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2017: Tech PR predictions

Why do we feel the need to make predictions about the year ahead? It’s quite a strange habit when you think about it. But here I am again, gazing into my metaphorical crystal ball and puzzling over what 2017 might bring for the tech PR industry.

My predictions started as an amalgamation of the things I’ve started hearing from clients and prospects, conversations I’ve been having with industry influencers and tech PR frenemies and some of the gems I’ve unearthed at events in the latter half of 2016. After this, I’ve hypothesised about how these things might realistically manifest themselves in 2017. So, here goes:

1.    Tech PR takes charge of customer insight

Put simply B2B brands in general, and B2B tech brands in particular, do not know enough about their customers and prospects. This means that B2B tech marketing and sales programmes and messages do not resonate with their audiences as much as they could. This is in stark contrast to the consumer world where brands spend millions of pounds a year on customer insight.

In 2017, things will change. Light bulbs are flickering in the minds of B2B sales and marketing leaders – they’re beginning to know what they don’t know. Thanks to recent evolutions in business psychology and data collection techniques, and the emergence of B2B planners who can turn these inputs into insight, tech PR companies can play a leading role in the collection and use of customer insight.

Early in 2016, we (a tech PR agency) started Aperture – a consultancy employing psychology, data and technology to derive insights into a world previously devoid of insight. It’s too early to claim we’ve changed the world, but our achievements in 2016 bode well for 2017.

2.    Tech PR takes the lead on PR automation

It’s never been more difficult to hire good tech PR people. So why do they spend so much time on low value tasks that could be automated? Big data + machine learning + AI = an incredible opportunity for the whole PR industry, not just tech PR. But it’s likely that those organisations more familiar and comfortable with technology will blaze the trail – and make the mistakes - for the industry.

‘Out’ go the laborious tasks of yesteryear, the impossibility of hiring great talent in ever-increasing numbers and the wastage on admin and reporting. ‘In’ come strategy training early in careers, scaling of superlative people across tasks and more time spent doing ‘PR’.

We’re making a big bet on automation in 2017. And while it certainly won’t be ‘easy’, it holds the potential to finally break the link between scale and personnel in PR, opening up exciting opportunities for the industry.

3.    Tech PR embraces media relations again

Media relations has become a ‘dirty word’ in PR circles over the past few years. In tech PR, we’re seeing an increasingly large number of junior to mid-level job candidates who do not hold their relationships with the media in particularly high regard. That’s crazy.

Yes, insight and strategy are important. Content marketing has huge benefits. Customer reference programmes are critical. I could go on. But clients hire tech PR agencies to get them targeted coverage, to activate marketing programmes and reach a wide range of stakeholders. You only have to see the disaster that ensues when SEO and advertising agencies attempt to engage with journalists to understand that media relations must remain the domain of PR professionals.

I’m not saying that PR is media relations – we all know that’s far too limiting in this day and age. But I am saying media relations is an essential component of contemporary tech PR. As an industry, PR has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. In 2017, this will change and we’ll learn to love and value media relations once again in tech PR.

4.    Tech PR takes centre stage in integrated marketing programmes

Over the past few years, we’ve learned how to participate in integrated tech marketing programmes. And now we’re finally realising that, of all the functional marketing specialisms that exist, PR is in pole position to lead integrated efforts.

In five years, PR will have asserted itself as the lead function within integrated marketing programmes across all markets and sectors. As a result of our superior market and customer insight, inventive storytelling, the further proliferation of channels and measurement tied to business outcomes, PR will be the most important marcomms game in town.

In 2017, and especially in tech, PR will start to take the lead more formally and start to demonstrate the benefits the function can bring. After all, if we’ve grown up learning to successfully engage with the world’s most cynical audience (the press), then working through other channels and going direct should be a walk in the park.

5.    Tech PR growth outstrips the rest of the PR industry

In PRCA research published in 2016, the entire PR industry was expected to continue to grow at a reasonable rate. But two areas are tipped for significant growth: healthcare PR and tech PR.

At the December 2016 PRCA PR & Communications Council meeting, it became clear that many areas of PR – corporate, financial, consumer and industrial – are suffering from intense pressure and a downturn in fees. But tech PR is flourishing.

Heads of tech specialist agencies reported growth levels of above 30% in 2016. Many of us, based on current levels of new business activity, were forecasting the same or more (up to 50% in some cases) in 2017. As the technology market continues to expand at pace, the opportunities have never been better. 2017 promises to be a vintage year for tech PR.