Tech PR often leads the industry in adopting new communications ways and means. This, combined with the frequency of M&As, looming IPOs and constantly changing market dynamics, has forced tech PR to be among the most nimble practice areas in the industry.
The Holmes Report asked top tech PR specialists from around the world to identify the trends that will lead the ever-changing sector in 2013. We also called upon Ken Hong of LG Electronics for his perspective on which trends will thrive -- and which will fall away -- in 2013.
1. More insight -- Tech PR agencies have made a play to cultivate their own tech savvy to use data or build apps to help their clients in ways beyond garnering media hits. Yet most tech clients continue to measure their PR programs primarily through the lens of media relations. But with tech companies increasingly dipping their toes into brand journalism and other new forms of communications, in 2013, we can expect tech PR to cast a wider net than ever. “More innovative PR agencies will continue to broaden their portfolio of services, putting more emphasis on new skills -- insight and planning, tech build and creative for example,” explains Sandy Purewal, CEO of the UK's Octopus Group. Persuading clients to pay for these added services and redefine how they measure PR success, however, will continue to challenge tech PR agencies.
2. Lifecycle PR -- The standard trajectory for a startup is to work with a boutique or small PR agency initially, then move onto a larger agency when it hits a massive growth spurt or is acquired. This is mostly due to limited budgets early on, but also because boutiques have a particular culture that meshes well with startups. Once larger, the company tends to gravitate towards a bigger agency better equipped to handle the complicated financial and crisis needs of a more mature tech company. Susan Butenhoff, CEO of Access Communications, predicts in 2013 smaller agencies, especially those that are part of larger holding companies, will carve out clearer paths to retain startups throughout their lifecycle. Essentially, partnering with larger agencies to keep a team of crisis or IR specialists on hand to deal with funding issues or crisis scenarios, for instance, related to privacy, hackings or outages. “Boutiques cannot be passionate or entrepreneurial enough to offset the lack of day-to-day experience [with crisis or IR PR],” Butenhoff explains.
3. Privacy concerns -- From Facebook to Instagram, tech companies have taken a severe beating when it comes to privacy. And while there have been some consumer victories on this front, in 2013, tech companies -- whether B2B or consumer -- should be prepared for privacy considerations to take center stage, says Pete Pedersen, EVP and chair of Edelman’s global tech practice. With Europe amid regulatory change and the US relying on consumer advocacy groups to guide the privacy debate, tech PR will become increasingly mired in public affairs. “Any company that collects data needs to take this into account,” Pedersen adds.
4. More than tech -- As consumer companies increasingly take on e-commerce as a huge chunk of their business, tech PR agencies will notice their portfolios expand beyond traditional clients. For instance, Text 100 once known just for its tech expertise has expanded into the travel and tourism space with its work with companies like AirBnB and Expedia. This will be amplified in non-tech companies seeking tech PR agencies for social media expertise -- especially in Asia-Pac, says Lou Hoffman, CEO of the Hoffman Agency. “The pure digital plays in the region don’t have the same mass appeal as they do in the US.”
5. Showing, not telling -- With movements like 'Bring-Your-Own-Device', enterprise technology purchases are now being increasingly influenced by consumer tech. This means ease-of-use and simplicity are becoming the key messages for all tech companies to communicate to their audiences. And often these characteristics can seem soft and vague when explained with text, but ‘click’ with a live demo or video. This puts more pressure on tech PR to leave their traditional comfort zone of using words in marketing and corporate collateral and relying more on visuals, says Alice Chan, principal at Bird PR. “We have to be publishers and developers, so that we are not relying on intermediaries to get a story told and develop a relationship with decision makers,” Jon Iwata, senior vice president of marketing and communications for IBM noted during the Global PR Summit.
In-house view: “Twitter is pretty irrelevant…”
Ken Hong, global communications director, LG Electronics
“I don't think there's going to be any big revelation or some newfangled trend in tech PR in 2013. As we saw at CES, this is another year of ‘evolution, not revolution’ (a tired phrase but still accurate). All the talk of corporate storytelling, importance of infographics, better measurement and integrated communication will continue to evolve on a predictable trajectory, but I believe a couple of movements will become clearer in the new year. For example, I think blogs will be less and less relevant as the most successful ones begin to operate more like online news sites and the rest turn to Facebook and possibly LinkedIn to expand their brand awareness. Twitter is great for monitoring the latest buzz, but as a corporate communication tool, it's become pretty irrelevant and up-and-coming platforms -- Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. -- aren't going to see much action from the corporate world. Online media newsrooms will play a bigger role in PR as organizations move away from just posting news releases on their websites. One trend that I hope to see more of is coverage of human interest angles in tech PR and less emphasis on who gets the new hardware story first, which isn't healthy for our industry.”