Providing guidance in digital, not just adopting shiny objects

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a group of PR and marketing professionals at an IABC luncheon in Phoenix. We discussed mobile technology and how it was changing the way we all have to do business as communicators.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a group of PR and marketing professionals at an IABC luncheon in Phoenix. We discussed mobile technology and how it was changing the way we all have to do business as communicators. For me, it was enlightening to see such a strong – and diverse, business-wise – group of people have such an interest in this area that we're all seeing change on a day-to-day basis, regardless of whether they were media relations pros, people who used paid marketing tools to convey a message, or even internal communications staffers.

What I learned coming out of the session, however, was that those of us working in advisory or collaborative roles with our clients (in-house or otherwise) aren't necessarily always conveying the “why” and presenting the big picture for something as mega-nascent as mobile. No one was terribly surprised at the numbers of iPhone 4 devices sold on the first pre-order day a few weeks ago. Most of the habits of mobile users – texting, browsing, playing games – weren't so shocking either. What really moved the needle was the depth and breadth of technology available – without massive investment in some cases – that could be used to help this group of communicators do their jobs better, reach existing customers and prospects, and build brand awareness in a new venue during a ever-tumultuous time in the media world.

The tough thing about spending so much time in digital for some of us that are PR pros is that the “line” between what was traditionally outside-of-the-box for us and what's currently in our toolkit isn't just blurry – it doesn't exist. It's not out of the ordinary for me to talk about how augmented reality applications might be applicable, or how using QR codes makes for a great call to action in a given week. On top of it all, however, is the location-based space, containing everyone from Gowalla (note: an Allison & Partners client) to Foursquare to Yelp and just about everything in between.

It wasn't so long ago that our hospitality or retail clients were asking us how they could do a better job reining in or communicating with Yelp reviewers. Now, a day doesn't go by when I get one of the following questions, if not both: “How do I get an offer out to everyone who checks in at my restaurant?” or “Can I find out who all these people are that keep saying they're staying at my hotel?”

It's great to get those questions. I consider myself lucky to work with a number of forward-thinking clients who are growing their business in this way. However, the only way it makes sense to keep putting these tools in front of our clients is if we're really explaining the payoff, not just executing on the latest shiny object that's in front of them.

Tom Biro is a Seattle-based VP at Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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