Lessons in PR From the Dot-Com Era to the AI Boom

AI is more than a boom – it’s poised as a transformational force in the market. It’s more than ChatGPT; it’s more than one vertical or process, and it’s more nuanced than has been covered in the media thus far. Venture funding is showing us its hand: generative AI startups just hit $12.7 billion in funding in the first five months of 2023, compared with $4.8 billion in all of 2022, according to PitchBook. And while AI is stealing the oxygen out of the room, other technologies including automation and deep analytics are also advancing.

With the rapid rise in investment, technology business media are comparing it to the dot-com Wild West of the late ‘90s. A bubble is already being predicted. This got me thinking…

The B2B portion of the dot-com boom propelled the role of tech PR. It was a key means for communicating to targeted audiences the value and purpose of the emerging technology. For B2B tech of the era, PR was core – the narratives required skill and experience to discern and translate to audiences. Media coverage and validation meant something to investors trying to fund the next breakthrough.

Automation, machine learning, AI, and other advancing platforms are not getting simpler to communicate. However, at the beginning of the AI boom, there is an opening to carve out categories and race to the forefront as the leader, just as we saw in the dot-com era.

What can advanced technology and AI platform companies apply from the dot-com lessons of the past in PR? Here’s my top 3:

1 – Be First: anthonyBarnum studies and researches successful PR campaigns. We compare competitor ecosystems to see who has the share of voice. We create our own case studies and measure outcomes. One of the top patterns we see in a tech wave is the first mover advantage. The first thought leader voices of a category, via a systematic PR campaign, can create such velocity in earned media coverage that competitors will not be able to catch up within a year or even 18 months.

In an environment where it’s critical to carve out the space, being first means less spend on PR with far greater ROI. In emerging vertical applications of advanced technology, getting out ahead is invaluable. At the beginning of a transformative technology wave, those entering the waters of thought leadership right now can expect a highly receptive media environment.

2 – Be Known: With the race on in AI, the greater visibility an advanced platform has to its target persona base, the better for building top-of-funnel leads—first. Potential customers are actively seeking to adopt new technologies that will enable them to become more profitable, productive, and efficient. They are actively wondering how they can be a leader in adopting AI.

In the AI cycle, a vast wave of investment begins to catalyze, and multiple companies come to the forefront with transformative platforms. As a result, the degree of findability online matters. The leaders in the category need to pop up in their Tier 1 media outlets. Surfacing as quickly as possible via the right outlets supports the perception as the most credible amid a crowding ecosystem of solutions. Target customers are no longer being convinced of the value of the platform—they need to look at the technology and make decisions. Who is reachable, researchable, and highly findable all matters. In this dynamic, PR plays a critical role.

3 – The Narrative Matters for Valuation: As new and increasing investment flow into AI, automation and related platforms, investors are looking to understand the rapidly transforming landscape. Breakthrough technology platform companies will benefit from racing to the front of the line in thought leadership that casts a vision on the future of the technology and/or how their market will benefit and evolve.

If we are just at the beginning of a multiyear and far-reaching technology and market transformation, investment and business leaders alike will seek and need guidance from those closest to the trends and transformation. Being the thought leader unpacking the impact of the transformation is a way to shape the entire conversation and position the value—in alignment with the specific differentiations of your platform.

With the dot-com boom, there certainly were unfounded claims, over hype, and poorly constructed marketing strategies. But it did prove to be the gateway of entire digital transformation that would evolve and produce enormous breakthroughs in B2B and consumer technology, as well as returns for investors.

Those at the forefront of AI and similar technologies know that there is a big gap between the sensationalism around the technologies and what they actually can do to advance processes in markets. Now is the time to shape those narratives to lead stakeholders and customers toward the inherent value of a new generation of transformative technology.

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