Has there ever been a more perfect PR topic than the smartphone?

If you work in PR you get used to seeing the same themes cropping up year after year (cloud, anyone?), and while they are not quite old-hat for us PR bods, we are certainly becoming very well-versed in them indeed. What it means in reality is that a lot of people are talking about the same thing and the same issues, so you have to work extra hard to come up with more creative and proactive ideas for clients.

But smartphones, well, they are just the gift that keeps on giving. Recent news from Ofcom shows they are more popular than ever with internet use on smartphones growing seven times faster than on laptops and desktops. And in a business sense, they are now deemed the most important tool for running a business. Smartphones are also one of those rare B2B technologies that actually cross the business-consumer divide which makes them even more interesting to readers. So, although it sometimes feels like every business in the world is talking about smartphones and mobile devices (they probably are), their ubiquitous nature means there is always plenty of stuff for us PR folk to talk about.

Being so pervasive therefore results in the vast majority of our PR content and campaigns having a strong mobile angle. It also further opens up areas we can talk about because smartphones are so important to the business world. As a result, they give rise to lots of other, linked issues like data security; which is a shape-shifting constant companion of the smartphone. As smartphones continue to get harder, better, faster, stronger, the issues constantly change – which for PR purposes is great, as it gives rise to emerging topics such as second-screening.

Smartphones are one of those technologies that we all here at Spark personally use on an hourly basis so we can get even more excited about them than normal (and we get excited about the weirdest technologies, let me tell you). The beauty of mobile is that it has so many facets we’re never short of something to say about it; like whether consumers prefer mobile apps or mobile websites, the average number of workers using their own smartphones, thesecurity of mobile wallets, or the importance of a mobile first strategy.

So, after my paean to that perfect PR technology, it does beg the question – what’s next? Will Google Glass be the next indispensable business tool, will devices we can swallow become the next omnipresent technology or will driverless cars be the de facto vehicle on driveways around the world? Whatever the answer, it’ll certainly be fun finding out and we’ll no doubt have plenty to say about it too.

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Former FT journalist, Tom Foremski, recently wrote a piece asking if PR can be automated? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher of an article that compares how the media industry ‘has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and forced to adopt new media technologies (has it, has it really?), with PR’s apparent lack of technological prowess.

The basic premise is that PR doesn’t use technology to further itself and that PR’s use of technology extends only to ‘a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares’. The upshot of which, according to Foremski is that PR can’t grow because it can’t scale; in essence, PR growth means hiring more people. Foremski thinks this is a problem that makes PR companies vulnerable as they can’t ‘automate the technologies of promotion’. Now that’s a phrase – automate the technologies of promotion. I don’t know about you but I’m picturing I-Robot-esque rows of fresh PRobots ready to bash out a press release.

Let’s look at that then, writing a press release. The much maligned and unloved press release that despite its own bad press is still a valuable PR tool that both journalists’ and PRs’ alike make use of. To write a good press release, you need knowledge of your client, the industry, issues affecting the industry, product knowledge, technical and often complex knowledge, and the ability to tell a story, the ability to know what resonates with human beings. You need nuance. Machines and technologies don’t understand nuance, which you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever tried to edit a document in Microsoft Word.

So I have to ask, is it such a bad thing that PR can’t grow unless more people become involved? Lest we forget the P in PR stands for public. It is all about people after all – on both sides of the fence, those communicating and those listening. The PR world is too often accused that it’s a clone-like, drone-like industry that churns out the same out old stories that aren’t either interesting or newsworthy. Would technology do a better job? People tell stories, not machines. Besides, as any PR knows, we already have enough trouble trying to answer the ‘what do you do for a living’ question. I don’t want to have to start throwing automate the technologies of promotion in there as well.

Dear journalism, we still need you. Love from, PR.

I recently read an article by Ian Burrell bemoaning the prospects of the journalism industry, arguing that it’s slowly being killed off by PR itself – he’s by far the first to make this claim. Referring to the ‘churnalism’ of Nick Davies’ infamous Flat Earth News, Burrell argues that the tempestuous love/hate affair between journalism and PR is only getting worse as large corporate organisations are now bypassing journalism altogether, and going direct to their ‘publics’ with a vast array of homemade content delivered straight to the customer themselves. And in doing so, he asks the question, does PR still need traditional press?

In a word, yes.

Burrell uses the examples of large, cash-rich organisations like Mishcon de Reya as prime suspects in this journalism-circumventing trickery, and whilst Mishcon are creating a huge amount of (actually very innovative) content, this kind of activity is far from the norm for the majority of PR campaigns. It’s a cold, hard fact that few clients of PR agencies have hundreds of thousands to spend on creating flashy video and native advertising, what they really want is the most bang for their buck. And that buck, literally stops somewhere; funds are tightly managed and budgets may often be limited. This means that PR must not only be creative, but maximise every possible opportunity for influential editorial (un-paid) coverage – and doing that means you have to know what journalism and journalists want.

Way back when, one of my excellent university tutors advised us all to read Flat Earth Newsbefore any other of the weighty tomes recommended for the course. He was adamant in telling us green, keen PR kids that we should steer as far from this kind of PR as we possibly could if we wanted to be trusted consultants to clients and forge strong relationships with the press. He was of course right and his words have stuck with me. And while I can’t argue away that there’s a lot of bad PR out there, by the same token, there’s a lot of bad journalism too.

When all is said and done, PR and journalism still need each other; even if more content is being created by companies and PR agencies themselves. Content still needs disseminating, and the best way of doing that is through trusted and influential media. Hard-won editorial coverage in a national paper or key trade publication trumps native advertising on Buzzfeed any day of the week. I think Ian Burrell is actually somewhat undervaluing ‘traditional press’. To many people, both clients and consumers, it still has a huge amount of influence and value and remains a key factor in PR activity. Don’t worry too much just yet, Ian. We may not always get on, but we don’t want to see you going anywhere.

Google Pluses and Minuses

Most of us probably can’t imagine a day without Google, but how about the poor cousin of its portfolio, Google+? I’ve always had an interest in G+, even having faithfully signed up back in the early days when it was an invitation-only ghost town. I’ve dutifully updated my profile when required, made myself login every week to look active and shared the odd article. But I confess I forget it is there most of the time – what with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, my social network cup runneth over. So I’ve taken a little time to reacquaint myself with G+ and have a closer look at it.

G+ does seem to be getting more popular, so what’s driving it? Well, Google being Google, its making it virtually impossible for businesses who want an SEO presence (and let’s be honest, what business doesn’t) to not be on G+. Additionally, G+ is now increasingly used for authorship verification, meaning you need to be on it if you want to share content/make comments etc. In fact, just this week Google has announced that it is changing the YouTube comments section to be powered by G+. You will now need a G+ account to comment on YouTube and G+ will even decide the relevancy of your comment – unsurprisingly, if you’ve a strong G+ profile, your comment has more chance of being boosted above others. This is a move sure to drive even more G+ take up.

There is a mix of personal and private on G+ with company pages equally as prominent as personal profiles, which integrates nicely with the search results of course. G+ has a very smooth and clean interface which is easy to use, especially if you’re already a user of other Google products. It’s easy to re-share and to +1 (‘like’ stuff, in Facebook lexicon), which means content has a good chance of being seen by more people. Advertising is less noticeable, which makes a nice change from the other big three social networks increasingly aggressive ad strategies. You don’t even need to leave your hashtags behind on G+ as they are as much a feature of the site as on Twitter.

So all in all, I’d say G+ looks nice, feels nice, is easy to use and has some good features. But the biggest reason for being on G+, particularly if you work in technology PR? Well, with the increasingly integrated nature of digital communications and technology PR, you’re going to miss out by not being on it. G+ is becoming an increasingly important part of good SEO practice and Google’s drive towards independently curated editorial content. You’ll find many publications on there, whatever your sector; from big business to niche verticals – lots of journalists, analysts and commentators too. Finally, as it grows clients are going to be asking about G+ sooner rather than later, so now is the time to get familiar with it. So, I’m giving G+ a +1, what do you think?