All technology PR professionals, have at some point woken up in a cold sweat from the following nightmare:
Your client or boss sends a link to an industry conference and insists you must secure a speaking slot for them because every single competitor is listed as a speaker. You eagerly click on the link, only to find out that the call for speakers deadline expired…yesterday.
Undeterred, you employ an old Tennessee saying our 43rd president was fond of: “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” Or something to that effect. Regardless, you pledge that when this conference comes again, you’ll be ready. But the call for next year’s speakers isn’t out yet, and the archaic Excel spreadsheet used to track speaking and award opportunities only tracks six months ahead. So time passes, your mental note fades, and, well… you get the picture.
Why you need software
There are several rewarding aspects to being a public relations professional, but I will go out on a limb and assume that tracking conference speaking and awards is not one of them. The process remains painfully manual and data entry driven, and suffers from several challenges. First and foremost, many conferences are not forthcoming with information. The conference landscape has changed dramatically. There used to be a small handful of key “can’t miss” events that clients focused all of their energies on, and the process to submit to speakers was relatively transparent. Fast-forward to today, and the number of conferences has grown exponentially as media properties and other organizations view events as one of the last big moneymaking tools for the industry.
These newer conferences are extremely difficult to vet. The event organizers pack their websites with every technology buzzword/keyword possible – cloud computing, big data, mobile, Internet of Things, red velvet cupcakes, etc. – in order to attract attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors. The shift from mega events to micro events challenges priorities, budgets and the value events can deliver.
Secondly, if you are submitting to speak in today’s pay-to-play technology conference environment – and your client/company is not named Apple, Twitter, Dropbox, Uber or the hot market disruptor of a similar ilk – good luck.
Conferences don’t want vendor speaker submissions – unless it is accompanied by a nice fat check to exhibitor and/or sponsor. This further morphs the role of PR professionals into the marketing sphere, as you are called on to not only help determine which events are worth the travel and lodging expense of submitting to speak at, but also which events are worthy of further investments that may be required to secure a speaking slot – not to mention navigating the intricacies of what days and times draw the best attendance or whether it makes more sense to host a demo workshop, participate in a panel, give a keynote, or deliver a presentation.
These are the pain points Travis Van seeks to eliminate with the just-completed launch of TechCalendar. Some in the technology PR industry are already familiar with Van’s ITDatabase service – which allows subscribers to search through his database of tech conference speaking opportunities and awards, create media coverage lists based on Boolean searches of technology keywords and topics, and track editorial calendar opportunities.
What it Is:
The TechCalendar service indexes thousands of speaking and award opportunities for technology companies, with the goal of eliminating the spreadsheets, data entry and the chronic time suck required to track speaking and award opportunities that PR professionals want to follow.
“Our vision was to offer the biggest directory and to completely eliminate data entry,” saysTravis Van, founder of ITDatabase and TechCalendar. “You can simply ‘follow’ opportunities of interest, and they nest within your calendar on the right. You can create as many calendars as you want. Ultimately almost every tech company that is actually tracking tech events has to do it in spreadsheets – which is manual searches on the web, data entry in spreadsheets, and brutally inefficient. Nearly every person we spoke with in due diligence prior to building TechCalendar despise that work.”
TechCalendar includes one-click follow capabilities so that users can follow an event based on its topic (i.e. – biometrics, big data, cloud computing, unified communications) or organizer (i.e. – IDG Enterprise, Frost & Sullivan, TED, TechCrunch, Informa) – and presents the results in an RSS-style countdown on the screen. The ability to follow speaking and award opportunities by organizer can certainly eliminate the nightmare scenario described at the onset of this article.
Additionally, if you follow an expired opportunity (say, the conference just ended last week and details on the 2015 event have not yet been made public), it will go into a “TBD” section on your calendar, but then automatically nest within the correct month when its info becomes available. For agency PR professionals tracking opportunities for multiple clients, the tool allows you to create a dashboard view for each client. Users can also search for opportunities based on keywords and phrases.
Potential future features
The launch iteration of TechCalendar is robust enough to be valuable to PR professionals right off the bat. That said, Van hints at several planned features being considered based on user feedback and a focus on further improving transparency with technology conference speaking opportunities and awards.
As the number of conferences proliferates, qualifying each event becomes a challenge. According to Van, a potential future capability will bake in media coverage of conferences to help PR professionals determine its credibility and newsworthiness. For example, an event covered by TechCrunch and GigaOm (assuming it is not their own events) may be a useful search metric to factor in when directing resources and investments.
TechCalendar, similar to most other services, still requires the user to proactively login and scan through upcoming deadlines. In the future, Van says to look out for email alerts that will notify users of upcoming deadlines for events and awards they are tracking.
Search UI enhancements
There is room for improvement in the search function, which populates a rather extensive list of results when keywords and phrases are entered. Van acknowledges this, and expects the search UI will evolve over time. For example, searching for a list of CFO awards pulls up scores of localized opportunities (i.e. – Memphis Business Journal CFO of the Year Award) that for most users will not be relevant.
PR professionals evaluating media database, conference tracking and social media management tools are often forced to assemble puzzle pieces that don’t fit snugly together. Is one service an “add on” that is complementary to your existing services, or is it a potential replacement?
Each PR agency and corporate PR team will have to determine where ITDatabase and the new TechCalendar services fit into this ecosystem based on their existing portfolio and needs. Based on price point and capabilities, these two services may not be an apples-for-apples replacement for Vocus, MyMediaInfo, etc., but they are getting closer for Tech PR professionals.
Van is pricing TechCalendar and ITDatabase at $3,000 per product (or $4,000 for both products packaged together). A differentiator from media database and distribution services for which costs vary based on the number of simultaneous users required, the pricing for TechCalendar/IT Database includes unlimited users and usage.
Bottom line: if your technology conference and award tracking and management system is inefficient, spreadsheet based and labor intensive, TechCalendar is a compelling option that extends beyond what existing services offer.