So Where AR You Going? – part 1

What do you need to do to reach the top level in AR? Is it vital to work in the US? And what’s the future for the role of analyst relations? In a series of guest posts, Marc Duke (blog, @marcduke) will be looking at the issues surrounding AR careers and at how things may evolve in the coming years.

It’s a topic that’s important to all of us who work in AR and we welcome your thoughts and comments. The IIAR will also be hosting a teleconference for members to discuss the issues raised on May 3rd at 4 pm BST/11 am EDT.

I first encountered the heady world of AR in 1997 as a lowly account executive. The PR agency I worked for, Text 100, was the main agency for Microsoft in Europe. It had a very, very small AR programme which was passed around and found its way to me. That’s where my AR journey began. As the AR profession has matured, the question of where AR as a career is going is a serious one that merits consideration.

As part of the research for this piece, I spoke to several IIAR members to get a picture of their experience and thoughts on how their AR careers are likely to develop. I’ll try to summarise their perspectives and mine, with the hope of stimulating further debate on a topic which is as current as any other issue in the AR community.

I have a science degree and fell into AR by accident. So did everyone I spoke to. It appears people tend to end up in AR by chance rather than by design. I was in a PR agency and was handed an account which grew and grew into a business unit, and then an in-house role. Others I spoke to were analysts or product marketers and found AR when looking for work.

Is this likely to change in years to come? It will come down to how well industry bodies codify the roles, skills and remit of AR. This has yet to happen in the way that other marketing-related disciplines have, e.g. Institute for Public Relations (IPR), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), and Institute for Direct Marketing (IDM) to name but three.

My experience in hiring junior folk is that they are looking for a break in anything comms-related. Those with an analytical mind will find AR rewarding. For others, the likelihood is that it’s a stepping stone across into PR as soon as a role at an agency becomes available.

Is being an analyst key to becoming an AR Pro?
Yes and no. It all depends on how the AR role is defined. If the emphasis is on analysis of content and data then being an analyst helps, as does being able to write reports and company profiles. But in my view, it’s not essential.

A company can be well placed hiring an ex-analyst who has strong relationships with ex-colleagues and other analysts from the day they arrive at their desk. They are also likely to have a good understanding of how analysts work and what they need. However, experience as an analyst is no guarantee of good relationship management or communications skills, which are key to a successful career in AR.

Then there is the point that an ex-analyst turned AR pro is ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, and knows all the tricks of the trade. However, this can in some instances actually do AR a dis-service, as they may downplay the impact that this audience has on purchasing to senior management.

Where does AR sit?
I will not touch on the agency versus in-house debate for AR, but it is interesting to see where AR as a discipline sits in an organisation. Typically, this will be one of the following options:

• As part of PR or corporate comms
• As part of marketing
• As part of product marketing
• With a consultant/agency

As part of PR
The AR resource is either in an agency, has the joint responsibility for PR as well as AR, or the AR manager reports to a PR/comms director. The implications for the role here are that AR is comms-driven. Its aim is to inform analysts so their output can be monitored as with journalists/bloggers. This in turn is likely to impact the metrics for success. What counts are the numbers briefed, and the quantity of quotes, reports and mentions. Feedback and insight from analysts is not necessarily considered important. Messaging to analysts and journalists is more consistent. However, the focus on timelines (“urgent” for PR) and metrics (clippings) can be detrimental to AR, which is based on relationships and aimed more at impacting deals. The logic for putting AR with PR is understandable – both audiences generate publicly consumed content – but bunch analysts with journalists at your peril.

As part of marketing
In this instance, AR will feed into a marketing plan and so the emphasis will be on working with analysts to assist other marketing campaigns. AR will be expected to support product launches, for example with analyst reports, quotes or white papers, or analyst speakers at a customer event. There may also be more of an imperative to support sales.

More developed AR programmes will look at testing branding concepts with analysts to validate the overarching strategy. Some will also look at broader commercial initiatives to support branding, e.g. sponsoring analyst events or running webinars.

Overall, the metrics for AR success are less about the number of interactions or even the results from the relationship, but how the link between vendor and analyst can be used to support marketing in general.

As part of product marketing
In this case, AR is used to inform and shape product development by providing either feedback on the relevance or viability of a product; help with building out a product roadmap; or data points to support an R&D decision. In this instance, AR is almost exclusively inwardly focused and from my personal experience any of the external benefits that analysts offer a vendor are secondary.

Here what matters is whether analysts or analyst firms support the business or not. For AR, the role is much more focused and in some ways easier to measure – either the analyst/firm provides the insight to support the business decision or it doesn’t.

With a consultant/agency
Another option is to ‘outsource’ all or part of the AR function to an agency or experienced freelance professional. This is probably worth a separate discussion in its own right. But in terms of reporting, it is likely that the agency or consultant will report into either the PR or marketing department.

The measures for success will vary depending on a number of factors, including agency best practice.

So where should AR sit?
In an ideal world, it should really sit in a separate area probably closer to where the business strategy is decided. My experience is that AR should support all of the areas above so being placed in any one of them means the focus/impact is limited. But the real issue is not where AR is situated in a company but the extent to which the value of analysts and AR (the enablers) is understood by the business, and the skills that an AR professional needs to have.

My recent experience of working with start up/smaller vendors is that there are no silos/areas where AR cannot be placed. Either it delivers significant value to how the business is run or it cannot survive.

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4 Responses to So Where AR You Going? – part 1

  1. Stephen England @ KCG Thursday 14th April 2011 at 18:23 #

    I fear your experiences and the small number of reporting scenarios outlined show a significant PR firm bias in your career. Managing the “ratio” of PR to AR is a crucial aspect of enterprise class influencer management. Having AR report to PR never ends well in our experience with over 450 clients in 13 years – unless you just want AR to feed quotes to the media.

  2. marc duke Thursday 14th April 2011 at 23:43 #

    Thanks Stephen – the entire point of the piece (this is actually a long paper) is to paint the scenarios based on my limited (10 yrs+) experience.

    Agree a PR centric AR strategy is doomed.

    Look forward to hearing more from you on the other posts.

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