Let’s Get Technical: Embracing Specs in Tech PR
Caster’s clients run the gamut from multinational fortune 500 companies to stealth mode start-ups—just about the only thing they all have in common is a high incidence of engineering degrees in the C-Suite. With such a varied pool of clients, everything we do addresses a different audience, with widely varying level of technical expertise.
We’re constantly evaluating, “How technical should this be?” Many communications pros err towards “as little as possible.” Most of us are left-brained creative types. We don’t like to be hemmed in by specs and feature sets: We want to tell a story. More technical is more boring…right?
Maybe all of those engineers are rubbing off on me, but no. Technical details are just that—details—and details are what gives a story life, texture, and credibility. Without some technical specifics, your communications will end up being an empty cloud of buzzwords, and your audience will wave it away like so many mosquitos.
Here’s how I approach getting technical without getting dull.
Gauging the Depths
When writing for a third-party outlet or a specific audience, I use a mirroring approach. Rather than making assumptions about how technical the piece should be, I do a little research to understand what kind of terminology is typically used in the outlet, what’s explained and what’s assumed, and what sort of discussions the target audience is engaging in online. “The basics” are different for everyone. For example, if we’re talking to an HVAC industry journalist about Caster client Airzone, we know we don’t need to explain what an inverter unit is, but we might need to provide detailed background on IoT APIs. If we’re pitching a smart home publication, scratch that and reverse it.
Mirroring can’t be mere imitation, though. You can’t just use common industry terms or hot topics and hope they apply. For every technical concept you introduce in your writing, you need to develop greater depth of understanding than what’s on display in the content itself. Otherwise, you’re guaranteed to get the context wrong.
Technical ≠ Dry
People who think technically specific writing is boring don’t read enough hard sci-fi. Technical specifics can be used to fuel humor, suspense, catharsis – whatever narrative need you’ve got. The key is to remember that the specs aren’t the story; they’re in service to the story.
Andy Weir’s blockbuster 2011 novel The Martian is a perfect example. It’s technical as hell. Read it, and you will learn more about both potato farming and physics than you ever knew you wanted to know—and you will want to know it. Because all the farm facts and explanations of the relative densities of oxygen and nitrogen are there to help the reader predict and explain whether the hero lives or dies, they are weirdly, immensely compelling.
PR pros can pull the same trick. Focus on the story: who’s the hero, what do they want, what’s standing in their way, and what is your client doing about it? The specs and other technical details help explain what the hero is missing, and how your client provides it. They lead your audience to those “a-ha!” moments, when they really understand why what you’re saying is important.
Stone Cold Factual Accuracy
Let’s be real: a lot of communications pros shy away from technical details because they’re scared. Not of boring their audience or turning off journalists, but of getting something wrong and sounding stupid. “Let’s not get too technical” is an avoidance technique, and Caster has been in the tech PR game long enough to know better. You cannot create effective communications around technologies if you only have surface-level understanding of what they do and how they work. Think of creating tech PR coms like writing for comic book fans: you’ll never understand what stories will excite the audience if you don’t know the broader lore.
At Caster, we all in engage in daily research to understand our clients’ media landscapes. We read what they read and follow who they follow. We also spend a lot of time on additional research for specific plans and content pieces, diving into both market research and frequently cited academic studies (when available) to make sure we completely grok the state of whatever industry we’re writing for. We also spend a ton of time communicating with subject matter experts (SMEs). Though we do all of our writing in house, nothing goes out without full-throated SME endorsement, even if it’s a piece for a B2C outlet. Everything must be technically correct.
Don’t be afraid of spec sheets. They’re like a character sheet in D&D: they don’t define your story, but they do help you figure out your client’s role, and what their most exciting next move would be. And by the way, if any of this was too nerdy for you, call us. We’re happy to dig in and get technical on your behalf.