Mobile World Congress: The greatest show on earth (if you work in technology)

Next week's Mobile World Congress is an ideal opportunity for tech communicators to network and catch up with the industry's latest trends, reports Arun Sudhaman

Mobile World Congress: the stage is set
Mobile World Congress: the stage is set

It is hard to overstate the imp­ortance of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) to the world’s tech communicators. Last year’s event pulled in 55,000 delegates, 46 per cent of whom were director level or above.

On 16-19 February, the great and good of  technology media will make this year’s pilgrimage to Barcelona for the biggest event in the mobile industry calendar, studded with keynote addresses from big names such as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe, and Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, who is hosting the MOFILM Mobile Short Film Festival.

While the days of explosive growth in the mobile industry appear over, the sector still offers considerable potential. Data services remain relatively underused, and the industry is pinning its hopes on the new generation of smartphones and mobile applications. This explains why the MWC is expecting only a minor dip on last year’s attendance levels. In any case, as many attendees point out, the show is more about quality than quantity.

‘It attracts high-quality attendees, and the ability to see everybody in one place is a powerful opportunity,’ explains Bite Communications new business and marketing manager Patrick Danaher. This year’s buzz reflects the extent to which mobile technology now influences everyday life.

‘One of the key themes is how the handset can become the real core of personal entertainment,’ says Sony Ericsson CVP and head of global comms Aldo Liguori.

Blog site TechCrunch UK editor Mike Butcher agrees, pointing out that Apple’s success in cornering the mobile internet market is providing rivals with plenty of food for thought: ‘That will be a major topic of conversation.’

For PROs, the trick is to balance the nuts and bolts of client work with the networking and intelligence-gathering opportunities the MWC offers. ‘It’s a brilliant opp­ortunity for younger PROs to hear the views of the heads of key companies, and get their perspective on the future trends,’ says Weber Shandwick technology MD Michelle McGlocklin.

‘It’s going to be their mobile telecoms boot camp. It gives them huge experience in terms of event management, multi-tasking and media intelligence.’

Butcher points to global mobile community MobileMonday for the most inf­ormative seminars – ‘they don’t have a particular axe to grind’ – and Bite director Steph MacLeod recommends keeping an eye out for ‘the smaller guys, as they have to work harder to attract people to attend’.

Mornings tend to be fuller than afternoons, and Monday is the day when most of the PR announcements take place.
But­cher warns that PROs looking for a shortcut to key bloggers and journalists may be disappointed. ‘They’ll probably be floating around or in some café,’ he says, adding that the city itself tends to merge with the event.

In any case, Liguori points out that planning is a must if you are hoping to benefit from the media opportunities available.

‘Look at the agenda and plan out the top five things  you want to get from the show,’ advises MacLeod.

Or failing that, you could hope that your luck turns at the many after-parties that surround the event. ‘Some of the better
venues are on the beach or literally underground,’ explains Liguori.  ‘The great food and drink in the city is unmissable.’


Some big players and their plans

Specialist areas Handsets, software, music

Expected to use the MWC to give analysts an update in light of disappointing iPhone sales in the current quarter. However, little concrete action is predicted. There was some speculation it might break with tradition and launch an early update to the iPhone 3G, but this is thought unlikely. Outside chance it might get around to launching the iPhone Nano.

Specialist areas PC, handsets
Expected to use the MWC to launch a smartphone, if speculation is to be believed. Several analysts think the PC giant will use the trade show to enter the mobile market. Founder Michael Dell has confirmed the company is exploring the idea, but stopped short of announcing a launch date. Many believe Dell will stick with Windows Mobile, the platform it used for its earlier, discontinued handheld line.

Specialist areas Software, gaming, music

Expected to use the MWC to unveil a major mobile initiative, tipped to be the release of a new version of its Windows Mobile platform. The shift of the business towards Google’s open-source Android operating system has put Windows Mobile under sustained pressure, and several observers think Microsoft will also limit the number of handsets that run Windows Mobile in order to improve performance and integration. Plans are reportedly afoot to introduce touch-screen capability and other technologies.

Specialist areas Handsets

Expected to use the MWC to demonstrate that the company’s mobile division is still alive and kicking. The division is seen as being in disarray, amid crumbling sales and widespread cutbacks, and has unveiled a new pared-down strategy focusing on Google’s Android OS. There is a chance the struggling handset maker may use MWC to show off its first Android line, even though these are unlikely to hit the market until later this year. Either way, analysts agree that the Android range marks make-or-break time for the electronics giant.

Specialist areas PDAs, handsets, software

Expected to use the MWC to vindicate the buzz around its new Pre smartphone. After launching the device at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Palm will be aiming to placate developer concerns about the Pre’s new Linux-based Web OS. The original Palm OS has seen dwindling market share, but it attracts strong programmer loyalty, and already has
an application store better than anyone’s, except Apple. The move to the new OS represents something of a shift for Palm as it takes the battle back to upstart rival Apple.


Why I go to MWC

Hugo Brailsford
Head of mobile telecoms, Weber Shandwick

It’s a fantastic opportunity for clients to build relationships that will convert into business throughout the year, and it’s a
very significant networking opportunity. It frames the industry agenda for the year ahead, and it’s important for clients of all sizes to be part of that conversation. I had been in the agency world for a couple of months when I went to the 2000 show and suddenly I was surrounded by everyone. From that moment on I was hooked.

Giving junior staff the opportunity to go and feel the buzz and excitement is key. This year, every agency’s overriding objective should be giving clients great bang for buck. Classically,

it’s a great place for meeting prospective clients. It is where a lot of the year’s most exciting news gets dropped and you can see it happening in the flesh.

Aldo Liguori
Head of global communications, Sony Ericsson

For us, it is a very important event. It is an industry show, not a consumer one, and as such it gives us the opportunity to speak to all of the key players in the industry in one location. I’m talking about operator customers, industry partners, media and analysts.

The other advantage is it is early in the year and it gives us the first major opportunity to communicate key messages for the year. Most of my time will be spent speaking to media, analysts and partner companies.

I don’t personally endeavour to carry out any fact-finding per se –we have people in-house who do that. For an in-house PRO, it’s important to try to meet as many media people as possible and to pre-arrange opportunities, because I know from the media that they tend to run from one event to another one.

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