Home How Big Tech Companies Keep Quiet on Big News

How Big Tech Companies Keep Quiet on Big News

Even as all sorts of questions swirl around last week’s initial public offering and this week’s release of a camera app that looks a lot like the camera app it paid $1 billion for last month, Facebook has taken its usual quiet stance, issuing as few public statements and offering as few public answers as possible to the questions that business journalists and tech bloggers have been asking.

It’s a tried-and-true public relations tactic: While startup companies crave the kind of exposure that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to public relations firms, established tech players often pick and choose when they speak, if they choose to speak at all.

None of Facebook’s top executives, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, gave interviews last Friday as the company became the third-largest IPO in history, and none have publicly commented as shares slid this week. Zuckerberg’s last interview was a fawning report of the company’s announcement on ABC News about an initiative to encourage Facebook users to list their organ donor status on their profiles.

“Many [companies] work on the theory, you can’t go wrong by saying no,” said Mark Shapiro of SRS-Tech PR. “As long as the media clamors for info, hoarding it works as a publicity strategy.”

Bigger Companies Have More PR Options

As a result, the tech world was watching as Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg gave the commencement address at Harvard Business School on Tuesday, hoping she’d say something – anything – about the company’s poor performance since going public last Friday. But in the end, Sandberg stuck to familiar themes about women in the executive suite and barely mentioned the company’s $100 billion valuation.

Sandberg’s only reference to the IPO was when she joked that, as the newly minted MBAs started their careers, they should stay in touch on Facebook. “We are public now,” she quipped, “so you can click on an ad or two while you are there.”

Facebook seems to be taking a page from Apple, which famously (or infamously) only makes its executives available in highly orchestrated media events. At the same time, founder Steve Jobs was known more than occasionally to answer an email from a shareholder, a customer and even the occasional journalist.

“For the bellwether companies, the likes of Apple and Facebook, they are going to get covered no matter what they do, so they have the luxury of being more selective,” said Frank Strong, the director of public relations at Vocus. “That said, it’s still a delicate balance of give and take. Even the largest brands in the world need to answer questions that make them uncomfortable sometimes, because sooner or later, they are going to have a pitch they’d like that reporter or blogger to consider.”

And both companies have PR teams in place, as well as outside agencies on retainer. The key for tech companies, according to Barbara Bates, co-founder and CEO of Eastwick, a digital communications consultancy, is to make sure the buzz around their products does not appear as if it’s being driven by PR.

“The impact of Steve Jobs standing up at MacWorld – count the YouTube views on those – or answering an email isn’t available to every company. Most companies have to look across the whole communications continuum and decide what channels and messages work best,” Bates said. “Trust me, Apple and Facebook both have PR teams and work with agencies. But they do it differently because of the unique positions they hold.”

Changing Dynamics

These are, of course, general rules of thumb: Some big companies are incredibly forthcoming in the PR strategies, and some startups try hard to fly under the radar. Tech companies also have a dedicated segement of the press; about one in four Americans reads tech news, and the companies covered are often better served by chasing coverage from niche publications than doing big media campaigns.

Paul Kenjora, the founder of AwareLabs, a PR marketing toolbox for startups, says another factor might be at play: Through analytics, companies have more data than ever on what does and doesn’t work, and increasingly they are finding that public relations spending doesn’t always offer a consistent return on investment. 

“Almost all startup founders eventually see a big PR spike in traffic to their site,” he said. “They also see that very little of that spike translates into sales.”

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.