PR Strategies for Maximizing Relationships with Analysts and Consultants
By Mike Nikolich, CEO Tech Image Ltd.
When large corporations make major technology purchases, recommendations to management are usually made by cross-departmental committees which have evaluated options, identified possible product solutions, reviewed vendors' proposals, and selected a preferred vendor. The committees' selections are not always the final step in the process. Often, there's a hidden player involved in the decision-making. Not a member of the selection team, not even an employee of the company, this individual often plays the roles of guru, coach, and investment advisor to the senior executives responsible for the selection. The IT analyst sometimes plays a key role in the selection process but that role is often unacknowledged by the buyers, and ignored by the vendors.
Ranging from one-person "boutiques" specializing in market niches to respected public firms such, as Gartner Group (which calls itself the world's leading authority on Information Technology) and The META Group, "advisory" firms assist corporate IT users who purchase and deploy IT products and while also working with IT vendors that develop and provide those products and services to the marketplace. This dual role places "analysts" or "consultants" in a key role in the product selection process.
Often advising both the buyer and seller on the same "deal," and sometimes retained by more than just one vendor being considered in the selection, the "analyst" holds tremendous power over the future of technology companies and, in some cases, over entire product categories. Dealing with analyst firms is an important, and often overlooked, component of marketing for technology firms and makes "analyst and consultant relations" a growing area of specialization for public relations firms.
Maintaining Good Analyst Relations is a Key to Success
Effective relations with analysts can position a technology vendor to leapfrog to the head of the short list in product selections and to gain the attention of the leaders of industry, the media, and the competition. Poor analyst relations can result in good technology being ignored by potential customers while less promising products gain visibility and market share.
Analyst relations can enhance public relations efforts, since many journalists look to analysts and consultants for trend confirmation and research regarding industries, companies, products, and technologies. By providing early information to the analysts, your firm may also pave the way towards positive coverage in the trade press and general media. Analysts are experts that journalists turn to for detail and explanations. And analysts are very conscious of the quotes that they generate in the press as their employers value media exposure highly as it, in turn, generates increased credibility.
Despite this, analyst relations is often given less attention and dealt with less systematically than traditional media relations. Who are the key analysts and how can vendors cultivate, develop, and support them? What do analysts need from vendors? And how can vendors work closely with analysts to keep them informed of developments and aware of product features, capabilities, strategies and market presence?
Understanding the role that analysts play and knowing how vendors can work with analysts in a mutually supportive manner is the first step to effective and successful analyst/consultant relations. It is important for vendors to develop and nurture key analysts and to keep them informed of the development of strategies and plans. It is not enough for a vendor to appear on the "radar screen" at product launch. It is most important to involve key analysts in the early discussion of plans and to keep them updated on progress. In this way, they are able to analyze and review both the quality of your company's vision and its ability to execute. A two way relationship between the vendor and the analyst helps both your company and the analyst to be successful.
Key Advisory Firms
In many respects, The Gartner Group is the most important of the IT advisory firms. But Gartner Group is also unique as it has grown rapidly in recent years, primarily through acquisition of other market research and advisory firms, to include a wide range of services and capabilities. As a result of its purchases of Dataquest, Datapro and other firms, Gartner Group has grown to produce annual revenues of more than $600M and has become recognized as the leading IT advisory firm in the world. Some of its services, such as the core research and advisory services (RAS), are targeted primarily at IT decision-makers and users. Others, like Dataquest, provide information designed to meet the market research needs of vendors. However, vendors often subscribe to the RAS to understand Gartner's perspectives and to maintain awareness of the overall market.
A subscription to one of the many research services provides companies with regular research from Gartner's analysts, telephone consultations with those analysts for a limited amount of time during the year, invitations to participate in various conferences sponsored or presented by Gartner (either live or via telephone), and other materials. While expensive, often in the range of $20,000 or more per year, these subscriptions are one way to guarantee access to Gartner analysts. But non-subscribers are also welcome to request to brief analysts on product developments and introductions. It is important for analysts to have broad visibility to products and companies in the marketplace.
Other firms, including The META Group, GIGA Information (founded by Gideon Gartner, founder of the Gartner Group), the Yankee Group, and the Aberdeen Group, provide similar services primarily for IT buyers while offering certain services to vendors. At the same time, other advisory services, such as Forrester Research, International Data Corp. (IDC), and In-Stat Inc. provide quantitative and qualitative insights into markets primarily for the benefit of vendors. More and more of the research from these companies is being made available electronically, generally over the Internet on password protected sites for subscribers. Each group has staked out specialty areas, but with the convergence of communications and computing and PCs and networking, and the blurring of the lines between hardware and software the "space" of each advisory firm has overlapped and, in many cases, distinctions have disappeared.
Thus, one of the key questions vendors must ask themselves and their advisors is, which firms are the most important to cultivate relations with? While no analyst should be ignored, vendors should identify key analysts deserving of special attention and must attempt to develop deep and lasting relationships with selected analysts who are given privileged access to executives and product and marketing managers. Develop these relationships in order to educate the analyst about your company, its strategies, products, and presence. Key analysts can be identified through public postings on the companies' public websites, through quotes and attributions in press releases and news articles, and through agendas at conferences and seminars sponsored by the analyst organizations and by other commercial enterprises.
Key Strategies for Industry Analysts
In dealing with analysts, its is important for vendors to provide as much information as possible as early as possible to analyst firms. Once plans are discussed with analysts, vendors should keep up the dialogue and reinforce their strategies with evidence, or at least strong suggestions, that the plans are being executed and progress is being made. It is important to maintain contact with analysts through the development of the product and before introduction.
When products are finally released, it is important for clients to demonstrate customer acceptance and deployment. Analysts' greatest concerns are whether a company has a plan, whether that plan is being carried out, and whether customers are reacting favorably to the strategy.
It is also important to recognize that advance briefings with industry analysts are bi-directional in nature. While the vendor wants to provide its information about products and strategies to the analyst, it is important to signal to the analysts that their perspectives are being heard. Analysts love to know that their comments and insights are considered as vendors develop and position their products. And if their insights are reflected in future products and positioning, it is more likely that the analysts will respond favorably to those products in their official publications and comments. While many vendors use product briefings and analyst meetings to promote their capabilities and plans vendors should use every possible opportunity to interact with analysts to share their thoughts and gather insights from them as well as to position the company's products.
Vendors need to listen closely to how analysts respond during briefings and whenever possible, vendors should incorporate comments and "buzzwords" from an analyst's observations into positioning statements, press releases, and other public comments in the future as a signal to analysts that their perspectives have been heard.
More than anything else, industry analysts trade in information. They need to be aware of all that is going on in and around an industry and of what's going on inside key companies in the industry. More importantly, they need to convince their clients that they are aware of what's going on in the industry.
Thus, analysts want to know what companies are doing before announcements are made. They generate business through their ability to appear to be extremely knowledgeable about the industry they cover, the companies, the products, the technologies, and the people. Analysts are expected to be able to predict future trends and "call" winners and "losers" in product categories. If your company has met with and briefed an analyst, your products are more likely to be included in the analyst's reviews of the industry and to be mentioned in the analyst's discussions - with buyers, with media, and with other industry participants.
Relationships with key analysts are also important to companies when the time comes to announce and position new products. Analyst quotes routinely appear in company press releases. Journalists covering vendors and their products often request the names of analysts who can comment on the company's products and strategies. Thus, it is important for a company to have developed and maintained relationships with key analysts who can be called upon for comments and references. Inside information, and information in advance of public announcement, is the "stock in trade" of the industry analyst. Vendors must balance their competitive needs for protection of proprietary information and strategic plans against their desire to promote their market position and products to the analyst community. In turn, the analysts want to be in position to share the information that has been provided to them, along with their interpretations of that information, with their clients.
Whenever possible, vendors should brief analysts in as much depth as possible about their products, strategic plans, and customer experiences. While some discussions and briefings can be held under "non-disclosure" agreements (NDA), many analyst firms prefer not to sign NDA's. Some feel constrained by the formal NDA's and might not be sure what was to be considered proprietary and what could be discussed. In advance of all meetings with analysts, vendors should decide what they will and will not tell the consultant and all representatives of the company should be aware of the "ground rules" for the briefings.
Vendors should provide regular briefings for their key industry analysts and should make special efforts to develop continuing relationships with analysts from firms covering the industry. Companies should consider staging annual conferences for analysts and consultants, and schedule and program analyst tours for executives and product and marketing managers on a regular basis - not just when a new product is introduced. Vendors should also try to arrange interviews with analysts at key industry trade shows, and to hold analyst conferences in advance of major press releases and product launch announcements. It is important to "touch base" regularly with analysts to see whether they have questions or concerns about your company and its products and/or services. In return, analysts are may also share information about the market or your competitors.
Plan for Each Analyst Meeting
Prior to each meeting with key analysts, prepare for the meeting, by reviewing background information on the analyst's company, personal background, preferences, and interests. Develop a strategy for each meeting, with key messages and objectives. After each meeting, hold an informal debriefing to identify follow-up action items and discuss ways to improve the delivery of your message at the next venue.
Throughout your efforts with analysts from advisory firms, try to share your insights with the analyst, to develop credibility and to help them understand your perspectives on the marketplace. The more that the analyst knows about the vendor, and understands your perspective, the more likely that the analyst's comments will be favorable to your efforts. Developing a relationship, and building a shared base of knowledge and understanding, with advisory firms takes time and requires continuous effort. Often it takes more time than a product manager or marketing director has for one individual. Analyst relations requires a team approach. Generalists can handle the high-level issues with the advisory firm, and manage the interface between the companies. The individuals "handle the point" and take responsibility for actions items and for assuring that questions are answered. Specialists, like product managers, handle the details and specifics in their area of expertise. It is necessary to build the relationship over time by responding rapidly to analysts' requests for specific information or access to key vendor employees, especially when the analyst needs information to support a request from a "buy-side" client.
While many vendors recognize the value of traditional public relations, leading edge vendors realize that analyst relations help support a public relations strategy and are likely to have great value in both marketing and sales efforts. There can be tremendous value in a strong analyst relations strategy the development continuing analyst relationships. The up front investment of time and resources can assist vendors when the time comes to introduce a new product or start a new marketing campaign.
Some Selected Advisory Groups and their Websites
Listed below are the Websites of some of the leading information technology advisory groups. Each of Website presents highlights of the company's current research, descriptions of their research programs and agendas, information on their publications and a schedule of their conferences. In addition, some offer biographies of their analysts, and allow visitors to subscribe to regular email updates on their current research.
The Meta Group
The Yankee Group
The GIGA Information Group
The Aberdeen Group
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