NB This is a cross-post from the Buzz Method blog, where it was originally posted in February 2010 as the third in a series of articles on Analyst Relations basics. Please note that the views expressed within the article do not necessarily reflect those of the IIAR – they are the opinion of Dominic Pannell, founder of Buzz Method Ltd.
Level 3 part 1: How Vendors Leverage Analyst Subscriptions
EFFECTIVE ANALYST RELATIONS REQUIRES SUBSCRIPTIONS. There, I’ve said it. In capitals. Feel free to disagree with me, but please allow me to explain where I’m coming from…
In the world of ICT, analysts are a unique influencer, not only do they interact with multiple audiences, but also, in many cases, it is possible to pay to have access to their research and, with certain firms to the analysts themselves, through an analyst subscription.
You don’t need analyst subscriptions to do AR, but it helps. A lot. In fact I’ll go further than that: if your AR team doesn’t have access to at least one relevant analyst subscription, it has one hand tied behind its back.
I recently debated this last point with the AR lead of a global comms agency. He reckoned I was talking rubbish and gave examples of some great results he achieved before his employer started investing in analyst subscriptions. “So, now you’ve got subscriptions, would you give them back?” I asked. “Well, no…”
In this post we’ll look at how ICT vendors leverage subscriptions to promote their company and their technologies. I’d like to consider PR/comms agencies separately.
Over the years, I’ve heard lots of sceptical comments from vendors who don’t pay for subscriptions or run AR programmes: ‘they’ll probably go and tell the competition all our secrets’ is a typical one, or ‘the analyst game is pay to play1– they just say what their paymaster tells them to say.’ My short answer to this type of comment is that if that were the case, why would so many very successful companies have sophisticated, ongoing AR programmes?2 There are longer, less facetious answers too, but I acknowledge that a leap of faith, together with a modicum of common sense (do you really need to bring your dirty washing to the picnic?) are required when deciding to engage with industry analysts.
The two fundamental reasons that a vendor will pay for a subscription at one of the major analyst firms are to buy market intelligence and to buy mindshare. The former may well be part of an AR programme, but is just as often handled by a separate team that specialises in analysing the competitive landscape. While I’m mindful that the use of research/analysts for competitive intelligence (CI) is an important subject that is worthy of its own post(s), in the interests of brevity, I’m going to park it for now and stick to AR as a marketing activity.
So, this mindshare thing…
The role of the industry analyst is a busy one – Wikipedia lists client briefings/consultation, publishing, public speaking, media relations, and industry networking as typical deliverables and on top of that, she probably has a great deal of professional travelling. In short, her time is precious. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that the amount of time she has to spend on any one particular vendor can be measured in hours per year.
Without a subscription, an ICT vendor can apply to brief an analyst and it’s basically up to the analyst to decide if a briefing is relevant to his research schedule or not, in which case he will decline the briefing request.3 Assuming that he accepts the request, you then have one hour to deliver an outstanding briefing about your mind-blowing solution. And whatever you do, don’t count on it being a full 60 minutes – things go wrong, people get delayed, presentations don’t work, the analyst will have tricky questions, oh and the salesperson he brought along will need at least 15 minutes…
You might get lucky and the analyst is so impressed that she wants to look deeper into what you tell her and write a report (and so begins what Michael Krigsman refers to as “the vendor / analyst mating dance”) but the odds suggest this won’t happen and you’ll leave in the knowledge that the analyst now has a superficial understanding of what your company does. In about six months time, she will be able to fit in a further briefing.
One hour really isn’t a long time to explain a technological innovation, or a killer strategy, let alone both.
By paying for a subscription, which gives access to analysts under inquiry4 (see next paragraph), a vendor substantially increases the length of time that it can spend with key analysts. What’s more, as a paying client, the vendor decides if the inquiry is needed.5 Larger ICT vendors will usually have multiple subscriptions – the most I have heard of is one mobile technology company that subscribes to 19 different analyst firms.
Technically, a briefing and an inquiry are for different purposes – the former is the vendor supplying information to the analyst, whereas an inquiry is essentially the reverse; the analyst answers the vendor’s questions regarding the industry. In practice, there is an exchange of information in each type of meeting and a good analyst will use both to learn more. She has to – the wise man I mentioned in the 1st post in this series once told me
“an analyst doesn’t know anything she hasn’t been told.” - J Yarmis, c. 2007
Given her workload, her primary source of information will be her clients.
Think what this means for key reports such as vendor comparisons like the Forrester Wave, or the Gartner Magic Quadrant. By planning its interactions, a vendor can ensure that the authors are fully briefed while they are researching their forthcoming report and can check how well its messages are coming across through one or more inquiries.
The non-subscribing competitor can pray that the authors have the time and inclination for a briefing…
Some firms sell analyst inquiry time by the hour, at others it is unlimited (although there is probably a fair usage clause somewhere). However it’s packaged, subscribing vendors are able to secure substantially more face time with the analysts than their non-subscribing competitors.
As I wrote in the 2nd post, AR pros teach their spokespeople that they need to engage in a conversation with key analysts and this is true – in fact, I recently met Efrem Mallach (and I doubt there’s a greater AR expert than him) who was at pains to underline the fact that two-way dialogue is crucial. Vendors help educate the analysts so they have a better understanding of the marketplace and analysts give feedback about how the market will react to strategies and how best to position products and services. If your competition is monopolising the conversation through their subscriptions, how are you going to get a word in edgeways?
- Pay to play = commercial bribery. Yes, it did occur in the last century, but respectable analysts don’t do it.
- If you want a list of ICT vendors that I’ve delivered AR programmes for, let me know and I’ll knock up a list…
- If you do have a briefing request declined, do think hard before escalating it to the analyst’s management – you really, really don’t want to vex the analyst by talking to him about something he thinks is irrelevant to him. Seriously.
- In British English, this is written ‘enquiry’ – it is rare that I am inconsistent in following spelling rules, but I have given up trying to educate my esteemed US peers and colleagues…
- Please bear in mind footnote 3 above.