In today’s world, the tech sector encompasses much more than just technology, making it both a daunting challenge and a big opportunity for PR professionals working with tech-based companies and clients. From self-driving cars to currency that only exists in the digital space, technological developments are changing both what consumers buy and the methods they use to buy it. They are also transforming the political and personal arenas, resulting in consumers who are every bit as changed as the products and services they use.

Bo Park
Bo Park

“Activity across a number of areas has fueled tech sector growth,” said Bo Park, who leads the tech, media and telecom practice at ICR. “We’ve seen an explosion of blockchain and cryptocurrency that is still coming into focus, while areas such as food delivery and ‘last-mile’ delivery have matured to the extent that they are spurring sub-sectors supporting them.” Park also sees the increasing globalization that e-commerce has made possible as a pivotal development in the sector.

But the changed consumer, as well as the changing rules for communicating with that consumer, is also a force to be reckoned with. “Technology is moving from learning to lifestyle,” said W2O Chief Innovation Officer and Vice Chairman Bob Pearson. “In communications, we can speak directly with a brand’s customers and influencers, shaping their ecosystem via new digital techniques, insights-driven analytics, strong listening tools and compelling stories.” As a result, he adds, “there has never been a better time to align the desires of an audience with a brand’s benefits and purpose.”

Bob Pearson
Bob Pearson

Helping tech companies tell their stories and make productive connections with audiences requires a more complex understanding of how consumers form opinions and make decisions. “We are moving from a Coverage model (traditional media) to an Influencer model,” Pearson said. “This new model shifts the power of opinion formation to those who are actively engaged in social and digital.”

Because of that, agencies must be able to hit the ground running when It comes to the digital sphere. “No one has time to micromanage or second guess their PR partner,” said Highwire principal Carol Carrubba. According to Carrubba, agencies must work fast to gain the trust of tech partners. “Perhaps because of the complexity of subject matter, the pace of innovation and the extremely competitive market,” she said, “technology clients consistently look for expertise, experience and a sense of personal accountability when picking a PR partner.”

Park also noted the “lightning pace” of the tech sector, and the unique communications practices which that pace makes necessary. “Making these programs effective means firms must bring a deep understanding and 360-degree view of where their clients stand in the corporate lifecycle and what their primary pain points are.”

Carol Carrubba
Carol Carrubba

Park said the level of speed at which the tech market operates means that not only is there a constant level of change in the products and services being offered by clients, there’s also a shifting definition of who is a tech client and who is not. “One of the more remarkable trends that has and will continue to have a major impact on the tech sector is established companies wanting to reinvent themselves as tech companies.”

Barbara Bates, Hotwire’s global CEO, also sees that process of reinvention at work. “Markets like retail, healthcare and construction — areas that have historically been slower to evolve — are now embracing innovation,” she said.

The widening scope of what it means to be tech company should result in a steady wave of growth for the sector, according to W2O’s Pearson. “Our definition of technology will continue to evolve and drive every industry,” he said. “The tech sector should drive growth for the entire economy.”

Barbara Bates
Barbara Bates

So, if the tech sector is entering a solid wave of growth, what are the best methods firms can use to help tech clients get out that message? What are the best channels to use to make that connection with consumers?

“It may be far from an original statement, but any one-size-fits-all standardized approach to communications is rarely a recipe for success,” ICR’s Park said. “With that in mind, there are no best or worst communications channels for tech companies.”

Tailoring the communications channel to the desired audience becomes even more pivotal in a digitally connected world. “If you’re aiming to connect with a ‘deskless’ audience,” she said, “then traditional media may not make sense as your primary communications channel.” On the other hand, she notes that for audiences such as institutional investors, relying on channels like social media is likely not the way to go.

Hotwire’s Bates also said that the increasing number of communications channels makes the one size fits all approach increasingly a thing of the past. “Everything is now integrated,” she said, “and it often begins with earned media, which is then supported by paid, shared and owned. The brands seeing the most success understand this and are able to utilize each of these elements to establish authority, extend their reach and educate prospects.”

Pearson said that the increasing complexity and number of channels is throwing attention back on the human factor present in all communication. “The new channel is a network of humans who determine the relevance and importance of your brand and its story,” he said. “If you know which humans matter for a brand, you can figure out the rest.”

O'Dwyer's May '18 PR Firm Rankings MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '18 PR Firm Rankings Magazine

And, as is the case with all human interaction, the level of trust is of ever-growing importance in developing relations between companies and clients. “It is imperative that the agency wins the confidence of the tech client by always bringing new ideas, having a back-up plan to the back-up plan and delivering results,” Highwire’s Carrubba said.

With the bad rap that digital communications are getting in the wake of the controversies surrounding Facebook, Google and Cambridge Analytica, ensuring the security of information, as well as trust, is a must for firms looking to work with clients in the tech sector.

But Pearson believes that the current controversies may also point the way to positive new strategies.  “We believe the recent Facebook questions relate to a larger trend,” he said. “Data is on a path to freedom. As we become stewards of our own ‘me-nome,’ we will be able to aggregate the variety of data streams that we all create during an average day from our bodies, cars, phones, devices and more. It is time for personal clouds to have their place in society.”

Park sees the importance of trust as just one of the forces shaping the future of the tech space and the role PR can play in that space. “Looking ahead,” she said, “there are a few trends that will be interesting to watch — such as digital advertising’s quest for accountability and the impact that process will have on the space. Additionally, tech companies’ approaches to raising capital appear to be evolving.”

What will almost certainly remain the same, however, is the need for firms to conceive of communications that anticipate the desires of audiences, as well as the crises that can affect any company, regardless of its relationship to technology.

Carrubba said that “in an era of record funding for tech startups and digital transformation mandates from enterprises; where blockchain, AI and autonomous mobility suddenly seem to be everywhere and where new leaders emerge in years not decades, smart communications programs can help to establish leadership and progress an agenda.”