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The Friday Roast - HR tech PR, a strong candidate for TBF 1995

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy September 18, 2014
This week's Friday Roast zooms in on HR tech PR. It's not doing a good job at a time when HR is poised to take a strategic role.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"] SUMMARY - The Friday Roast is Den's column on a topic he finds especially irksome. This week it's the turn of HR tech PR wonks. [/sws_grey_box]

HR Tech 2014
In a few week's time, I'll be attending HR Tech in Las Vegas. It will be my first time at this event having declined the last couple of years for one reason or another. I'm looking forward to this, especially as I hope to add to the excellent HR stories our Janine has started to put out. But...oh my - have the vendor PRs gotten well and truly up my nose. Here's why.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with PR generally. Most of the time, I hate them, the reasons for which are legion. Examples include:

  • Spamming me on topics in which I have no interest
  • Failing to understand what I do
  • Failing to research current topics of interest
  • Assuming I know bugger all about the things I comment upon
  • Expecting me to tip up to any old marketing pitch

I could go on but in reality 99% of it comes down to being utterly tone deaf about what people like me need. They seem to think that we are in some kind of symbiotic relationship that dictates I'll simply listen to whatever crap is put my way and faithfully regurgitate it. Anyone who reads what I and my colleagues write should have understood by now that's not the way we roll.

The very few who do 'get it' are gold. Unfortunately I can count those on less than the fingers of two hands.

Given this is a vendor showcase rather than a user conference, I can somewhat forgive the overt pitches. But what I cannot forgive is the fact that in all but two of the many pitches sent to date, none of the vendors could offer a customer to talk to their points. It was all, 'meet my CMO.' You can argue that since vendors like to talk futures then of course it would be hard to find customers but that's not a good enough excuse.

What I want to hear is a customer telling me that what the vendor has to say makes sense. That's exactly what Derek duPreez had in mind when he met with Reynolds Catering at Inforum. It added valuable insights for the prospective buyer.

On the other hand, it isn't a given that there must be a customer in tow. There are perfectly good reasons to hear a pitch which I mention below.

In one case, the PR assured me that she was "99% sure she could get a customer." I've heard that before and it doesn't wash. I want 100% assurance from a name I can identify with a story that makes sense in the context of whatever the vendor is flogging.

Overarching all of this is the cookie cutter, formulaic manner in which the HR tech PR community is acting like its Throw Back Friday (TBF) with a date of 1995. Most of the pitches are just awful. The sentence construction is all there but it's delivered in a robotic monotone that is an instant turn off. They may not know it but I'm doing well if I get past the first sentence before hitting the delete key.

A very rare few do understand. Examples of the best so far:

Short, sharp, gets what I do - a definite possible

Hi Den - we know you're familiar with our client XXX but they have some great research to share on YYY. We don't have it all yet but here's a tease for you. Do have 30 mins to schedule?

Customers first - I'm in

Hello - we have a customer panel on ZZZ at X o'clock where HR Superwhizzperson from MegaCorp will be talking about the practical implications of [some relevant topic.] Would you like to meet with the customer after the panel? If so then....

Done the work - let's give it a shot

I notice you wrote about [article title here] recently and see you are planning to attend HR Tech. My client has [something interesting] which might be complementary to your coverage. Can we schedule a meeting?

If I sound grumpy then I am not so much annoyed as disappointed. HR has been a poor relation in the C-suite for many a year. I sometimes think it does itself few favors by remaining in a back office administration role. That seems set to change although we've heard many such false starts in the past.

The Workforce 2020 research provides great clues as to what HR should be thinking about next but I wonder whether the wider vendor community truly understands its pivotal role as strategic thinkers on the HR stage. I'm certainly not seeing enough of that based upon the pitches I've fielded to date. If it continues then that will be an opportunity lost.

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