Don’t tell my mother I work in AR, she believes I’m a pianist…
Whilst public relations and marketing are mainstream in commercial companies, most analyst relations (AR) professionals are often at pain to describe their role.
AR is a relatively new discipline, tracing its origins in the last 15–20 years when a handful of very large ICT firms institutionalised a function to handle consultants and analysts relation. Nowadays all major technology vendors and services players have established sizeable analyst relations (AR) departments –50 to hundred strong for mega-vendors such as IBM or HP. Its raison d’être is to liaise with industry analysts, providing them a single point of contact and managing the relationship between them and the suppliers.
Who are those analysts?
Industry research firms and independent analysts share one thing and can be segmented by in three business model categories. What they all have in common the monetisation of information asymmetry. In layman’s terms they live through the insight gained through their unique vantage point: as they take briefings from all vendors and for some also survey and speak to technology and services buyers, they are in a position to recoup data, verify information and spot trends. Armed with this inside knowledge, they can generate qualitative or quantitative research which then they can sell as their own IP to both the buy and sell sides.
The three categories of analysts are:
- The prescribers. They have both the sell and buy sides as clients, though received wisdom is that the bulk of their revenues is on the end-user side. They directly advise technology and services buyers on technical and commercial aspects and have a propensity to compare vendors. Example of prescribers firms are Gartner, the 800 lbs gorilla with its 1,000 analysts and USD2b revenues, followed by Forresterand vertical specialists such as Celent in the financial industry. They’re usually not afraid to take an aggressive stance towards vendors to re-enforce their image as independent users advocates.
- The number crunchers have vendors as their main clientele but also supply data to the equity analysts. IDC is the best-known firm, although Gartner is also in this category of firms that gather and sell quantitative market data (shares, forecasts, etc). Their qualitative reports tend to be vendor neutral or positive.
- The pundits, tend to have ICT vendors as their sole clientele and constitute an extremely diverse population, ranging from analysts-who-blog (and bloggers who analyse) to serial white papers churners, from columnists to renowned experts on a theme. Those experts can prove invaluable to assess a go-to-market strategy, refine messages or train sales people.
Some entertain the argument that the advent of social-media tools brings an era where access to information is no longer an issue ; the corollary being that everyone can be an analyst. The reality is a little different: just like everyone can have his/her fifteen minutes of fame though few are truly famous. So, while we’re drowning in RSS feeds, twitter streams and torrents of social network status updates, more than ever we need help to make sense of it all. Gartner would love to see their portal as an ark but a more detailed look shows that a small set (http://bit.ly/vN9GUs) of the online population influences perceptions through content creation and curating. Targeting opinion A-listers is indeed more effective than ever, as their influence reaches farther thanks to the groundswell (http://amzn.to/vf2M4G).
How can ICT vendors leverage industry analysts?
There are two sides to our relationship with this community.
- On the inbound side, we engage with analysts when we brief them but can also hire them to get their feedback on our strategy –being challenged is a good health check.
- On the outbound side, the AR programme aims at generating a goodwill capital with those influencers to then condition the marketplace. Vendors aim to achieve two major objectives by briefing regularly analysts: generate coverage and independent endorsements in research reports or media citations.