A Q&A with WE Communications' Laura Gillen

As senior director for WE Communications and a global lead for tech, Laura Gillen provides PRWeek with some valuable insight into the exciting opportunities 5G will bring to the communications industry

In a world where speed is everything, 5G seems to be the answer. And in the world of communications, the expectations for 5G are high.

As senior director at WE Communications and a global lead for tech, Laura Gillen is responsible for a number of WE’s clients in the UK and internationally.

With 5G on the horizon, Gillen explains why it will become a huge enabler for content, and how brands’ ability to use tech responsibly should always be in line with their consumers’ expectations.   

Working in communications, what is it about 5G that excites you for the future of technology? What is it that 5G allows us to do that we haven’t before? 

Faster speeds and lower latency will create a step-change in how brands can communicate with their audiences. It’s going to mean content can be served more quickly, in a more customised way, with the results analysed in real-time. Personalisation will be one of the most significant benefits: over time we should see the end of brands blasting out one-size-fits-all messages, when the technology increasingly exists to target people in ever more specific ways.

As well as helping content to travel more quickly and accurately, 5G is going to broaden the scope of how comms is executed: from bringing ideas to life through virtual reality to reaching really niche spaces through blogs or new IPTV channels.

Is there anything about the future of 5G that rings alarm bells or that you think could be widely misused? 

The bottom line with 5G is that it’s going to mean more data flowing, more quickly; so as ever there will be concerns about privacy and transparency. Cybersecurity will need to keep pace with the step-change that 5G creates, and brands need to be up-front with their customers about what data they are sharing – and why – to give them the best possible experience. 

As a communications company, how do you think you’ll put those fears out of consumers’ minds? 

Consumers are increasingly sophisticated in their appreciation of technology and data privacy. They understand there is a give-and-get element when it comes to sharing personal data to access services. The important thing is to be as clear as possible about what data is being collected and for what purpose – allowing customers to make informed decisions about what they are and aren’t comfortable with. Our recent Brands in Motion 2019 global study revealed that 92% of respondents said they would stop using a product or service if it was using consumer data unethically, and 97% agreed that companies have a responsibility to use technology ethically. For brands, it comes down to being honest, open and transparent. 

From a crisis management point of view, how can tech brands and communications companies learn from past security mistakes? 

Crisis management always comes down to the same principle: rapid identification of the problem and then quick and clear communication about what has gone wrong and what is being done to put it right. Companies (rightly) get into trouble when they make too many decisions on behalf of the customer and fail to be transparent about how data is being used. Taking the customer for granted is always going to be a mistake in the long run. The mistakes to avoid are moving slowly, failing to be sufficiently transparent and trying to provide reassurance without substance. 

Does the desire for faster everything mean we’re setting ourselves up for failure in the future?

I don’t think so. We should always aspire to better, faster technology, at the same time as being realistic about potential pitfalls. The fundamental promise of technology to make our lives easier and more enjoyable hasn’t changed; but we do probably have a more nuanced appreciation of the downsides. The important thing is not to get trapped into a simplistic narrative about technology as either hero or villain. Ultimately, tech is what people make of it.  

What changes do you hope 5G will bring to the technological ecosystem moving forward? 

I hope 5G will help fulfil the promise of a seamless digital life, with next-level infrastructure that turns connectivity into something akin to a utility. And I think it’s incredibly exciting that we are moving into a world of greater personalization, which could have hugely beneficial effects across multiple industries and indeed in our everyday lives. 



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