Keep pace with evolution

Using the right medium to get your message across is crucial for tech PR's survival.

Our changing world, particularly the way people and organisations communicate, presents an important opportunity for the PR industry to mature and expand. We need to use multiple tools and techniques to engage with multiple audiences. We should not be afraid of transparency and measurement and we should embrace the challenge of demonstrating how PR can be a strategic tool to achieve tangible goals.

It's almost 50 years since Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian educator, philosopher, scholar and comms theorist, told the world that 'the medium is the message', meaning there is a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. Put more simply - and this is my interpretation of Marshall's wise words - how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate.

At Whiteoaks we're one of the UK's leading technology PR consultancies, with a client list ranging from some of the world's best-known technology brands to start-ups with new technologies or inventions to bring to market.

Technology, by its very nature, is usually cutting-edge and innovative, so for organisations wishing to be compelling, engaging and credible with their target audiences the 'how' - or medium - really is as important as the message.

If an organisation is trying to persuade audiences that it understands and provides the most innovative business process, for example, the entire message will be undermined and devalued if it is delivered using old-fashioned and dated comms tools.

Recently Whiteoaks surveyed more than 150 PR buyers, decision makers and influencers in technology. While 94 per cent still believe that traditional media are a key mechanism for engaging with their end-audiences, almost 82 per cent see digital (or 'social' or 'new') media as an important part of their PR toolkit and more than 50 per cent view independent commentators as a key end-audience influencer channel.

According to our survey, only four per cent of PR professionals in technology companies see achieving coverage in traditional media as the primary purpose of their PR activity, while almost 60 per cent believe the emergence of new ways of creating, publishing and sharing content is decreasing the influence of traditional media. Clients are clearly telling us the tools, channels and techniques PR providers use need to change and that they are just as important, if not more important than, the messages we deliver.

In tech PR we also operate in a client environment where most individuals and all organisations possess strong technical and analytical qualities. This drives a need for transparency. But beyond traditional measurement tools, our survey also told us that more than 98 per cent of our market believe PR can and should demonstrate its ability to influence specific outcomes.

At Whiteoaks we have responded with the recent launch of an approach we call 360 PR. This provides: a total strategic approach to public relations that defines and drives PR campaigns to achieve specific business objectives; a total PR toolkit to engage with multiple audiences, influencing multiple perceptions and using multiple comms channels; total transparency in setting targets and measuring performance, in relation to inputs, outputs and business outcomes, backed by formal service level agreements; and total alignment, to ensure the results we achieve drive the client's defined business objectives.

Our audience is telling us it wants, needs and expects something different from its PR providers. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, 'it's not the strongest of the species that survives ... It is the one that is most adaptable to change'.


Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

Some Like It Hot. We've never been afraid to bring new, innovative and challenging (some might say disruptive) PR approaches to the market. Our new proposition, 360 PR, very much follows this ethos.

Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?

The key attribute for a PRO in our sector is to take often very complex concepts and technologies and communicate them in a way that is easy to understand and links to broader issues. Creating clear and compelling content is a rare and valuable skill and those who possess it have a variety of backgrounds.

James Kelliher is managing director at Whiteoaks.

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