Where technology was once only for geeks, now digital gadgets are for everyone, from small children keeping busy at the supermarket to grandparents Skyping their grandkids. We had a chance to talk with Bradford Williams, president of Weber Shandwick’s North American tech practice, and Heidi Sinclair, president of the firm’s global technology practice, while they’re visiting New York, and they were squarely focused on this intersection between even the highest of technologies and the consumer.
“It’s a reversal of the tide of where technology comes from,” said Williams. “Previously, it came from big business. Now, the most dominant technology is coming from the consumer area, like the iPhone and the iPad.”
For example, when mobile first caught on 30 years ago, it was a business tool. Today, of course, it’s for everyone.
“RFPs that we’ve seen from the last month or two seem hi-tech, but when you dig in, they have apps or some other little piece where the company has to talk to consumers,” said Sinclair, who referenced the “consumerization of IT.”
The key, according to Williams, are apps. Hardware companies have had to adapt to them, and “we’re still seeing the effects” of the growth in app use.
“Companies marketing themselves on techno speak are going to get torched,” said Williams.
The ubiquity of technology has opened many new doors, but it has also introduced a number of new issues that tech PR pros have to deal with. Among them, the savvy consumer, who will no longer jump at the latest new thing because another is right around the corner; recycling all of those gadgets that are so quickly becoming obsolete; IP and patent issues (ahem); and social responsibility issues, like those Apple is facing over the conditions under which its devices are manufactured.
Moreover, for clients, there’s leadership instability, said Williams.
“Market leadership and thought leadership are less stable because the adoption cycle is speeding up,” he said. “But it creates opportunities for companies to take mind share and market share. Anyone can get in there and win.”
Both Williams and Sinclair, come from in-house positions (Williams, more recently, from Groupon). From their perspective as advisors and comms pros, the role of PR is to be steeped in all of these overlapping issues and offer their best recommendations.
“We’re talking to clients about this,” said Sinclair. “When you’re inventing at this speed, you’re going to bump into each other.” It’s because of this, Sinclair added, that Weber is exploring ways to handle these issues not just in the tech practice, but across areas like public affairs and the consumer practice.
“Most clients sense that things are changing in the tech business. They see the changing,” said Sinclair. “But the practical part, like how does this impact a press release… That’s the job we’re all trying to figure out.”