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The Changing Landscape, Challenges and Opportunities for Tech Communications in 2021

The Changing Landscape, Challenges and Opportunities for Tech Communications in 2021

[00:00:38] Hello and welcome to Kaizo, live in a quiet parish council. Politics has dominated the headlines and all of our social media sites for them. I can promise you that I may not be Jacki Weaver. And please don’t call me Britney Spears, but hopefully I’ve got some authority to discuss today’s topic. And that is how the past 12 months has changed the world of technology communications. Now, obviously, this is a topic close to many of our hearts. Technology is a sector has fared well due to its very nature and critical role in keeping us all work, communicate and play. Not to mention left, but what impact that had on technology communications teams. How do we all feel with that? And what does the future hold for the rule for any role in tech communications? Well, Kaizo commissioned independent research from Census Y to ask tech leaders in the US and UK these very questions.

[00:01:35] And in the true spirit of Democratic debate, I’m delighted to be joined by three eminently experienced deaths in the world of B2C tech communications.

[00:01:45] Ian Mackenzie, head of communications at Grauwe Corp.. That creates new types of processes to accelerate machine intelligence with an impressive in-house technology experience from fintech company of remet to running in Newcomb’s at Facebook. And I actually started off by spending many years as a BBC News correspondent in both UK and U.S.. Penny Stelle, senior director of Corporate Communications and Yankalilla Network Infrastructure Specialist Juniper Networks Pannovate brings years of experience and communications to our virtual table today, spanning corporate service provider enterprise and channel expertise. So right across borders. And last but not least, John White, senior public relations manager at Western Digital, the storage data storage AIX that John also trained in journalism and marketing before working on technology Kaizo a number of high profile agencies, none of which were Kaizo, I hasten to add before and Housefull and cybersecurity before joining Western Digital. So welcome to you all. Thanks for joining.

[00:02:52] Thank you. Really nice to be here. Yeah, good to be here.

[00:02:57] Excellent. So we’ve had a quick one, and I mentioned the research that we’ve commissioned and the US and UK, and it looked at a number of different factors, really that might have impacted and any changes or acceleration of changes throughout the past 12 months. Perhaps we can kick off by discussing some of the top internal challenges that came through from from the results. And as we would all expect, there were very varied. But I think there were a couple of common themes that we can perhaps start with. Namely, I mean, I saw a few datasets coming through on managing the pace of change and B, that a requirement of comms teams having to figure out pretty quickly how to communicate new business strategies driven by new markets or market changes right through to having to keep on top of a rapidly changing and crowded media agenda. In fact, there were two of the top most prominent challenges that came straight from the respondents. But it also touched on the increasing pressure to be able to measure improve our why, all in a bid to hopefully increase C suite understanding of the value of PR. And then, of course, I’m sure, as we all will know, the challenges around remote management and the increased scope of the work that we’ve all had to do over the past year and how teams have really adapted to managing increasing demands, often from very different and multiple stakeholders, sometimes to support new areas in the business like sales and marketing efforts.

[00:04:50] So my question to you is, how do you think the PR industry has cooked and do you think it’s been particularly challenging within the growing tech sector?

[00:05:03] I think just very practically, one of the things that comes has found itself having to deal with because of covid is some of the work that might have fallen to other parts of marketing, for example, preparing for events which have now become virtual events. So I find myself looking after a lot of filming, putting people in front of green screens, writing sort of thank you remarks and, you know, other comments that might have just been delivered on stage by an executive. And logistically, that’s quite a complex operation, although I would say, you know, using new channels and new methods of communication like that is something that is you know, this is a trend that’s been around for a few years, long before the corporate crisis hit. So if you weren’t thinking about content or content production within comms and if you weren’t thinking about, you know, using social and different ways or even comes using social in the ways the marketing like, for example, so you can target and prospect to measure Ahli, then you’re probably not being forward thinking enough about how you run communications. So I think it’s you know, certainly there are an immediate set of challenges because of covid, but it’s it’s not something that’s happened in isolation in terms of the skills and the approach that’s required to deal with it.

[00:06:35] Yeah, I would agree with that, that actually, I think a lot of the challenges identified in the in the research have been present for a lot of techies is fast moving. I think when it comes to internal comes, the key is, is Mac potentially finding the channel that reaches or that resonates with with stakeholders? It’s important for organisations to provide the tools and infrastructure to do that, but also a culture of kind of collaboration and openness, integration as well. And I think when it comes to balancing stakeholders, developing relationships are important and a challenge that is probably related to creativity. And this is much harder to do in an environment where you’re not seeing and come face to face. And so and that feeds into the remote working as well. And I would say that the challenge around remote working kind of depends on what the organisation was previously doing. If you if you’re used to being in the office with a lot of people on a daily basis, then move to the remote. Working is going to be a shock. But if you’re if you’re used to working with global teams across Europe, across the world and working remotely anyway, then there was probably a smooth transition into the right working.

[00:07:54] Yeah, and I think it’s that that realisation of what you’re saying, if you hadn’t realised this already. Maybe you should have done it. That thought that the communications is the glue for an organisation. So whether it’s internal comms pay or whatever, it is, that ability to still communicate well and be ahead of other people in the organisation who maybe just are not so used to communicating as you are, but then using you using the written word, using using visuals, all of those different things and bringing them together and realising for yourself, but also meeting the expectation within the organisation that you are the you are the professional communicating team and that you are able to help other people through this. And again, as I am saying, kind of diving into those things that you wouldn’t normally do at an event like alive and physical, it is is a rude awakening for those that haven’t already worked that out to to make sure that you are really on top of your game.

[00:08:56] Absolutely, and I also think that’s probably an experience element here, because I think if you’ve been doing that for probably as long as we have, you know, you get this and there’s you know, you’ve done it before. But I think what we’ve seen across the board and had from other people in the industry as well, you have people who might be starting out on their careers and maybe have felt secure about what Pinkham Combs’s all of a sudden they’re working remotely, be installing lots of things and tasks that hang on a minute that haven’t done this before. So I think it’s quite important from an internal perspective to really be making sure that, to John’s point, is this cultural and coaching and understanding that, you know, that that education process and help and support that they might need and always thinking about being at home.

[00:09:54] You think I’m at home? Working from home is easier, right. But suddenly you’re in that space where. And I definitely remember thinking this well, if I were doing this is a life physical event, this would be so much easier, it would be less nerve wracking. Who would have thought of being in your home office when you’re delivering the ten year in, year out, for example, would be that much more difficult when you’re at home? Yeah, really kind of turned on its head.

[00:10:20] Absolutely. And I was I also think, managing expectations of yourself about what is possible. We’ve already said that practically there’s a lot of extra work required around some organising some of these things that that are virtual that might previously have been physical. And as we all know, within CMS, it’s about ruthless prioritisation. You’re never going to have the resources to meet all of the demands that are thrown at you. And in these circumstances, you’re going to have to recalibrate. And, you know, speaking personally, that recalibration is also involved. How do I split half the day with my wife looking after our daughter and doing home schooling as well? And, you know, I would say to people, just go easy on yourself as well. You know, the demands have not gone down and they’ve shot up both personal and professional. And, you know, I see a lot of people, myself included, from time to time, berating themselves for feeling like they’ve done a bad job of it. Well, you know, it’s it’s really tough.

[00:11:29] Yeah, and I think also that I mean, many of us have worked internationally for many years, and I think it’s not that we’ve ever had kind of a nine to five mindset in any way, shape or form, but I think it’s really being far more attuned to that and playing to the opportunities that that can bring as well, especially now.

[00:11:51] And moving on to some of the external challenges that came through. I mean, of course, again, as one would expect to see, the were the economic uncertainty shrinking our media landscape, all the geopolitical forces that last year presented, let’s not go into them too much. And, you know, information overload, disinformation. And they all came through very clearly and both the UK and US and respondants. But what I thought was most interesting is that the number one biggest challenge that was mentioned was that the potential of the tech sector being perceived as a winner from Kofod. So I just thought, you know, how did we as we work in the sector, we have to start good, positive, beneficial stories to tell. But how do we as leaders navigate this and communicate effectively, appropriately and this time.

[00:12:57] FOX Yeah, that one jumped out at me when I was looking through the data as well, you know, sort of when I was a pejorative. Yeah. Look, when I thought more about I thought, yeah, you do actually have to be very careful because of course, you know, without tech and we’re all in the tech business without tech, this lockdown situation would have been so much more difficult. But professionally and personally, I mean, we would be doing what we’re doing right now, for example, but staying in touch with family, all of those things just just wouldn’t be possible. But I think if if you crow about that, if your communications are kind of triumphalist about it and saying, look what we’ve been able everyone to do, it is the wrong tone. So I think always thinking about communicating what you’re enabling other people to do and the end of the technology McLEAR in the B2B space, specifically, what we’re enabling our customers to do for their users and their their stakeholders is appropriate and weighing and choosing every word that you use. But it can be done in a meaningful way. But certainly talking about, you know, it’s been great for us. Not not a good look. Absolutely not.

[00:14:11] I would agree, I mean, this is a first and foremost a human tragedy on an almost unprecedented scale. So it would be immensely crass to be celebrating whether or not it’s helped your business. At the same time, I do think as someone who works in communications, it’s incumbent on you to tell the story of your business in the context of the wider world and also in terms of the trajectory of where that world is heading and something has happened that has changed the context and altered that trajectory. So if you don’t recontextualize and adjust your story accordingly, then you’re not fully doing your job as a comms professional. And I think one of the things that I observed, particularly those of us who work in agencies and have had experience with, you know, a lot of different tech companies sort of passing through your hands, the mistake that a lot of them make is they they try to tell the story of their company and their business and they don’t pay enough attention to the wider world around the tailwinds. What are the things that are going to help and hinder your business? And how do you how do you tie your story into those external factors? And this is just another example of this. You know, you got to look at the corporate world in the corporate world and say, well, how do we adjust our story to make sense of that?

[00:15:42] Yeah, I would agree with that. And I think it it’s also it’s about being informative and not promotion. Thinking back to Penny’s point, without even saying it would be very crass to try and crow about things to do with who is benefiting from that. I think, you know, it links into some of the other challenges identified around growing competition and communications, information overload, increasing disinformation that it’s really important to tell stories that resonate with people, but also providing that evidence and being being informative, not not promotional and telling stories that people want to hear.

[00:16:28] Yeah, I think it’s that general discipline, isn’t it, in the commerce profession of just always reminding yourself what is genuinely newsworthy and typically that outside and it’s very rarely inside out from an organisation thinking, thinking about that. But also when you want to have the points that was made in some of your research and looking at the value of PR at the sea level and how it’s perceived at the sea level, you know, just reminding people what is genuinely newsworthy and from that from that perspective is very important so that that people aren’t just totally focussed on what my organisation is doing. It’s what my organisation is doing for others.

[00:17:11] I think they’re just going to say I think there are aspects of this as well, where it’s it’s focussed people’s thoughts a little bit because technology has been such a big factor. And I think about one example that’s close to us that we for a long time we’ve been talking about artificial intelligence helping accelerate areas like drug discovery and diagnosis of rare diseases. And, you know, talking about that a couple of years ago, it seemed almost abstract about how the world has changed. Now, you know, I think people, you know, fully grasp what it means if you accelerate those processes and why that is hugely consequential. And I don’t think it’s it’s wrong to sort of explain it in that context because, you know, that is is raising up the beneficial role of science, of technology, of innovation.

[00:18:09] Absolutely. And I think that’s an important I mean, we talked a little bit earlier about the demands to help further support sales and marketing teams, but I actually think there’s a huge reputational job to be done.

[00:18:21] And let’s not forget, that is our function today. It’s not just about driving sales. And, you know, we have reputations to protect, protect or projects or change or communicate. And I think that focussing on these benefits but we know we know as professionals, that’s always been absolutely key. And and the way to best communicate what we do, it’s really that the agency has ramped up that.

[00:18:48] And I think that’s actually a positive.

[00:18:52] So we then have to ask them questions around the specific people’s perception, on the specific impact on on the job and the role of being in homes. And again, those are those are pretty mixed response to this. I think that on a positive note. You know, an overwhelming majority, something like three quarters of respondents claimed that they had increased an increased level of board level interaction, with about two thirds claiming the same in terms of they felt that the perceived value of power had increased internally. And we also saw that this increased focus beyond and media was, you know, was very being very well received. And obviously that it’s good to be able to offer that to your organisation. We all know that. And and far more of a role and content creation as part of that was also good. And last but probably not least for many and PR teams is this, you know, the void that was left by a lot of the at the demise of a lot of the physical and passing events was kind of redirected. And the comms teams of came in and said, OK, how else can we use this to, you know, help create really good storylines for virtual events or demand? And so that’s that’s helping in a positive kind of consolidated move for many teams in the UK and US. But what also came through were some really quite concerning responses around kind of stress and mental health. So there was in both markets, you know, increased stress over a long term job security, even in tech and negative impact on work life balance. You know, two thirds actually had claimed that they were mental health and that of their teams had suffered. And although I should note, that was markedly higher in the US than the UK and but still some some pretty big figures about negative mental health impacts there. Given that mixed response, you know, I’d like to get your thoughts on what you think the future role of a tech professional look like and what what can we do as a senior leaders to ensure that we’re really setting ourselves, our teams and our organisations up for success moving forward?

[00:21:29] Well, it’s an interesting question. I think I would go back to your point, Steph, about, you know, there are six across so many areas of the business. You built the reputation level and you’ve got the support of sales and marketing. I think I’m lucky enough to work in realisation of the value of PR is there is value highly. And I think that goes hand-in-hand with moving beyond just earned media in talked earlier about the age internally, internally, communicating the results and aligning with sales. And I think as as you move beyond the media sponsored content, video content, influencer marketing PR has over the last few years become much more of an integrated discipline. I think it needs to to to show that value. But I mean, along with that does go right to greater work, greater skills. And I think the mental health space is obviously concerning. Lockdown is a hard balancing, working with everything else and working from home, although there may be a perception when when you don’t do it, you get rid of it. It’s it’s easier. It’s hard. You know, you’ve got you don’t have that differentiation from from work and home life. It’s important to have a supportive employer, some team. But it’s also about personal discipline, I think, as well, making sure you take your final funding as as leaders. I think we need to we need to recognise that and support in the way we want to be supportive of it.

[00:23:04] Yeah, I think it’s that that sort of living living at work rather than working from home contemplation, isn’t it? And the people who manage teams within the comms profession, the onus is on us, on them to to make sure that we all know you’re listening to your employees and that you are taking time to to to really make sure that workloads and balance is there. Again, it’s down to the employer, the regime to work as well that they get that right. So you feel as a leader, as a manager, that you’re working within that capability. But I do think as well that the working from home culture is perhaps a little bit more prevalent in the UK than it is in the US. And in my experience, working for US and companies that I think a lot of UK folk found it just a little bit easier to that just to stop the idea of working from home and that the discipline, the self-discipline and making sure that you felt you were in a kind of professional space came just a little bit more. It might have done in the US in some cases. So I think not that we’ve had it easier, but I think it’s just been just a little bit more reasonable for us to to to kind of find our stride in that, but still put on a kind of a professional from day in, day out.

[00:24:28] I first of all, on the mental health and wellbeing issue, I’ll be eternally grateful that I work for a company that showed the understanding that mine has for the needs of its employees in this time, particularly those that that had to look after children. But obviously, there are other people facing other pressures and of course, being absolutely amazing with its staff. And that’s the sort of thing that builds employee loyalty as much as as much as anything else, I think, on the comms point of view. I think the companies that fare well are the ones that comes up the, you know, at the centre or involved in at the top of the company, because CMS helps formulate the stories that define companies. And if you’re if you take the other approach, which many do, that comes as a sort of execution function at the bottom of the of the tree. You know, you hand them the product information or whatever else you want in the write up a press release and send it out. First of all, your shoes, the underutilising, your comms resource. But also I think your you’re not setting yourself up well in a world is to a dynamic, you know, commerce. People are very good at looking at changing circumstances, you know, adjusting the perspective, adjusting the way that the company talks about it. And if you want to help a company be nimble and respond in changing times, then talk to your comms people because they’re pretty good at thinking on their feet and and reconfiguring, you know, how you talk about and how you position yourself. It’s not just an execution function. That’s a terrible waste.

[00:26:28] Absolutely, I think that hopefully kind of natural, natural talent in terms of agility and not fast thinking and adaptability, hopefully, as it is all in reasonable stead throughout this period, but not without its challenges. And I’m aware of time. So last but not least. Quick question for you. And I would like to know what you think your biggest professional lesson is from the last 12 months and what you think the biggest change that we’ll see in the next 12 months will be in terms of telcoms. So maybe I can start with Penny.

[00:27:10] Yeah, I think it plays back for me something Ian said right at the beginning of the conversation relating to using new tools and being, you know, having new expectations on you and how you use those tools. So you are the director, you are the person, and you’re still expected to deliver a slick event online. So definitely for me, that has been my biggest learning over the 12 months. You know how to do that myself. Also how to equip my team to feel competent in doing that.

[00:27:39] Hey, John. Yeah, I would say I mean, a couple of things on the lessons, the importance of the environment you work in, I think, you know, like. I’m very grateful to the company I work for and support in the situation. And I always say the other thing I’ve really, really noticed, actually, having only been in the role a short, short amount of time longer than we’ve been in lockdown is the importance of informal conversations and communications in time that you just don’t get so easily when you’re working remotely. And actually, that’s that’s where some great ideas and knowledge come from. And yeah, I mean, in terms of the biggest change, I mean, hopefully, will we go back to seeing people face to face over the next year? But I would say I probably expect to see more a gradual evolution of some of the practises that we’ve seen a worked over lock down, integrated hopefully into us going back into the office and into that certainly.

[00:28:46] And in yeah, I think I would say in terms of the lessons, again, finding a company that sort of respect you and supports you through times like this, I think for most people being flexible, you know, I think there is a tendency sometimes to turn to the tools and the techniques that have been around, you know, frankly, for a very long time and can be very conservative. And I think the world is changing very quickly. We live in tech, which, of course, is the fast, most fast moving of all fields. So why be wedded to a set of very traditional ways of doing things so, you know, as often as possible rip it up? And I think in terms of what I’d like to see, I think there’s a huge and maybe be positive. There’s a huge bank of trust has been built up between employees and employers around the way they work, their sort of dedication to the company, flexibility. And I’m really interested to see what we do with this afterwards. You know, little adjustments like, you know, what does it mean if you only have to turn up in the office three days a week or four days a week? You know, suddenly that changes the way we think about where we live and how we commute. And the more that you can, you know, make, you know, find work life balance, I think people are going to a completely different relationship with their employers. And tech can be quite transactional. People come and go quite often. And I know I’d be really interested to see if we see people sticking around for longer because, you know, companies have finally got that balance right.

[00:30:33] I think there’s some great points there, and I think, you know, I think the discussion in terms of both acceleration of existing factors and changes pre covid and along with some of the longer term impacts, which I think are to your points, can be very positive for us all moving forward and not just in tech, but certainly in the type of industry we’re well set up to to embrace that. And so thank you so much for for joining this afternoon and great discussion. We will actually be discussing a couple of more things from the research on the twenty of February for those who are interested and or some other participants in the panel.

[00:31:23] And we will also be publishing some details of the research in PR Week, both in the UK and US editions that same week. So with that, all that remains for me to say is thank my amazing guests again today and to remind you that this episode and all our previous shows are available on our website and on the Disruptive Live. So thank you very much. See you on the twenty third.