When Hewlett-Packard was looking for a public relations agency to communicate its new competitive positioning, the widespread assumption was it would hook up with a large, full-service agency. The conventional wisdom was that technology boutiques could no longer compete for clients who needed not only global reach but also a broad array of services, from consumer marketing savvy to investor relations and public affairs capabilities. So when H-P chose Applied Communications, it came as a surprise to many observers, while for Applied founder Alan Kelly it provided a vindication of his decision to create one of the few strongly differentiated technology PR firms in the country.
Unlike many of its competitors, Applied believes public relations has a charter to do much more than build visibility, develop relationships, or enhance reputations. Applied practices PR to help its clients achieve competitive advantage in hotly contested technology markets. Its uniquely activist approach is designed to put clients in control of public discussions and minimize the influence of their competitors. It’s an approach that is aggressive, but also highly disciplined, fueled by an unwavering commitment to research—focused on robust metrics, competitive benchmarks, and real-time market insight—and defined by an emphasis on measurable results.
It is this distinct approach that has helped Applied position itself as a viable alternative to much larger agencies, and to maintain its independence while other specialist tech firms have been assimilated by the multinationals. (Applied services international clients through an office in Amsterdam, which handles pan-European programming for clients such as Sun Microsystems, Siennax, and Tryllian.
Applied doubled its revenues from $4.1 million in 1998 to $8.2 million in 1999, and enjoyed another year of very healthy growth in 2000, projecting revenues of $11.5 million thanks to the addition of the H-P account; new business wins such as Alta Vista, Informatica, Linuxcare, and x.com, an Internet financial services supersite; and continued work for clients such as Oracle (which now represents about 25 percent of the firm’s fees).
Employees, meanwhile, are rewarded through a stimulating work environment and a new program called Applied Upside that enables all employees to share in the growth of its Internet client base. Created with the assistance of the international law firm Baker McKenzie, Applied Upside is funded with stock, options, and warrants of its clients. Throw in a first-rate training program and it’s easy to see why Applied has done an impressive job of attracting and retaining smart people at a time when the competition for tech PR personnel is brutal.