A lot can change in a decade. And as a tech PR firm that works with startups and VCs directly, we’ll be the first to tell you: this last one’s been a page-turner.
Back in 2012, today’s tech giants were just beginning to hit their stride. Many of us still relied on desktops, rather than our phones, to acquire news and information. And in the years since, cultural sea changes have reshaped every sector of the economy, just as they have our social values.
Looking back at the last decade and forward toward the one ahead, it’s been a privilege to play a role in telling this history even as it’s being written. Our firm has changed the way it plays the PR game, what we look for in the tech startups we champion and how we share their stories to make the world a kinder, more forward-thinking place.
From our vantage point, we identified six major changes that have reshaped the media, tech and finance playing fields — each of which is a story worth telling.
1) Mobile Changes Everything
Mobile web users started gathering steam in the early aughts, and by 2016 it overtook desktops by storm.
While many of the effects of the desktop-to-mobile switch are just beginning to pan out, the PR world saw three critical communications developments:
- Channel diversity – PR professionals have always nurtured their relationships with establishment media contacts. But today, there are innumerable new, niche channels that can be just as effective for reaching investors and the public. As media channels continue to proliferate, PR firms require more precise models to make sense of metrics like mentions, share of voice and advertising value equivalency to gauge impressions.
- Short and sharp storytelling – Anyone working in media today knows that brevity has never been more vital. PR professionals today have to be sharpshooters, and it’s more critical than ever to distill the core of our message—and with it, the essential identities of each company we represent.
- The stakes seem higher – In the ever-compounding media landscape, much messaging has adopted a tone of urgency to attract an audience. But in a crisis-hungry informational climate, we think that playing into an emergency mindset is a mistake.
The stories we tell are important, and they deserve to be heard. But the most successful businesses today, whether veterans or up-and-comers, balance their challenger mindset with optimism—and a refusal to participate in today’s media culture of alarmism.
The rise of mobile did more than just quicken the pace of our communications. It permanently altered where we tell our clients’ stories, how we tell them and how we take ownership of the conversations we initiate.
2) Tech Hits Its Third Wave
The tech sector has been a major player in the American economy since the dot-com boom, but the past decade saw titans like Facebook, Amazon and Tesla become fixtures in the consumer landscape.
While none of these giants are bound to be unseated anytime soon, some notable PR tremors forced many of them to pivot. Two stories, in particular, come to mind, with some valuable lessons to impart to today’s tech startups:
- Facebook, a tech star of the late 2000s and 2010s, finally reached its adolescence in the marketplace, and it’s been going through some growing pains. Following the so-called Facebook Papers in 2021, the company pursued a top-down, bottom-up rebrand to Meta in 2021, fielding some major PR hits along the way.
Our Takeaway: Tech giants aren’t infallible. While PR and crisis management don’t control brands’ fault lines, they do play a critical role in how they fall and recover.
- Netflix, the king of streaming, foundered in the first quarter of 2022, reporting a sharp nosedive in subscribers and, with it, a 35% dip in stock price. Amid the layoffs, the changing of the guard, and a nearly existential reckoning with its mission, Netflix’s PR strategy has been to stand by its product and purpose—and we respect that tremendously.
Our Takeaway: Every company should be allowed to evolve, and exceptional PR is integral for protecting that evolution. PR experts help brands identify their constants and core values so they can demonstrate continuity when they need to reposition.
In our view, there is more than enough room for promising new companies to step into the ring with a seasoned PR force behind them. Tech PR firms are the hyperconnectors who can vouch for entrepreneurs’ vision, match them with forward-thinking VCs and help them exit with flying colors.
3) A New Territory for Tech
Coastal hubs like Silicon Valley and NYC used to dictate the pace and profile of American progress, but in the last decade, we watched that monopoly splinter.
Entrepreneurs and VCs today are now flocking to the third coasts and heartlands. Today, we’re seeing a fresh outcrop of businesses reinvigorate the tech landscape in alt cities like:
- Austin, Texas – Our home state added 165,000 new tech/ecommerce jobs in the past four years. In 2021 alone, VCs have championed $5.5+ billion into Austin startups, doubling up on investments made in the pandemic-addled year of 2020. And as an Austin-based tech PR firm, we’re seeing the groundswell firsthand.
- Miami – Between 2017 and 2021, Miami packed 119,000 new jobs into its burgeoning tech and e-commerce sectors, with a nearly $1 billion uptick in VC investment. Not only is capital blooming in Florida, but the state is using this windfall for the good of its citizens, with extensive measures to bring low-income residents into the local economy.
- Nashville, Tenn. – Down in Nashville, health-tech hybrid startups are well past blue suede bootstrapping. This Southern tech enclave is now backed by investments upwards of $17.2 billion and an 18,000-strong tech job market to match.
Our favorite part of startups’ relocation is the culture they’re building. Rather than recreate the cutthroat culture of Silicon Valley, today’s tech businesses adhere to an ethos of neighborly “co-opitition.” In other words, entrepreneurs aren’t interested in playing dirty—they’re fueled by a genuine desire to build alliances and relationships where strategically advantageous.
Where PR is concerned, these alliances have measurable value: not only does a cooperative mindset serve SEO interests, but VCs today want to invest in companies with healthy, respectful company cultures that won’t pose a PR liability in the long run.
4) Journalism Changes Course
PR professionals and media outlets have always worked in lockstep, so the changes the last decade brought to journalism have inevitably affected PR.
While newspapers and cable TV aren’t going anywhere, a 2018 Pew survey showed over ⅓ of Americans today take in their news via social platforms. For PR professionals—and any PR agency for startups—that means shifting gears to communicate via:
- Social media
- Individual influencers
PR professionals now outnumber journalists by 4.6 to 1, and most earn about 35% more than their media peers. In the public sphere, consumers want to participate in news conversations rather than watch news coverage—they favor a multi-channel media diet where information flows laterally instead of top-down.
What’s all this mean? What we’re witnessing, once again, is a massive restructuring of the field. For PR experts, using niche channels with savvy is essential for educating the public, ensuring startups get traction online and enabling them to ride that momentum towards a profitable exit.
5) Crisis Management Peaks
Media is still the main force that moves markets. With the late emergence of “cancel culture,” it’s more critical than ever for PR professionals to handle emergencies with grace, tact and foresight.
Today, this means demonstrating three attributes:
- Accountability – Transparency and authenticity are now core tenets for every modern brand. Consumers are sharper than ever at detecting pandering, inauthenticity or evasiveness, and it’s PR’s job to deliver their message with accountability.
- Flexibility – If a brand can own up to its mistakes and demonstrate a willingness to change, it’ll fare better in the public eye. Taking ownership requires a combination of strengthening internal cultures and contributing to the global common good.
- Tenacity – There are endless opportunities for outcry on the internet, but there’s a limit to how much brands should kowtow to critiques. Every PR professional needs to know how to find that sweet spot between holding their ground and taking ownership of missteps.
6) You’ve Got To Stand For Something
Most companies—and most people—would pinpoint the coronavirus pandemic and the summer of 2020 as pivotal moments in American culture. Today, no matter where you stand on the political matrix, every brand needs legs to stand on: a core value system, a company culture and a cause.
But fostering a coherent, committed and impactful company culture isn’t just an asset for brands’ reputations—in the realm of venture capital PR, it’s essential for showing VCs your company can bear the pressure in the long run.
The PR industry is where those non-negotiables crystallize and find their footing in the public eye. For the PR world today, the task at hand isn’t solely reputation management. It’s helping brands discover who they are—which, today, is synonymous with what you stand for.
Public Relations in 2022: Where We’re Headed
Facing consumers, entrepreneurs or VCs scouting out the next wave of innovation, tech PR agencies like ours have a bird’s eye view of where our industry is and where it’s going. But no matter where agencies live in the B2B landscape, PR across sectors share the same end goal: to locate, translate and tell captivating stories.
As VC PR specialists, our team takes this mission a step further—we find backers for our clients, and startups for our VC backers, to turn remarkable stories into living marketplace legends. This next decade will inevitably herald its own flashpoints, reckonings, and triumphs, but if we’re doing our job, rest assured we’ll find something universal amid it all. If that’s a mission you can stand behind, reach out to Treble today.