The death this month of Fred Hoar, one of the pioneers of high-tech public relations, was a reminder of the pivotal, yet largely forgotten, role that marketing communications — PR, advertising and branding — played in the success of the high-tech revolution.
The contributions of entrepreneurship, venture capital and R&D to the digital age are justly celebrated. But the flacks, copy hacks and marketers are mostly ignored. I suspect this is due in large part to the low regard these professionals are held by journalists, … though (and perhaps because) the average newspaper would be a mimeographed sheet without the combined efforts of these other folks.
More surprising is how many high-tech execs also hold the same low opinion.
I don't share that attitude, probably because I began my own career in public relations. That was almost 30 years ago. In those days the great companies of tech were still groping their way out of the cozy, but narrow, life of selling only to their engineering peers into the wide world of consumer sales. As with the technology, much of the innovation in this new marketing came from Silicon Valley.
Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside, and the Big Corporate Team
Within the Valley, much of this creativity came from a troika of innovators: Regis McKenna at National Semiconductor, then Intel and Apple; Fred Hoar at Fairchild, then Apple; and the Ampex squad, moved en masse to Hewlett-Packard.
Respectively, they were Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside and the Big Corporate Team. The interaction of the three, those that followed in their footsteps, and the corporate marketing executives with whom they worked, established much of the image we now hold of the digital world.
For example, the whole panoply of promotion techniques — press kits, press tours, press conferences, feature stories, etc. — that, for good or ill, dominate new product introductions today, was largely perfected by HP (with some competition from IBM). At Intel, McKenna was at the heart of Operation Crush, a marketing counterattack against Motorola that created the notion of a "complete product": not just the hardware, but its software, applications, design tools, service and support — a mainstay of modern business. Just as important, Crush was the precursor of the most successful tech branding campaign of all time: "Intel Inside."
At Apple, McKenna found a kindred spirit in Steve Jobs, and together, working with creative firms like frogdesign and Chiat/Day, they crafted the Macintosh introduction and all that followed — the zenith of high-tech branding.
Silicon Valley’s Master of Ceremonies
Hoar was at Apple too and a dozen other places, ever-defining the modern role of VP of marketing-communications as King Networker, CEO adviser, and corporate fixer. Hoar, with his square jaw, classical education and unequaled access, was in many ways, Silicon Valley's unofficial greeter and master of ceremonies.
It's no coincidences that McKenna eventually moved away from PR into marketing, searching for a way to integrate all of the communications activities of the modern corporation into a single coherent operation.
Hoar, in his last days, as a business professor at Santa Clara University, was teaching the same thing. They were, like many of their clients, true entrepreneurs — and as always, kept their eyes on that moving point where technology and the market meet. In doing so, they created a revolution as great as any of their clients.