Embrace the office techie - their interests often reflect the demands of today's clients

Every office has one: a youngish man or woman, probably with an interesting hairstyle or a T-shirt that's hard to understand, and an iPod so well used that the shiny back side is now matte from scratches.

Every office has one: a youngish man or woman, probably with an interesting hairstyle or a T-shirt that's hard to understand, and an iPod so well used that the shiny back side is now matte from scratches.

Every office has one: a youngish man or woman, probably with an interesting hairstyle or a T-shirt that's hard to understand, and an iPod so well used that the shiny back side is now matte from scratches. These are the people who understand the new technologies at the disposal of the PR practitioner, and speak in a language that their CEO often doesn't understand.

These are the people who used to be described as the geeks in the corner - the ones who do all the "interactive stuff." And yet, to not understand them, to laugh and say, "Oh, we don't really know what she does, but it's all the cool techie stuff," is to admit that one isn't in tune with the demands of today's marketing industry.

And that's nothing to brag about. Clients, we know, are looking for ways to reach consumers who are increasingly less reliant upon traditional media. We also know that clients are not yet sure which of their marketing-services vendors to turn to for this task. And the enlightened few further know that a smart PR firm can make that decision a lot easier for clients by proactively including nontraditional aspects to an increasingly inadequately titled "media plan."

Many agencies are taking steps to embrace new technologies; others say they are in a wait-and-see pattern. This latter position seems illogical given that PR can react more quickly to market change than any other marketing discipline - one only needs to look at the agencies that launched a mad cow practice at the beginning of the decade to see what an anomaly it is for firms not to be well-enough versed on RSS, blogs, vogs, and the "third screen" to take that knowledge to their clients. (For the uninitiated, the third screen is the mobile phone, which is becoming a media/ messaging platform in its own right, after the TV and computer screen.)

Fleishman-Hillard recently formalized what it calls a media-neutral R&D department, calling it the Next Great Thing division. The goal is to "take messaging where it has never gone before." There are two aspects of Fleishman's effort that are encouraging. First, the agency executives involved don't speak about new technologies in wide-eyed wonder; they explain the technology and its potential applications clearly. Blogs, for example, aren't these difficult technological things; they're a media outlet, albeit with slightly altered rules of engagement.

Second, Fleishman backs up the talk with examples already executed for clients, by numerous executives in offices around the world. Case studies are still hard to come by in this nascent technological evolution, so proof of results is a powerful tool.

Led by Alan Rambam in New York, the group clearly is seen as a focus of excitement and interest within the agency. While one can perceive a slight sense of wonder from the very top management levels, the NGT group nonetheless has the full backing of the agency and is portrayed as making a strong contribution to the fabric of the firm and the work it does for clients.

Laughing about not understanding groups like Rambam's will get you nowhere. The geeks in the corner will be the geeks in the corner office before you know it.

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