ICCO’s Global Summit this year, against the beautiful backdrop of London’s Tower Bridge, challenged us to think about embracing the future. Communicators connected from over thirty countries, discussing new, emerging and unresolved issues that will challenge PR leaders.
This year the Summit went virtual for the first time allowing even more communicators to join from across the globe. Thank goodness for hybrid as many a speaker, moderator and panellist—including the PRCA’s own Francis Ingham—were confined at home thanks to the continuing challenges caused by Covid-19.
The opening panel focused on where tech will make gains in the PR industry, something that we at CARMA are particularly passionate about. Our CEO and Chairman of AMEC Richard Bagnall was hoping to moderate the panel but Covid had other ideas. Instead, the incredible Nitin Mantri, ICCO President and CEO of AvianWE stepped in to challenge the panel. The insightful speakers Heather Kernahan, CEO of Hotwire and Aaron Kwittken, CEO of PRophet unpicked the main themes of what tech success will look like for our industry.
We all know that PR needs to “lean in” to tech. And we as an industry are really not alone. Innovation and technology are very well-established things. There are proven ways to innovate and embrace technology for gains. The answer is rarely just buying a new tool that comes with the most persistent sales person. As Heather said we need to embrace and, “hug the tech monster!” It is neither as big nor scary as it feels when we try to work out where and how to apply AI, what Web 3.0 means for us or when we can all jet off to live in the metaverse.
Coming from a recent stint in digital transformation, I can genuinely say the technology that makes an impact is proven, straightforward and far less glamourous than the big headlines would have us believe. The little incremental wins are just as effective as the huge leaps forward. To really be a tech winner, you need a bit of both. You need one eye on the places that PRTech can replace repetitive tasks to free your amazing human teams to do the work that matters. You need the other eye on the big disruptive shifts that technology will cause for you and your organisation. I wholeheartedly agree with Heather when she says that we can take some tips from those in tech. Get the new things in beta, test and iterate to improve. Don’t fear that first step.
So, where do we start integrating tech into our working days? There are three key areas in my mind that need to be tackled first: Communication, collaboration, and co-ordination. Aaron mentioned that truly the biggest innovation for our industry has been around communication with tools like Slack and Teams. Endless email chains with the dreaded ‘reply all’ option can suck the time out of the most organised day. How can you use tech to communicate better with your stakeholders on a day-to-day basis?
Then, how can you collaborate better? How do you engage the creative thinking of those scattered in different locations? Those of us working with global or remote teams have always leant on technology to collaborate and think collectively. While rooms bursting full of post-it notes and white boards scribbled with creative ideas are possible when we all work together, the new hybrid world demands different. Check out tools like MIRO and MURAL, can they help you engage the hive mind?
Finally, how can you co-ordinate work better? The tech industry does a great job of working through backlogs and prioritising tasks that will deliver the most value to the end user. Check out Trello, Monday.com and Asana. With all of these smaller wins, identify what’s broken, look at what a good end state might be, then fit the new process, tech or tool to the requirements rather than the other way round.
So, how about our crystal-tech-ball? What are the big things that will transform PR and business in the coming years?
Artificial Intelligence, or as Aaron put it Augmented Intelligence, is already here. AI, where it works well, should underpin everything we do. Your media monitoring provider will use tech to do the heavy lifting for you, automating categorisation, tagging and sentiment at least. Those shiny dashboards won’t do it all for you but they already use cutting edge tech to find content. The trick is then to make sure you focus on the content that matters. Like Rachael said, we can’t have people monitoring coverage and plugging it into a spreadsheet. That’s crazy and soul destroying for the person doing it (although don’t get me started on photocopying and mounting cuttings back in the day). Let the tech do the heavy lifting and then you get to spend the rewarding time applying the insights. Even better, partner with monitoring and measurement experts like CARMA who can provide the insights, but I digress!
Let’s talk about misinformation – where can technology help tackle fake news? Yes, we can educate but even with critical thinking fake news can be impossible to spot. All the places we go to reach our audiences online allow fake news to spread fast and undetected. Perhaps blockchain can help combat disinformation online? Like most tech solutions, it won’t be a magic pill but it may go some way to verifying sources and incentivising high-quality content.
How will VR and AR shape our working lives, blurring the real and virtual? Extended reality (XR) is already here and better devices along with 5G wireless networks will enable big leaps forward. There’s opportunity to engage more deeply with consumers and create more immersive experiences. And who could talk about the future without mentioning Web 3.0 and the metaverse? After all Facebook is betting it’s future on the metaverse. A limitless place where we can interact online as digital avatars. And Web 3.0, known as the decentralised web among other things, will take control away from centralised places and give control to everyone. This will ultimately displace the big tech giants; people will own their own data. Blockchain, AI, Internet of things (IoT) and other technologies will integrate to revolutionise most aspects of our personal and business life. My commitment is to just keep reading, stay informed and constantly understand what and when these changes may be.
As Heather said, PR must be an innovation industry to deliver higher value, more impactful work. Plus that’s where the fun stuff is! Let proven tech take the mundane away, and let’s focus on storytelling, reputation, ESG and the impactful areas where organisations really need us.
I have to finish with Aarron’s perfect soundbite that we need to “change moments in time to movements in time”. These big seismic events interrupt our work patterns and force us to innovate. Let’s use this momentum to make bold moves, along with the smaller wins, to truly embrace what tech has to offer us today and in the future.