Colleen Martell

Why a Tech PR Job Makes Sense

By: Colleen Martell | September 5, 2017 | 

High tech PRAttention, young PR professionals—and anyone transitioning to a new career in PR.

Tech startups and established tech companies need good PR employees.

Now, you might think tech PR is too hard for someone without an engineering degree.

If you don’t understand the technology, how could you possibly interpret news and trends about nanotechnology, microchips, fintech, or cloud software?

Here’s a secret: Tech companies need communications experts to explain their technology in ways that potential customers, investors, and ordinary people can read and understand.

Tech companies sorely need the very attributes that you already possess:

  • The ability to write persuasively
  • to distill lots of facts into key messages
  • and build PR stories, so reporters are interested in interviewing companies and writing articles about their products and services.

Too often, tech companies suffer from the curse of knowledge.

They are too close to the subject; they know all the ins and outs of their software or mobile app.

What’s needed is an outsider’s viewpoint.

Communicating tech messages to journalists and analysts require a broader perspective, a PR story building framework—not more detail on the speeds and feeds of the technology.

(Here’s a quick litmus test: If you are describing what your company does to your mother and she doesn’t understand it, you need to find a better way to describe it!)

In his new book, “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education,” veteran journalist George Anders argues that “creativity, curiosity, and empathy are the job skills of the future.”

If you need to explain blockchain to the non-technical corporate clients for IBM, Anders writes by way of example, “You don’t want an engineer on this.”

A bachelor’s degree in PR or another humanities subject gives you a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Many PR degrees also provide added training that give you a leg up in a tech company communications job.

As a PR lecturer at San Jose State University, I remind students that all the tech businesses in Silicon Valley need employees with communication and writing skills.

Tech PR is a Key Driver

You might think that working in technology communications isn’t very exciting. Think again.

There are the major groundbreaking announcements happening on a regular basis in the tech world that affect every business out there.

Every day, reporters write articles about how artificial intelligence is changing businesses.

How machine learning is so sophisticated that it can do the job of several people.

How the Internet of Things technology is connecting our door locks, thermostats, and ceiling fans so we can access them via an app on our smartphones.

The sports world, hospitality market, even Hollywood movies are all touched by technology.

Companies all over are using technology to connect and innovate.

David Brooks, New York Times columnist, said,

“The roots of great innovation are never just in the technology itself.

They are always in the wider historical context. They require new ways of seeing.”

And that is why technology continues to be a topic journalists cover.

You could find yourself in the driver’s seat if you worked in tech PR.

Many of those tech firms also have ‘Help Wanted’ signs up!

Tech companies are hungry for employees with good communications and marketing skills.

Rene Shimada Siegel, CEO and founder of Connext, a consulting agency for marketing and communications experts, consistently has clients looking for people for critical projects or to fill in for employee leaves of absence.

“Engineers can invent the most exciting, game-changing technology but nobody will know about it without great marketing and communications pros.

There’s a huge demand for people who can bring those stories to life”, said Siegel.

As opposed to the so-called glamorous PR jobs in show business or the sports world where there are only open slots for 2-3 people, the vacancy signs in tech are sky high!

Every company needs communications expertise.

No Experience? No Worries

Tech startups tend to have small marketing communications budgets, making it difficult to hire PR pros with years of experience.

But they can and do hire new college grads or people moving into tech PR from another career track.

OK, you may not yet have lots of experience launching products, conducting content marketing campaigns, or tracking analytics of an organization’s social media.

Don’t be intimidated.

Think of your first tech PR job as a slightly higher-paid extension of a college internship.

And if you are transitioning to PR from another career, your experience in that other field gives you a valuable point-of-view to bring to the tech PR table.

The other secret is there is a wealth of resources out there, both paid and free.

There also are professional development training classes that can walk you through the more technical details of modern PR.

So if you don’t know how to track social media analytics – Google it and sign up for training!

This is Your Season

Many young adults don’t realize that to move ahead in business; they often need what they don’t yet have: Some seasoning and life experience.

If your dream is to work in a big city, such as New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles, you need to get experience.

What better way to get it than by working in Silicon Valley for a high tech company?

Who knows?

The tech company you work for may become the next rock star.

It could suddenly become the coolest place on earth to work.

Twitter, Lyft, Snapchat—it could happen!

Meanwhile, you will hone your skills at many different communications duties, and the startup pays you to learn.

Working in tech PR gives you many opportunities.

You can conduct product launches, pitch editors on new story ideas, write multiple blog posts and contributed articles, and post company messages on social media channels.

It is fast, the expectations are high, and your chance to learn is greater.

After 18 months or so handling a full gamut of PR activities, you’ve earned a promotion, or you might be ready to move on to a higher-paying position.

With your natural creativity, curiosity, and empathy, to quote the famous career advisor Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

About Colleen Martell

Colleen Martell, CEO and chief strategist of Martell Communications, a Silicon Valley PR firm creating PR stories, social media and content marketing programs for high tech companies. She is the lead blogger for Martell and is a PR lecturer at San Jose State University.

  • What are some of the cons of working for a tech start-up young PR pros should be aware of?

    • If you are at startup company, some of the executives may not understand how PR works. So, you’d have to do training! Or, the founders of tech companies may have high expectations of you! “Get us into TechCrunch!”

  • Very good article, Colleen.

    Working in a startup or small biz gives you the opportunity to learn everything about the business and its products and services. Moreover, you have direct access to the owner(s) and are able to build a relationship of trust. These are advantages you don’t have working for a big agency or an in-house PR department.

    • OH, good points, Corina! Having access to owners and building up trust are so valuable!

  • Erin Walsh

    Love this! Especially for my liberal arts college grad daughter!

  • Now what we need to do is figure out where tech startup entrepreneurs learn about PR. I’m convinced there is some secret class where someone who has no idea about communications tells entrepreneurs what they should expect the moment they have an idea—TechCrunch, NY Times, Fast Company…oh, my! And all in three weeks or less!

    • Oh, you are so right! Too funny! And then they follow that up with requests for TV interviews and Wall Street Journal coverage! ha!

  • Dawn Buford

    I have a Liberal Arts degree which has served me very well over the course of my career. This was especially true during my previous job at an internet startup, where I was part of a great team that launched and built the company into a billion dollar business. This is great advice for those students who may not know what they want to do in their career (and let’s face it, many of us Liberal Arts majors don’t end up in the field we majored in anyway). Technology will keep evolving rapidly. We need people who can communicate effectively to all of us non-engineers that this is a good thing and we should not be frightened by advancement.

    • That is great to hear, Dawn! Every company needs good communicators to turn the technical mumbo jumbo into messages that are interesting to press and analysts!

  • Ana Love

    I had never though about working for a start-up because they will hire someone with little to no experience. Do you have any statistics as to what the rate is of those start-ups “making it” verses going bankrupt>

    • The majority of companies have successful outcomes–either they are acquired or they go public. I’ve only worked with one companies in all my years that folded. Pretty good odds!

  • Joseph

    Yes, the investment goes both ways – new grads into grassroots startups, and the companies into their learning and development!

  • Adam Cormier

    I never went to school for tech PR… we all just fall into it one way or another. My recommendation for young careers is to try and experience as many different markets as possible… tech, healthcare, pharma, consumer, non-profit, etc.

    • Yes, getting a variety of experience helps both you as a professional as well as the company. You bring more ideas to the table!

  • Malya Bandyopadhyay

    Great advice about honing one’s PR skills in a small startup where everybody is still learning the nitty-gritties of the business. We always aim to get into the big companies where our learning curve and growth might get stunted.

    • You’re right! And, at big companies, your role as a new grad is often limited to the most basic activities so you don’t get to learn and do as much!

  • Jazmin Eusebio

    I always thought I would stay away from tech PR because I am not too tech savvy, however, this article makes me feel comfortable about trying it in the future.

    • OH, that’s good to hear! Tech companies need communicators that can sift through all the tech jargon and make sense of it! You don’t have to be tech savvy!

  • Jasmine Garcia

    Great read! In my experience, I was intimidated by the tech industry and in return, turned off by it. Then I joined a tech company and learned that I didn’t need to know what the engineers did, I just had to understand the key components that will make the the story come to life.

    Thanks for reminding your readers that tech is the place to be!

    • As we are sitting in Silicon Valley with 100s of tech companies around us, it just makes sense!