PR and the art of misdirection

A conversation with Steve Friedberg, a magician and PR guru.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Steve Friedberg — a good friend, PR guru, magician, and founder of MMICommunications — was attending a conference for magicians in nearby Batavia, New York, and called to see if I could stop by for a conversation. Steve really likes performing close-up, in-your-face magic, and he's good enough to have been asked to present at the Magic Castle. We've been friends for years and it was a wonderful opportunity to see him in person.

Typically, Steve is presenting one of his clients in the hopes that I'll be interested enough in their products or services to speak with an executive. Steve appears to understand what Kusnetzky Group does and doesn't do, and only mentions clients that would be of interest. In short, he never wastes my time or his clients' time.

I told you that little story to tell you this one.

Too close to see the forest

Steve and I were talking about the role Public and Market Relations plays in the go-to-market strategy of a technology company. The challenge most executives in technology companies face is that they are too close to their product, their technology and their own strategy to take the time to think about speaking with customers. They often produce messaging that isn't interesting, isn't relevant, or is flat-out unbelievable to anyone who hasn't smelled the fumes produced by the company's labs. All they see is the tree their company offers, not the forest that surrounds it.

Haven't done their homework

Quite often, these executives haven't done their homework and have no idea of the history of their particular market segment. They'll claim the be "the first", "the only", "uniquely qualified", or some other similar claptrap that is the marketing equivalent of wearing a sign that reads, "I'm ignorant and I want to convince you that my products are the best so you'll buy them".

Quite often, these executives appear not to know that the idea behind their product was implemented on mainframes in the 1960s and 1970s, midrange systems in the 1980s and 1990s, and appeared on industry standard, X86-based, systems in the 2000s. Often, their product isn't the first, the second, or even the tenth implementation of the concept. Oh, it is likely that their company has developed in a new way or based upon some new technology, but the concept has been around for quite some time. I've discovered that only a few executives appear to know about the history of technology in their markets.

In any case, executives are trying to frame the conversation just like a magician tries to focus the attention of the audience away from his/her special moves or procedures.

The art of misdirection

What these executives are trying to do is use the art of misdirection, very much like a skilled magician, to cause the audience to look where they'd like them to look. In the area of marketing communications, this magic is done with words rather than physical motions. So, a company might grab a word or phrase such as "grid computing" or "virtualization" that has a specific meaning and has been in use for decades and try to bend its meaning so that it supports their case that they're the first, the only or the best qualified.

In reality, if customers just took a moment to look around, they'd quickly find many examples of what this company is doing and learn that all products and strengths and weaknesses. Even the worst product can be useful in the right place.

Healthcare example

Steve went on to talk about one of his clients that offers no-nonsense IT for healthcare providers. His client's primary skill is taking years of experience as a CIO at a telecommunications company and cutting through all of the supplier marketing nonsense. His client promises to reduce his customer's costs by helping them find the best solution to the problem or problems they're having.

Here are some examples that were mentioned:

  • There is no such thing as a healthcare network router, there are only network routers

  • There is no such thing as a healthcare virtual machine software package

  • There is no such thing as a healthcare industry standard system.

So if a supplier offers a healthcare company a healthcare-specific product that is 50 percent more costly than the competition, it is time to show that representative the egress rather than reaching for a checkbook.

Awareness is the key

It is wise for IT practitioners to understand that it is possible for specific applications of a technology to target a specific vertical market's needs, it is highly unlikely that the technology is really limited to that use. It is best if IT practitioners take the time to be aware of how technology is being used in other vertical markets.

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