AR-Workers: Do they need to breathe technology?

26 September 2006

On September 19th, the DARA, the German equivalent to the IIAR in the UK had its second meeting. One question that came up yesterday and seems to be quite important to members as it has been discussed before is: How much does an AR manager need to know and what is his/her role in the communication process?

Basically there are two opposite opinions. One side says that the AR manager needs to know everything about the company and its products and must be able to conduct analyst briefings her/himself. The other extreme says that the AR manager only has a coordinating role in bringing the analyst and the right spokesperson from the company together. This person can work with more or less zero product knowledge.

I find myself firmly in the middle. I am convinced that a good AR manager is a good communicator in the first place. Bringing the right people together is the essence of the job. But to be able to do this the AR manager needs to know a good deal about the company, the products and the market. He/she needs to be a respected contact for analysts and must be able to answer basic technical questions so that he/she is able to judge what level of technical insight must be provided for the analyst. Appropriate technical knowledge is essential in both briefings and enquiries to ensure that clients and analysts learn from each other and that misunderstandings are avoided. A client must be able to understand an analyst’s points if they are to take maximum advantage of an analyst’s expertise, and this typically requires insight from the AR manager. A purely coordinating role will not be sufficient to be successful in the long run and does not reflect the important contribution of AR to the sales and communications success. Defining standards for the AR workplace should be an important topic for organisations like IIAR and DARA.

 

7 Responses to “AR-Workers: Do they need to breathe technology?”

  1. ARonaut

    You’re right. Analyst tend to *** about AR people only coordinating or sending them the press releases. In my opinion, a good AR person should be able to discuss a research agenda with analysts, provide background to help them with their research. And yes, the interpersonal stuff is important too.

  2. Marc Duke

    Good piece, have you read the recent Forrester report by Ray Wang on the topic – happy to send on, but the conclusion for AR people to have credibility they need to demonstrate some level of technology understanding rather than be glorified admin bods.

  3. Heidi Schall

    @Marc: No I haven’t but would love to. Please send over.

  4. james governor

    i actually think its esssential to engage with relevant content at some level. otherwise material is too hard to navigate. i tend to think the best approach is to associate relations people with particular executives-then they learn by osmosis and can helop foster good relations between speakers and analysts, which is of course a raison d’etre for the job

  5. Duncan Chapple

    Thanks for this post; it’s useful.

    There is a massive opportunity for AR people to be taken more seriously. There is some internal value from that (Ray Wang’s article is on analystequity.com, and surveys that nicely). However, in most companies understanding technical detail isn’t the best or only way to understand their research agenda. Nor is it the best way to increase the credibility of the AR manager.

    The reality is that better AR is normally held back by weak internal commitment to AR, more than it is held back by weak rapport with analysts. The AR manager needs to deliver real value to the vendor by mapping and tracking the most influential analyst community and using it to support the sales process. Only in this way will the business increase the support it gives to AR, which in turn produces more and better information to analysts.

    Heidi, I think there’s also something specifically German about the idea that a person’s worth is measured by their technical knowledge. It’s true in the German speaking regions to an extent that it is not true elsewhere. But AR managers do need the corporate ‘Weltanschauung’ as well as the technical ‘Gezamptkonzept’. But technical detail, in itself, is a cul-de-sac.

    Duncan.

  6. barbara french

    surely it’s common sense that the middle ground, as you describe it, is most appropriate for AR roles at most companies.

    erring on the more-informed extreme is better for AR people who desire future employment in the tech industry.

    the tech industry has never had much respect for people who "coordinate" for a living — this goes far beyond analyst expectations. "coordinating" is not a job, it’s a bureaucratic process left over from the 19th century.  it’s a thing that technology wants to automate.

  7. Heidi Schall

    Duncan, I completely agree. Better sales is of course the ultimate return a company should aim to get from well executed AR. The quality of an AR programme not only depends on the knowledge and competence of the AR manager but also on the committment and support of the top management: Like every communication process I regard AR as a team effort where everyone needs to contribute their expertise at their respective level.

    And it is true that Germans tend to be more critical in their assessment of markets and technologies. Therefore they often focus more on detail and depth than analysts (and journalists btw) might do elsewhere. The big picture is still important though. I agree absolutely that an AR manager needs a good understanding of the AR community as well as he needs to be able to put things into perspective and connect the dots on the technology landscape. In Germany it seems both, overview and detail are needed. And since culture and values differ slightly throughout Europe I see a great opportunity in local AR. Just like companies have come to understand that PR is much more successful when it is executed by local people with a local angle I think that AR also needs to be more decentralized and that companies can profit from local AR in their key markets.

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