Tablets will fundamentally change public relations

August 26, 2010
PR101 on an iPad

But most PR practitioners haven’t even seen yet or used an iPad.

Apple is expected to sell 3.4 million iPads in Q3, while Barclays predicts that tablet PCs will sell 28 million units in 2011. All this spells tremendous opportunity for companies seeking to communicate with customers, investors, employees, and other audiences, as well as the public relations professionals responsible for building and relaying those messages.

The tipping point will occur at year-end, as an onslaught of manufacturers gear up to launch their own iPad-like devices, and marketers, such as Best Buy, make tablets the center point of their holiday retail strategy.

Yet, as the sands shift beneath our feet, I am reminded by Sam Whitmore of SWMS, one of the Gregory gang’s favorite PR pundits, that few if any PR people have ever seen a tablet PC, let alone used one. Sam just completed a fact-finding mission with editors and agency heads, and discovered some pretty interesting trends.

Most poignantly is the media and how they are currently talking more about technology than stories and coverage. In an e-mail Sam sent to his subscribers, Sam made the point that to stay relevant, media are working hard to leverage technology to distribute content. He recently listened as one senior editor referred to his video content not as editorial, but as “product” he must distribute.

Which is exactly the same transition we at Gregory FCA have been planning and preparing for. I’ll admit, I am a print guy from way back, having started my career as a magazine article writer, and think more in the editorial than the visual. (Thank God for my staff, who are more visually oriented and literate than me.)

Tablets will push us even further away from the written word and closer to the visual. As iPad users in my firm (including myself) have discovered, tablets are more about consumption than interaction. iPads lull us into passivity, allowing us to consume news and e-mails, absorb movies and YouTube, time- and place-shift TV programming, view slideshows, check apps, etc.

We don’t interact with our tablets the way we do our desktops. Rather, we check them, use them for the mindless and mundane (they’re great for checking your Fantasy Football team while watching your team live on your living room TV), gleefully engage in a game, or put our minds to rest as if anyone would possibly want or need us at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

This sea change means a lot for the practice of public relations. In order to manage the narrative of our clients, we now have to create stories that are cross platform, capable of being reported in words, or through a YouTube video, or a slideshow, or even an app.

As Mike Lizun here at Gregory FCA continually reminds our staff, you have to start by considering the ultimate placement of the story, be it in print, on a video, on the Web, or broadcast. Where will the story originate? Then populate and grow? And how can we ensure its mushrooming presence on everything from Flipboard to Mashable, Newser to blogs, and ultimately make an impact on Google against our clients’ key search terms? More and more, those platform will include tablets.

In fact, app development, delivery, and penetration now represents the next great frontier of public relations. Apps take our audiences off the Web and into their own private viewing rooms where they can watch, read, and learn without the distractions of the Web.

At the same time, as more media become “appified” (that’s an URL I just bought to articulate this phenomenon), we’re left with the prospects of someday pitching app developers with news about our clients, because they might hold the most direct pipeline to the audience.

As a counterpoint to the tablet sea change argument, I recently had dinner with a Wharton professor who shared with me the school’s apprehension about iPads. You can’t easily print from them, the virtual keyboard makes entering numbers into Excel virtually impossible, and marked-up and annotated documents — the kind MBAs prefer — can’t be easily shared on an iPad.

He suggested the iPad might be a ‘tweener product — ‘tween a computer and a cell phone with no clearly delineated market. But I kind of didn’t hear him. I was too busy checking my iPad.

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8 years 6 months ago

Hi Greg…

In subsequent meetings on this road trip, a couple of PR agencies said, "Oh, the agency bought one and we share it." Uh-huh.

We also were curious to hear that the FT's David Gelles is now moving to NY to cover the media beat. In a recent SWMS editorial teleconference we asked David whether he owned an iPad yet. No, he replied.