Some may know Boston for its renowned academic institutions or for its dropped “Rs.” Many know the city for its sports championship titles – and to that end, its resilient pride. But what many might not realize is that the city of Boston is one of the leading hubs for tech PR in the United States. As such, Beantown now headquarters some of the most forward-thinking PR agencies, including Version 2.0.
Boston is one of the country’s most economically powerful cities and home to several global and start-up technology companies, some of the world’s most prestigious universities and research programs, and world leaders in innovation. In fact, recent surveys show that Boston may be positioned to overtake Silicon Valley as the world’s center for tech innovation. For PR pros focused on technology, this is where you want to be.
To learn more about how Boston evolved into a destination for tech PR’s best and brightest, I sat down with Maura FitzGerald, co-founder and partner of Version 2.0 Communications. Maura opened up about her experience as a Boston-based PR professional and what changes she has observed in tech PR over her 35+ years in the industry.
The Birth of Tech PR in Boston
The right location
“The early 1980s offered the perfect storm of components for public relations,” Maura said as she recounted her time at Miller Communications, one of the first Boston-based PR firms to specialize in the IT industry. “You had the publishing brain trust and the academic brain trust.” Maura witnessed many tech-focused publications, such as IDG and CRN, popping up around Boston, where students exiting universities like Harvard and MIT went to work. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek all had offices in Boston as well. As emerging technology became a larger focal point in the media, Maura soon saw there was a big need for tech PR, and Boston was the perfect location to target this niche industry.
From the beginning, Boston’s universities devoted ample resources to enhancing PR education. Boston University was the first to offer a university-level degree in PR, in 1947. In 1974, they even created the first student-run public relations agency, PRLab. However, by the early-1990s, when Maura founded FitzGerald Communications, there was still a learning curve when it came to technology companies understanding the need for PR. “We had to show technology executives that PR was more than just print and broadcast journalism,” Maura shared. “We helped them communicate to their stakeholders in an artful way, which proved to have been a previous obstacle for many of our clients.”
There was also a greater emphasis on industry influencers and getting in front of the right analysts at places like Forrester, IDC and other Boston-based market research companies. For PR pros, relationship building became increasingly important. “I often had to fly to New York and Silicon Valley to meet with influencers in the technology space. It was extremely important for PR professionals to be expanding their rolodex constantly.”
Tech PR Takes Off
Tech PR in Boston had become so prominent by the late-1990s that Boston agencies began expanding to other cities to infiltrate the tech industry. “I found that a lot of agencies that were headquartered in Boston began opening up shop in other big tech hubs like New York, Silicon Valley and Chicago,” Maura said. “Having connections across state lines proved to be imperative for success in the tech industry.”
With the emergence of social media and online publications in the turn of the century, PR began to move its focus to accommodate more immediate forms of communication. “News travels farther and faster in our day and age,” Maura explained. “With more transparent ways of portraying a brand, the need for PR has become essential for technology companies looking to increase exposure and validity.” Measurement also became a critical part of client relations for PR professionals. Maura understood that in running a tech PR agency, her clients were now scientists and engineers who appreciated and depended on analytics. “While ROI has always been of importance to the client, measuring it was much harder. There was no such thing as share of voice or sentiment. New data-driven tools have made measurement a lot more transparent and attainable for agencies to provide for their clients.”
Over the years, Maura has seen momentous growth in the world of tech PR and its relevance in the Boston market. “PR continues to be the best way to manage perception of a brand, whether it be online or in print, on the East Coast or the West Coast. And as technology companies continue to push the envelope toward more innovative and disruptive inventions, an investment in PR becomes even more necessary.” In Boston, PR pros continue to prove that proximity to innovative giants, smart technology publications and influential analysts does pay off – a quality that Maura has instilled in Version 2.0 Communications and its employees.