this.

    What would the great man have thought of our journalism being centralised in America?

    Also, what’s with the beard?

    I’m amazed you can get away with that in PR.

    regards

    Nick

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  8. I’m sure he’s turning in his grave.

    Given he likened advertising to the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket, I dread to think how he might describe modern day tech PR – or US tech journalism.

    As for my Bee Gees impersonation, it was a short lived experiment – shorter hair and trimmed goatee now restored 😉

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  9. Loads of tech stuff comes out of the US. The big tech spend comes out of the US. A lot of UK tech PR I see is trying to drum up interest for companies that have done well in the US; the UK is almost always just the sales side for software etc developed in the US.

    Honourable exceptions: satnav; various disparate UK tech startups (last.fm, anyone? Did you know it was British?).

    If you really analysed the money, I’m sure you’d find most has US parentage. Or Far Eastern, of course.

    This doesn’t though mean that there’s any less need for UK tech journalism – we use this stuff here, so need to know the issues here. Such as price disparities, which US companies are oddly reluctant to talk about.. or language compatibility.. or access to finance..

    There’s still a need for the journalism. Quite how strong the need for the PR is, well, I leave that to those who know.

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  10. Charles – thanks for stopping by. I’d say most UK tech PR is about representing the UK sales arm of a US outfit – and that’s always been the case. I’ve worked in tech PR for 20 years and represented probably in the region of over 100 firms – out of that I can only think of 3 genuinely UK tech operations – they were all US (as well as a smattering of Israeli firms).

    I agree there is still a need for tech journalism – but the outlets for that journalism are clearly in decline – The Guardian stand s out like a sore thumb in terms of its tech coverage. Tech PR as pure media relations is definitely going to change – as you yourself know, the general standard of tech PR in terms of dealing with the nationals is pretty poor – not just because it appears to be greenhorns that are thrown at it, but that client’s expectations as to what can be achieved is routinely exagerrated – how many clients are sold on the idea that they are going to get regular and sustained national coverage – it just doesn’t happen – far better to pitch your one good story once every 6 or 12 months than keep plugging away every week in the vain hope that something might just get through. And pissing you and your peers off at the same time. Trouble is, you can’t build a (traditional) PR business on that approach (at least if that is all you do).

    So tech PR is going to have to change – with media relations occupying a valuable (but niche) role. Or perhaps the emergence of much smaller, specialist outfits for who this approach could be sustainable.

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