your tech company deep in the doo?
question, prominently positioned on High
Tech Connect’s web site, points to one of the central challenges of operating
a large, successful tech company. You’re so busy developing hardware and
software, and making it work for your customers, that marketing can fall
between the cracks.
Shimada Siegel, President and
Founder of High
Tech Connect, and her army of ace communications consultants are riding to your
Cisco. Ask Intel. Ask Kaiser or Dow or Seagate. All loyal customers.
PR Is Different
brilliantly successful consulting agency is focused on tackling tough assignments for tech clients: marketing, communications,
messaging, positioning, branding and much more. It delivers expertise and experience—along with a unique attitude and
Perhaps that’s got something
to do with its internal demographic. While it’s not officially a “woman-based”
agency, you have to scroll pretty
far down on the web site before you see any male faces.
In fact, it’s easy to get the
impression that the PR
business is mostly matriarchal.
phenomenally service-oriented and major multi-taskers,” Siegel notes.
“I’m not trying to disparage men—because obviously there are tremendously
successful organizations run by, and staffed by, men. But the way I do
business, and many of my colleagues do business, it’s got to be a three-way
win. It has to be challenging and interesting for the consultant; it has to
meet the needs of the client; and it needs to be profitable for our business.
I’m not saying that this is universal to all women—but mostly where women are
concerned there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. Everyone can win.”
Siegel likes to
think women bring warmth, and genuine care. “My experience coming up
through the PR ranks is that women want to be of service. We want to help, we
want to nurture. And in a relationship-driven industry I’ve been successful
because I’ve tried to help people in ways that have nothing to do with revenue.
These are relationships I’m incredibly proud of. In some kinds of traditional
businesses where men predominate, mathematics, finance, law, there are winners
and losers: You get the sale or you don’t. PR is different!”
Not Intimidated By Geeks
Long before she started High
Tech Connect, Siegel was a respected public relations, marketing and
communications professional in Silicon Valley. She was perfectly prepared for
this complex role with a degree in public relations from San Jose State, and
her previous experience as an engineering major. She wasn’t intimidated by
geeks. She worked at Synoptics, 3Com, and a couple of start-ups before she ended
up at networking giant Novell.
Having kids forced the issue.
“I had my son,” Siegel explains, “and then I got pregnant with
my daughter, and realized that being on the road and doing major launches on
every continent was just too much. I needed to come up with another plan.”
At the time it wasn’t that
common to work from home. So Siegel left Novell and started a consulting
business—working from home. She called a few friends and said, “I can do
launch plans, I can do press releases, do you know anyone who can use my help?”
Everyone told their friends. In her
first year of consulting, Siegel earned well over her corporate salary; the
second year she tripled it.
Siegel was 32 when she
started HTC in 1997. Initially there was a staff of four. Today, High Tech Connect
boasts a team of highly experienced consultants working on 50 to 70 client
projects at one time. A core headquarters team of eight works on business
development and project management.
The start-up was in the black
after only six months—but Siegel remembers that it was terrifying. “I
didn’t have an MBA,” she laughs. “There was no template. I couldn’t
pick up a book and read about how to start this unusually flexible consulting agency
model. A lot of it was trial and error. I had a computer, a fax machine, and a
database—and I learned along the way. I knew a lot of smart people I could talk
to—financial planners, accountants, business people. It’s still an on-going
One of High Tech Connect’s first
clients was Cisco. Of course it started as a crisis. A top C-level executive at
Cisco was due to give a speech to a large women’s association, and his internal
staff was completely swamped. Somebody pointed him to HTC. Siegel knew a woman
who had been a speechwriter for General Norman Schwarzkopf and Margaret Thatcher—and she lived nearby. Siegel arranged
for the two of them to meet at 7 am at a coffee shop. “He adored her,”
she recalls. “And she knew she could jump on it. The only issue was that
we weren’t a Cisco supplier. So he made that happen—and so did we.”
To this day,
that’s the way High Tech Connect rolls. “When there’s a critical need, you
can’t just call a temp agency, because they don’t have the subject matter
expertise. That’s our sweet spot. Not just speeches. We do launches, social media,
content, blogging, strategy, messaging… As this segment of the market has evolved
we’ve grown along with it.”
Sunday Night at 10:30
Over the years,
Siegel and her agency have deployed some unique methodology. “Our clients
are corporate marketing CMOs, directors, and managers,” she explains.
“Mostly women, and so incredibly busy that the best time for me to reach
them is Friday after 4:45 pm, or Sunday night after 10:30. I’ve got it down to
a science! They won’t read anything extensive, they won’t read proposals, they
have microseconds of attention. I can’t send them a big brochure or a long
email. They won’t read it. We reach them primarily via text or instant messaging!
And when they reach out Sunday night at 10:30 pm? I’m there!”
Tech Connect’s consultants specialize in holistic solutions, focused on the
long-term objectives of the client. Strategies range from major campaigns and
programs to creating a Facebook presence, or posting photos on Pinterest or Instagram.
If the client is looking for a different voice, Twitter might provide that.
Ghost blogging for the CEO is a possibility, or creating short videos for a
Into the Future
sees the biggest challenge facing High Tech Connect as staying relevant for the
future. That’s one reason she teaches at San Jose State and guest-lectures at
Stanford. “I want to be where the smartest, best, and brightest communicators
are learning,” she says. “I want to help these students become future
that end, High Tech Connect has developed a free program called High Tech
ConNEXT, referring to the next generation of marketing and communications
professionals. Siegel’s team reviews resumes, shows students how to create a
LinkedIn profile, gives them free career advice, and connects them with
internships and entry-level opportunities.
thing about teaching,” Siegel notes, “is that you learn as much as
you teach. I’m very passionate about young people and the potential they bring
to organizations. I liken it to a rocket with a booster strapped to the side.
This is going to propel us above and beyond any of our competitors.”
Over 17 years from its
inception, Siegel and her team are still fanatical about solving problems for
overworked, understaffed marketing and communications teams.