5 Trends Shaping Tech PR In 2018

At times, technology PR can feel like a shape-shifting beast — large, fast-moving, and even a little intimidating. In an earlier post, we discussed what makes tech such a different animal. Now we explore some 2018 trends and issues that continue to affect the tech PR sector. Of course, by the time this is posted, a new trend will have arrived to nudge the paradigm.

5 tech PR trends

Privacy regulations

The GDPR privacy rule officially blazed into our lives in May. Some thought it wouldn’t affect U.S. marketers so much, but in today’s digital environment, everyone is impacted. And it won’t be the last data protection or privacy regulation we’ll see. In July, the state of California passed its own data privacy regulations called CCPA, and other states are sure to follow. Like many companies, PR firms need to ensure that our content marketing and other campaigns are compliant with the new regs. On the bright side, GDPR has presented opportunities for data privacy and security thought leaders to build visibility and reputation through insights and expert commentary. Data privacy issues will only grow in importance in how we work as well as how we promote clients.

Big tech’s reputation challenges

Once upon a time, Facebook, Google, and Apple were viewed as shining examples of U.S. innovation and heroes of a more socially and commercially connected future. They’re still hugely successful, but things have changed. The 2016 election and the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal accelerated what has been a gradual erosion of Big Tech’s reputation. Many have come to believe that the tech giants have too much influence and that their growth threatens user privacy and possibly our well-being as a culture. For tech PR agencies who represent early-stage companies and other technology companies, the dominance of the giants extends into the mediascape, monopolizing the attention of key journalists. Yet as much as the Big Tech players can block out the sun, savvy PR people can also take advantage of their visibility by newsjacking or responding to the latest moves of an Amazon or Apple.

Data and more data

Every major trend in tech PR revolves around the collection and application of data, from cyber-security to account-based marketing (ABM). Internally, data can inform our PR strategy and make our branded content better and more engaging. data-driven storytelling drives some of our best tech PR campaigns by winning points with journalists, boosting end-user or customer engagement, and attracting the most relevant audience. Quality data has made better PR monitoring and measurement possible. And, of course, the data we create through our own branded research for clients creates news.

Artificial intelligence

We all know AI and machine learning technologies are infiltrating many aspects of or lives. For those who work in tech PR, AI has not yet radically changed the way we do business, though it has affected who we do business with — clients in everything from analytics to supply-chain software now use AI to enhance their products and services. As AI tools revolutionize the way we consume and monitor news, PR pros may be able to get faster and more accurate reads on a social conversation surrounding a brand — and perhaps be able to neutralize a crisis before it erupts. It may also help us measure the impact of what we do — from a media placement to the full brand reputation of a client. Plus, AI tools are playing a role on the other side of the media relations coin: journalists are beginning to use AI solutions to read pitches, generate story ideas, and gauge what their audiences want to read.

On the blockchain gang

Even if you’re not part of the ICO craze, blockchain will surely affect you if it hasn’t already. The tech PR world has no choice but to get with the “distributed ledger” program. Though the applied technology is still in its early days, its future is huge. Beyond payment processing and banking, blockchain has implications for fraud verification, digital ad transparency, influencer marketing and data privacy — in short, many of the concerns tech agencies and their clients currently face. There’s even talk of future blockchain applications in the practice of PR, which may be alarming since one of the main premises of the technology is the removal of the middle-man – PR firms. Not to worry, PR people. Wasn’t the internet supposed to do the same thing?

The Boldest PR Moves of 2018

The first half of 2018 has seen some remarkable corporate PR maneuvers. In many cases, well-known companies have come up with creative ways to take a stand or respond to a public challenge. Some of the moves are arguable, but all were bold, even risky. Some brands spoke out in response to crises, while others may have created crises by speaking out. Only time will tell if these maneuvers are true PR wins or losses, but here’s our take.

The boldest PR moves of 2018 — so far

WeWork: virtue signaling or corporate activism?

Two weeks ago office coworking company WeWork announced that, for environmental reasons, it will not serve meat inside its facilities, nor will employees be allowed to expense client dinners that include meat. Many have lauded WeWork’s green initiative. But some media have responded with charges of “tribalism,” “virtue signaling,” and “imposing a worldview” on employees. The WeWork move can be compared to Starbucks’ recent banning of plastic straws, but it’s attention-grabbing because it’s more extreme.

If publicity was the goal, then WeWork certainly accomplished it. The announcement generated scores of articles and lots of discussion on social media. (Some critics, like the Texas meat processors who spoke out against the measure, may not even have been aware of WeWork’s existence until recently.) Not all coverage was positive, but there’s an advantage to being top-of-mind, even if the move was driven as much by PR as by its values. As one journalist cynically put it, WeWork is “a real estate business trying to look like a tech startup.” In that case, the meat ban was probably smart branding.
Image result for ambien response to roseanne

Ambien is woke

Ambien’s parent company Sanofi seized the opportunity to react after the brand was mentioned by Roseanne Barr as an excuse for a repugnant tweet that resulted in her show’s cancellation. Barr tried to blame her racist posts on “ambien tweeting,” but the brand fired back that “racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” The witty clapback won plaudits, possibly because it was a measured response. Ignoring the post would open the brand to questions about the drug’s effects, or its attitude toward Barr’s tweet, while a formal press statement would have been heavy-handed. Instead, the agile response expressed corporate values without much risk. Ambien scored a big bang-for-your-buck PR win by listening and reacting with authority and humor. See the earlier post for more on the best reactive PR opportunities.

Delta sticks to its guns

Delta made some high-stakes enemies when it announced it would discontinue its policy of NRA member discounts after the Parkland shootings in February. Once again the substance behind the communications was minimal (only a few NRA members were actually affected), but the message spoke about Delta’s corporate values. Third-party influencers on both sides lined up and duked it out.
Despite losing a major $40 million tax break in Georgia, Delta stood its ground in the face of significant blowback. Delta’s sincerity here can’t really be questioned, given that it knew there would likely be political static in its home state. The value of the reputation boost from its decisive social activism may offset other financial losses. Delta scored a PR win with its strong and sincere social stand. See this earlier post for more on the Delta-NRA episode.

Philip Morris throws flames

In a fascinating and daring PR move, last week tobacco giant Philip Morris sent a letter to the head of England’s national healthcare organization, the NHS (National Health risky PR moves of 2018Service), offering to partner on an initiative to help NHS staff quit smoking by offering smoke-free products like e-cigarettes. The NHS, of course, is not open to a partnership with a tobacco company, but its indignant reaction probably gave Philip Morris exactly what it hoped — more publicity.
Its trolling of the NHS was probably a tactic in support of its larger “smoke free” PR blitz launched in early 2018. Beginning with its new year’s “We’re trying to give up cigarettes” full-page ads, PMI is revamping its portfolio and its positioning. The negative publicity about its arguably outrageous offer to the NHS had the effect of spreading the word widely about the new campaign.

NFL’s position doesn’t stand

In May the NFL chose a side on the divisive issue of player protests during the national anthem – or at least, it thought so. The league announced it would require players to stand if they are on the field during the anthem, giving them the option of remaining in the locker room. The policy would fine team for players who stand or kneel during the anthem, essentially leaving it up to the teams to pass on the fines to players or absorb them. The announcement reignited the NFL anthem protest controversy, drawing verbal fire from all sides. Worse, last week it became moot after a Miami Dolphins “discipline document” was leaked to the press. The document states that players could be suspended up to four games for an anthem protest, and it quickly created a PR nightmare for the team and the NFL.

Maybe the league was hoping to control the conversation and stir public sentiment against the players. But had the NFL held off on the May policy announcement, it might have nudged its reputation in a more positive zone as the story died down. Instead, the league has consistently elected to go the PR path of most resistance, reinforcing an image of a dysfunctional organization lacking leadership.

Global PR Trends And Practices In An Age Of Uncertainty


Every two years, the New York-based Corporate Communication International (CCI), conducts an in-depth survey of senior PR and communications officers at Fortune 500 companies about global PR trends. As a sort of “state of the communications field” analysis the CCI Corporate Communication Practices and Trends Study 2017 offers fascinating insights about the PR landscape today.

Speed Kills

Perhaps the most striking trend is the speed of the news cycle and pace of business. Since the digital mediascape is constantly changing, communicators must be agile and always ready to engage in a digital-first environment. Yet they’re aware that the cost of a mistake or a simple overreaction can be high. Any crisis communications team must be ready to respond at any hour to an escalating event, and that speed is vital. Communications professionals must act decisively to safeguard corporate reputation, and many worry that they may miss something.

“Corporate communication functions as the conscience for the business and as a vigilant lifeguard for the brand.”

The Age Of Uncertainty

The speed of the news cycle is compounded by today’s environment of mistrust and uncertainty. And the rules for wading into controversial or political issues are less certain than they once were. Economist Milton Friedman famously said that corporations’ only purpose is to make money, and that they therefore have no social responsibility. Fifty years later, the pressure on corporations to take a stand on politically charged issues is growing. The current Delta Air Lines vs. the NRA and state of Georgia saga is a perfect example of the delicate balancing act of creating and maintaining a company’s ethos – and the real world ramifications of doing so.

“ You must assess a situation quickly and determine a course of action quickly, often ahead of all the facts being known. That requires a high level of trust among senior leaders to launch without all the approvals knowing there is a desire and expectation to own and guide the story.”

C-Suite Turf Battles

As the external environment has grown more challenging, so has the corporate environment. The overlapping roles of corporate communications and marketing and dissolution of silos in some organizations have not always been smooth.  CMOs and CCOs (chief communications officer) jostle for influence within the corporation. Marketing departments often have significantly larger budgets than communications, yet the CCO’s voice must be just as persuasive.  Moreover, CCOs cannot control those functions that have the potential to exert a large influence over corporate reputation, like HR and advertising. Since corporate reputation has a large role in the success (or failure) of the enterprise, the CCO must serve as a strategic business resource and counsel to the CEO, even when in reactive mode.

“Reputation management as the #1 perceived role of corporate communication.” 

Focusing Inward

Another global PR trend in the Fortune 500 companies is the increased focus on internal communications. Corporate leadership recognizes the critical importance of getting everybody on the same page – no easy task in organizations with 20,000 employees. And since a single employee can talk about the company to thousands of external stakeholders at once through social media, the company must take steps to control its narrative. Over 80% of companies now have an employee social media policy. Companies realize that its employees should be the first line of brand ambassadors; therefore they must understand corporate brand values and how they translate outside the organization.

So you want to be a PR executive?

The good news is the communications profession is flourishing. Staffs and budgets are increasing. Corporate recruiting of communications professionals is now a priority. But what talents do publicly traded companies value in public relations pros? It’s not enough to be a well-trained expert communicator; you had better know business and the language of business. About 25% of the communications executives surveyed have MBAs. Because communications now bleeds into so many departments, the higher-ups must have a firm grasp of business strategy. It’s not just press releases and media training. It’s also about globalization, data analysis, and PR as a strategic business function.

5 PR Strategies For Today And Tomorrow

Top PR professionals are always sharpening their B2B or B2C PR skills, whether it’s developing messaging, creative program ideas, or specific tactics for earning media coverage. Creating owned and paid content that works to engage customers and meet business goals is now also an important part of the PR team’s objectives. So, in this evolving landscape, what are some strategies the successful PR team must implement for today, and for the future?

Decode your target audiences

Are you constantly putting yourself in the shoes of your target? To effectively communicate, PR teams have to know not just who they’re trying to reach, but what story to tell them and where to tell it. Traditionally, PR teams have tried creating noise to attract the attention of the crowd and persuade them to care about a product or service. The data is now available to move from broad target views to more pinpointed ones.

Let insights drive thinking

While insights have always been a part of smart PR, there has been a huge shift in how data is collected, and how insights are generated and used. Surveys have and continue to be the most common way to know the pulse of consumers. But with social media, we get real-time data. PR teams must work alongside data scientists and other marketing partners to understand the market and collect and leverage these insights to create messaging with real impact.

Generate and leverage loyalty

Sure, the world is a fickle place, but savvy PR teams know that their internal and external clients live and die on customer loyalty. With increased competition and an ever-more-cluttered marketplace, it’s harder to stand out and reach the right set of customers. Understanding what it takes to appeal to and keep loyal customers is the best way PR can turn these customers into brand advocates who share their positive experiences, drive conversations and continue to engage.

Advocate for PR’s place

The rise of ad blocking is a huge source of irritation for advertisers. Some in the PR industry take a real “glass-half-full” perspective here – more earned media and native content may be the best way for advertisers to reach audiences they could lose through blocked ads. It’s a challenge PR can rise to, both in terms of selling in smart campaigns designed to generate more earned and working alongside advertisers to help with smart native and other content.

Nurture a passion for collaboration

Whether you are in PR, marketing or advertising, the battle cry for collaboration has been popular for awhile. But has it been realized? Not fully enough, we would argue. As the ways to reach target audiences evolve to include more and more overlap in the disciplines, there should be healthy overlap in the practice groups as well. Healthy camaraderie can lead to breakthrough thinking that benefits all.

Top 6 Apps To Stay On Top Of PR Trends

PR professionals tend to be early adopters and tech savvy, which is why we like helpful apps. Much of our work requires us to stay on top of the latest trends and news, both within PR and our clients’ various industries. What’s happening in the news can offer great opportunities to piggyback and pitch stories. Here are our picks for the best apps to make sure you’re the first to know.

Flipboard: Described as a “social news magazine,” the app creates a customized digital magazine with news, from outlets such as The New York Times, Fast Company and Vanity Fair, on topics you choose to follow. You can also search for news and save stories in your magazine – and create different magazines for different topics and manage them from your dashboard. “The Daily Edition” delivers the day’s top news selected by Flipboard’s editorial staff, and local editions are available in 24 countries. With its aesthetically-pleasing design and curated touch, Flipboard makes finding and reading stories something you look forward to! Free on iOS and Android.

Overcast: Turn your mobile device into a radio that gets you up to speed on local, national and international news through your favorite podcasts. Download podcasts ahead of time to listen to offline during your commute so you’re updated by the time you dive in to work. The app offers recommendations for new news, and notifies you when new episodes for shows you subscribe to are available. Free on iOS; “Unlock Everything” for $4.99.

PR Newswire: The app version of this top PR news wire service delivers the most recent press releases, multimedia and earnings reports to your device. You can set up alerts for organizations and topics, and quickly know news about your company or brand’s competitors. Free on iOS.

Twitterific: Think of this as your ultra-customized Twitter feed. It allows you to view mentions and direct messages on your timeline, customize themes, tweet, switch between accounts easily, and share images and animated GIFs with rich media support. This cuts the amount of time you need to spend on Twitter but still lets you capture and share info effectively. Free on iOS.

Paper: This app offered by Facebook integrates with your news feed to highlight top stories from friends and topics of interest in a clean, appealing layout. Only the most important text and photos are pulled, allowing you to view your feed distraction-free. You can also share content directly from the app. It’s a great way to know what’s buzzing among your social circles. Free on iOS.

Nuzzel: If you work in PR, it’s likely you have smart friends who care about similar topics. This app alerts you to the top stories from key outlets such as CNN, NBC, Fox, The New York Times and BuzzFeed that others are sharing on Facebook and Twitter. When you find interesting articles, you can easily share via Twitter, Facebook, email or text directly through the app. Free on iOS and Android.

Ten Trends Affecting PR Professionals In 2010

Despite their overabundance this time of year, I’m a fan of lists. They impose structure and order on what is actually messy, imperfect, and disorderly. But, because I missed the 2009 list window I’ve taken a crack at identifying the major trends affecting our business and what they’ll mean in 2010 and beyond.

1.   Social and traditional media will merge. Or, the distinctions will become meaningless. I know, duh. But, for most of us, 2010 will finally see the death of the one-way communications channel. As traditional press has begun to be disintermediated, we’ll be “relating” directly to our publics as often as not. Social media will be so integrated through our programs that the very term will be anachronistic – it’s all media. And, we need to be knowledgeable not only about online media, but about the emerging social trends – social gaming, social shopping, and new forms of viral content.

2.   Content will be king – if it’s relevant, compelling, and searchable. In a sense, traditional journalists and PR professionals have been trading roles. As more journalists cross over into PR, we PR professionals are broadening our conventional job description to the point where we can be an online and offline content resource to complement – or even rival – “old” media. The trick is to ratchet up our output to make fresh, relevant, compelling content a daily creative product.

3.   Quality will become scarcer. With the explosion of blogs and user-generated content, it’s awfully hard to find the good stuff. That means communications professionals must step into the void as the quality content resource, at every level. Every member of the account team is producing, posting, updating, high-quality material. It also means that old-fashioned research and reporting skills and adherence to journalistic rigor (e.g., fact-checking) will be prized.

4.   Consumer expectations are higher than ever. They’re in control, the’re using social media as a megaphone, and they expect brands and companies to deliver on their promises. Increasingly, customers also expect brands to stand for something beyond their own attributes. According to Brandingstrategyinsider.com, “smart marketers will identify and capitalize on unmet expectations.”

5.   Everything must be targeted – or targetable. Micro-targeting is the watchword for 2010. News, content, and entertainment are increasingly personalized. And, with original content needing to be as mashable, adapable, and “spreadable” as possible for users, mapping back to brand strategy is critical. So is in-depth knowledge of our increasingly fragmented audiences.

6.   Reputation is more fragile than ever. With the rise of Social Media, previously tangential areas like customer service, retail environment, and word-of-mouth are a huge part of the brand conversation – and its reputation. Couple that with the speed of real-time search, and it amounts to a very high bar for strategic smarts, crisis preparedness, and rapid mobilization.

7.   Everything will be measurable. Increasingly, PR professionals must be familiar with current analytics and measurement tools if we’re to justify our budgets and collaborate with marketers. We’ll also work more with SEO experts as brand and corporate reputation looms larger on the social Web. In fact, Daryl Tay of Blue Interactive feels that sentiment analysis will become more important to future marketers, which means we need to move beyond strictly automated metrics that don’t capture nuances of language or a reputational threat.

8.   But, how we measure up will take many forms. According to the Mobile Marketing Association, marketing results will be evaluated not just in recommendations, but in eyeballs, shakes and finger swipes. The number of blogs, articles, tweets and diggs. The number of acquisitions, conversions, calls, responses or purchases. Check-ins on foursquare and check-outs on Amazon.”

9.  News and content will be increasingly mobile. More and more news, content, and entertainment will be accessed via smartphones and other mobile devices. This has implications not only for the quality and length of what we produce, but for how we reach and engage with consumers and media. And the rise of geolocation services offers opportunities for marketing and PR professionals, not only for enhancing the relevance of our content, but for event marketing and PR-driven promotions.

10. Influencers will have more influence. Influencer marketing will be bigger than ever in 2010. The vaunted relationship component of what we do will be more complex and more interesting, particularly if more online communities and social networks go behind walls to behave like exclusive clubs. So, we not only have to find the influencers for every category, we need to be them.