The Company of Geeks

It’s just struck me. There’s one huge thing about working through this slow, sucky market that is making me ache – and I’ve only just realized what it is.

It’s not the fact that every tiny scrap of business is such a huge fight, or that we’re killing ourselves to win even the most miniscule budgets.

It’s not that the heat has gone out of the capital markets, so no one has scads of VC money to cram into the pockets of hungry flacks like me.

It’s not even the way the layoffs and shortages at the media outlets I deal with have made it so much harder to secure the attention of the surviving, and massively overworked, reporters.

All of these things make my job more difficult, and my personal and business targets become harder to hit. But we’re still basically doing fine.

No – the thing that really hurts is something quite different: I’ve realized I’m pining for the company of geeks.

Until just a couple of years ago, I’d spent my entire working life on the “client side” – working as a technical consultant, then product evangelist, then as a big picture corporate marketing and PR guy.

I flipped from Hummingbird to the agency world as a conscious move to “reinvent” myself and try on a different Michael for a while.

And it’s been great. I love what I do for a living – from the writing to the bullet-catching: I wouldn’t give it up.

But where are all the geeks?

One of the big things I loved about being in the software world was being able to work in close proximity with (and in perpetual semi-awe of) the hardcore geeks who form the heart of the business. I couldn’t always keep up, but was always learning.

If I think about the people who I’d count as my closest friends, most of them are card-carrying geeks (or at least geek-ish ;-). The people I most admire in the industry: all geeks. The bloggers whose daily feeds I couldn’t go without: geeks.

Damn. Maybe I’m just a wannabe geek.

"If all else perished, and geeks remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and geeks were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it...Nelly, I am a geek! Geeks are always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."

Ahem. (Extra bonus literary geek points if you can source the original quote).

With so few technology firms having any money to spend on PR, it’s just not too often nowadays that someone like me gets brought in to help define the corporate and product marketing strategies.

The agency role, in belt-tightening times, often becomes much more executional than influential. Marketing and communications both go into drip-feed mode – if it doesn’t drive immediate revenue, it’s an afterthought at best.

I still get to work with a lot of great tech companies – big and small. But the depth of engagement is different.

No one’s going to pay my hourly rate to have me faciliate a product marketing brainstorm, for example. Even though that’s exactly the world I spent more than half of my working life in (before morphing into what Chris Pirillo calls a “PR Parrot”).

Now that I’m a flack, I don’t get to “embed” with the geeks any more. And I miss it.

I don’t get to dig down into the creative genius at the core of tech companies and get high on innovation.

Instead, I just work with all the other fluffy marketing bunnies like me. Lovely, lovely bunnies – many of them. But bunnies nevertheless.

This has helped me figure out why I feel so extraordinarily drawn to events like ETCON and Gnomedex. OK, so sixty per cent of the content would probably sail clean over my head - I am a mere fluffy bunnykins, after all. But damn! I’d love to be there.

So now I know why I so badly want the market back. I just want to get down with the tech heads again. I want people to have budgets big enough to get the kind of close-in marketing counsel I used to do so much of. I long to participate in the rush the developers get as their latest creation grows towards its market.

I need to feed my inner geek.