Technology and business from a historical 10,000-foot level

Posted by: WendyLane in: Consumer Lifestyle -

This is my first blog about technology and truly, my first blog ever.  I would like to talk about technology and business from a historical 10,000-foot level.  As a public relations practitioner, I remember when key client messages were delivered by snail mail and the telephone.  My children will tell you that they remember stuffing envelopes full of press releases in front of Sesame Street.

I was at another advertising and public relations firm in the 1980s.  I attended a KPMG breakfast that featured Regis McKenna.  Regis was the person who used public relations to launch Apple.  He told our morning audience that the future was bright.  In 10 years we would all have amazing computing ability that would allow us more free time.  Regis was a very bright guy, however, I don’t think that he understood human nature and could envision how much more people would allow those computers to cram into their 24/7 days.

Also in the 1980s, Waggener Edstrom hired our firm to help launch Microsoft Windows at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.  They told me that Windows was the equivalent of a new typewriter and wanted to portray the influence of the typewriter through the ages on business as one walked up the curved galleries at the museum.  It was a big, visual idea.

Around that time came the age of the fax, and fax machines initially couldn’t talk to fax machines from other brands.  This seemed a complete waste of time as no fax brand rose to gain the majority market share.  Fortunately, technology that allowed cross-branded fax machines to talk to each other came on the market.

In the early 1990s I attended an Internet conference in Los Angeles.  There were over 500 people in the room and the Internet on the screen was black and white, no picture, and plain text.   A marketing fellow from a national beer brand stood up to demonstrate the first Internet sales promotions that I ever saw.  It was pretty rough.

But Web sites were growing in importance and programmers seemed to be making their development as mysterious and expensive as possible. My firm had a rather large client who wanted a Web site.  We obtained three price quotes and the best one was for $200,000.  Obviously, the client decided not to be first to market with this new technology avenue.

Starting my company, LANE PR, in the 1990s, I made the personal commitment to spend any cash reserves on high quality talent and the latest technology.  As Web sites and e-mail became important, my spending on technology increased.  Then we started to attract technology companies as clients.

It was the late 1990s heyday.  Public relations firms became totally focused on technology.  VC firms referred their favorite public relations firms to their portfolio companies.  The average public relations retainers in Silicon Valley were $60,000 per month.  Advertising was growing as well, so the technology and business magazines became two inches thick.  The entire strategy was to launch a company, gain market share through public relations and advertising in an 18 month period (18 months was deemed the viable business window for most technology ideas), and sell or go public.

I liked technology clients.  They were smart, visionary and confidant.  Unfortunately, March 2001 came around with a technology-based recession.  The technology companies whose only business model was market share tanked.  The media was roundly blamed for not understanding traditional business models and drinking the Kool-Aid with these confident technology CEOs.

That brings us to the post-technology recession period.  I will talk about that in my next blog.

Wendy Lane

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