SAN JOSE, May 11—With the technology public relations sector in apparent free fall, many high-tech PR agencies are looking for new opportunities, and many of them are looking to Washington, D.C., where the opportunity is two-fold: encompassing the still healthy tech market in northern Virginia and the increasing interest of tech clients everywhere in public policy issues.
This week, Silicon Valley’s The Hoffman Agency became the latest tech specialist—following in the footsteps of Brodeur Wolrdwide, FitzGerald Communications, Sterling Hager and others—to open up a shop in D.C., naming public affairs veteran Sheila Consaul, whose experience includes positions with the National Rifle Association and the Tobacco Institute, to head the office.
According to agency president Lou Hoffman, the first thing that attracted the firm to Washington was Consaul herself. “To a certain extent the decision was driven by talent,” he says. “A year and a half ago we came across an individual we felt was extraordinary. For a variety of reasons, she couldn’t relocate. So we had her telecommute for a year, so she could understand what we are all about, before we formally launched into the Washington market.”

In addition, Hoffman says, Washington was attractive because it will serve as a gateway to the firm’s recently established European operations, headquartered in the U.K., the same way Hoffman’s San Jose headquarters serves as a gateway to its Asia-Pacific offices. The agency considered several east coast cities, but considered Washington the most attractive because of the thriving local technology market: with its concentration in industries such as telecommunications, software and biotechnology, Washington is expected to weather the tech shakeout better than most areas of the country. 

“Like most companies, we're not immune to the effects of the slowdown,” says Hoffman. “But our executive team has concluded that we'll best be served in the long term by staying the course and building on our global infrastructure.”

The Washington office will also allow Hoffman to help clients handle public policy issues. Says Consaul, “Tech companies have been generally slow to learn how Washington works. Hoffman D.C. combines its expertise in grass-roots public affairs with traditional high-tech public relations—and that is an approach that most other high-tech PR companies can't offer.”

The firm has already handled public affairs programs for longtime client Hewlett-Packard, focusing on Internet security issues.
In a separate announcement, The Hoffman Agency says it has been selected by CommWorks Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of 3Com serving the telecommunications service provider market, as public relations counsel for three of its four worldwide sales and marketing regions: North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific. Hoffman also is responsible for managing PR activities carried out elsewhere in the world by other agencies.