The Holmes Report's six-part trends forecast looks at how trends in consumer marketing, corporate reputation, public affairs, technology, healthcare and digital are shaping the public relations industry.
The year ahead “will be transformative in relation to how new technologies will impact our lives,” says Luca Penati, managing director of the global technology practice at Ogilvy Public Relations. “We will see the rise of the role of consumers in the enterprise, since we all want to use our smartphone or tablet at work as we use it at home, with apps that make our job easier and more fun.”
Jim Hawker, a principal at UK consultancy Threepipe, best known for its work in the consumer space, agrees. “Never before has technology been such a driver of innovation with consumer marketing,” he says. “The brands that are standing out and generating great results are those that are technology aware and incorporating new techniques to provide deeper engagement with consumers.
“The rise of smartphones and other mobile device adoption means we are all carrying around serious bits of kit that offer marketers a wonderful platform on which to engage with us both online and in the real world. That is such a powerful opportunity that is there for the taking and consumer and retail brands are moving fast to take advantage.”
Ubiquity and Convergence
According to Scott Friedman, regional director of Text 100 North America, “2012 is the year that technology moves from being an industry or a sector to being a core part of every business regardless of discipline. Twenty years ago technology was considered niche; 10 years ago it was considered one of the fastest growing industries. Today it’s everything.”
Global spending on consumer technology devices in 2012 is expected to top $1 trillion for the first time. “That’s not so surprising in a world where there are now more connected devices than people,” says Esty Pujadas, director of Ketchum’s global technology practice, who points to a variety of devices that will continue to proliferate in 2012: “The iPad 3, LTE smartphones, Internet-connected TVs, cars with augmented-reality windshields, fridges that know what’s inside.”
Pujadas predicts three trends: co-creation (“collaboration between tech companies and experts in seemingly unrelated fields, or customers, or major players in other industries”); appification (“how we now experience much of life through the mobile apps we download and how that shapes our expectations and behaviors”); and integration (“consumers want either all-in-one devices or at least a way to combine their personal data, and marketers want the insights that come from analyzing all that resulting Big Data”).
“These trends were front and center at the recent Consumer Electronics Show,” she says, “especially if you consider how many non-tech companies like Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Craftsman invested in having a big presence there. Technology will not only be a growth sector in 2012, it is also morphing and overlapping with other industry sectors at record speed.”
Heidi Sinclair, global technology practice chair at Weber Shandwick, is another who see the breakdown of traditional barriers between technology and other practice areas.
Sinclair says that the “consumerization” of IT “is forcing even non-consumer companies to market to consumers thus driving the need for consumer technology communications expertise.” At the same time, “we are squarely in The Age of Innovation where every company has an innovation story to tell. Technology communications know-how is being applied to everything from telling the science story in shampoo to developer communications programs geared to driving app development for automobiles.”
As a result Pujadas sees an advantage for full-service firms: “This is a real opportunity for agencies with multiple competencies: companies will need help going far beyond product marketing and communications– they’ll need help with corporate reputation, public affairs, issues and crisis—especially around data privacy and security—influencer strategies, audience targeting, social media and growth in emerging markets.”
Conversely, Text 100’s Friedman believes the ubiquity of technology and its convergence with other sectors and disciplines, presents an opportunity for tech specialists to expand.
“There isn't a single industry that isn't using technology to innovate and build competitive advantage,” he says. “And given that technology has been at the core of all that we do at Text 100, we're now seeing our expertise translate into the media, digital, automotive, travel and health sectors. Our 'technology' expertise is being sought in sectors we never thought possible.”
The proliferation of high-tech devices has implications for technology marketers and for everyone engaged in communications—a topic we will cover at greater length in our look at what’s hot in digital and social media.
But if there’s one area of activity that’s particularly important for technology clients it’s the creation of original content that can be delivered across all of these platforms.
“We’re also seeing a surge in requests from our clients in all sectors—but in particular in technology—for content that can be used across platforms,” says Friedman. “This move to ‘branded journalism’ and multi-platform content shows the shift in the way technology companies are integrating their social, traditional, marketing and communications platforms to achieve most relevance with their audiences.”
And while there are those who question the potential for growth in the US—Anne Green of New York-based CooperKatz & Company says that “over recent years our industry has benefited from growth in tech start-ups, but it remains to be seen whether that rate of growth is sustainable, particularly in key verticals that have seen a massive influx of new companies and competition”—there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of growth left in international markets.
The technology sector presents a significant opportunity in the Indian market, according to Varghese Cherian, who leads Edelman’s technology practice there. He estimates the 50 percent of the top PR spenders in India are technology companies.
That’s partly because technology companies are “early adopters of being in the forefront of accepting and trying out newer trends makes them the largest spenders” and also because “technology companies have been exposed to global trends more than other companies and hence they are part of an evolved cycle in using modern age communications tools and a strategic approach.”
The other BRIC markets—and China in particular—are also likely to see increased activity.
Finally, when it comes to hot sectors in the technology arena, cleantech continues to generate the greatest interest. Sinclair says green technology “has moved from being in start-up mode to a fast-growth business with the associated communications demands.”
Stuart Wragg of Australian firm n2n communications is another who sees growth in the cleantech arena.
“As the need to reduce carbon emissions becomes increasingly important, expect to see an acceleration of innovation in clean-tech as businesses seek out solutions that help reduce carbon, increase efficiency and support Australia’s transition toward a low carbon economy,” he says. “And don’t expect big business to dominate share-of-voice. Watch out for start-ups too, keen to grab their share of the action with some disruptive communications.”