What’s the difference between technology PR and science PR?
Public relations is public relations, right? Well, sort of. The fundamentals of good PR haven’t changed for decades. It means communicating compelling news and stories to your important target audiences. It means focusing on the problems you solve rather than the products you sell. And often it means having an opinion on something potentially controversial, or simply unknowable – like the future. So where do the differences between science and tech PR come in?
Technology PR is seen as being fast-paced – often driven by the desire to be first rather than perfect. One need only look at the numerous patches, corrections and upgrades that tend to follow the latest and greatest software releases and launch of new mobile devices.
But not all technology-based industries are the same. Many, by their nature, are much more conservative when it comes to releasing new products and announcing innovations. These tend to be technology companies that serve the more traditional industries – infrastructure, manufacturing, automotive, aerospace to name just a few. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t compelling stories to tell, it just means that a thought-leadership approach is more likely to be the chosen path, as opposed to news-led communications.
Science PR has to contend with the constraints of a heavily regulated environment, and carefully navigate subtle cultural differences when it comes to communicating ‘breakthroughs’. The scientific community is (as you would expect) very data-driven. As such, most activity is subject to a process of peer review before any developments can credibly be communicated to the wider world. This all makes sense, but in an age where there is a desperate desire to attract more people into the field, there is also an opportunity to communicate more, with this broader purpose.
The other challenge experienced by some parts of the scientific community is big pressure on budgets. With constant pressure on public funding, allocating money to promote what you are doing seems trivial when that money could be invested in the activity itself. However, a longer-term view would suggest that an investment in awareness-raising could lead to increased funding and more vocal support from the communities who could most benefit from the scientific developments.
This means you can use the same sort of issues-led approach we use in the tech sector, but simply need to be aware of the rules and regulations – and work within the boundaries.
Amazing scientific breakthroughs may occasionally make the mainstream news, but there’s no reason these stories shouldn’t be a more important part of the mainstream news on a regular basis. If the success of BBC’s Blue Planet is anything to go by, there is a real hunger for this sort of information.
And finally, one of the most obvious differences between the PR support for the two disciplines is that there are literally thousands of PR agencies in the UK alone that position themselves as experts in ‘tech PR’. There are only a handful of science PR agencies. If you are in the fields of science or technology and looking for support, here are three important questions to ask:
Do the people who will be on my team have any science or technology qualifications? (after all, it is much easier to get buy-in from your own experts if they interact with people who ‘get’ their field)
What do you see as the most important issues affecting our field over the next decade?
Can you share examples of previous work you’ve done in our field?