The Changing Landscape, Challenges and Opportunities for Tech Communications in 2021 – UK perspective
For this Kaizo Live, we hosted a panel of senior technology communications leaders in the UK to discuss findings from Kaizo commissioned research in the US and UK, looking at factors that have impacted the industry in the past 12 months and the biggest challenges expected in the year to come.
The expert panel included host Kaizo Director Steph Macleod, Iain Mackenzie, Head of Communications at Graphcore, Penny Still, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for EMEA & CALA at Juniper Networks and Jon White, Senior Public Relations Manager for EMEA for Western Digital.
Our survey found that internal challenges facing technology communicators include managing the pace of change, increasing pressure to improve ROI, increasing demand from different stakeholders, as well as the challenges of remote team working and figuring out how to communicate in a rapidly changing and clouded media agenda.
When answering how the PR industry has coped in the growing tech sector, our panelists agreed that communications has had to deal with a lot due to the pandemic, particularly the technology sector which has been so fast moving. Communications is the glue which holds an organization together, thus the ability to communicate well is a huge priority for businesses, internally and externally. The increase in expectations and demand for communications has increased significantly over the past year, as holding virtual events creates extra work and has its own set of challenges than if the event were being held physically. It was noted by the panelists that the need for a recalibration and a supportive work environment has become highly valued, especially during such an unprecedented time.
The external challenges for tech communicators identified by our research included economic uncertainty, geopolitical factors, the issue of misinformation and information overload. In particular, it was noted that the biggest challenge for the tech sector was being perceived as a winner in the context of the pandemic. When asked how leaders navigate this appropriately during this time of flux, our panel agreed that tech comms needs to be very careful about tone and the wider context when communicating triumphs and successes about their business.
Of course without technology, lockdown would have been significantly more difficult, both professionally and personally. Hitting the right tone in regards to what the organisation is enabling its users to do through meaningful communication is key. There is a need for communicators to recontextualise and adjust the story of the company accordingly, to fit with the wider global context in order to deliver meaningful messages that really resonate with people.
The panel also discussed the role of tech communicators over the past year and the specific impacts they have had. Our survey found that three quarters of respondents reported an increased level of board interaction, two thirds perceive the value of PR has increased internally, as well as helping to identify concerns around negative mental health and stress in the sector. When asked what senior leaders can do to help set up the role of a tech comms professional for success, the panel agreed that a supportive and balanced work environment is key, especially as we are ‘living at work’ as opposed to working from home.
PR has become an integrated discipline over the past few years and sits across so many areas of the business, including communications, reputation management, influencer marketing and supporting sales and marketing teams. Also with the void of physical events teams over the past year, companies are relying on the PR professionals to create messaging around virtual events, thus creating greater work, the need for greater skills, proving the significant value of the profession. The panel also notes that companies that fare well place communications at the core of the business, as opposed to just an execution function.
Finally, our host asked the panel what their biggest professional lesson has been in the past 12 months and what they are expecting to see as the most significant change for tech comms this year. The panel again emphasised the need for support and flexibility from employers when transitioning back into the workplace. In terms of the year ahead, panellists expect to see the continued evolution and uptake of new working practices that were put into place during the lockdown period, such as the use of new tech tools and applying these to create slick virtual events for example. It was noted that communications in itself can still be conservative in nature, but due to the rapidly changing world and the thriving tech sector, communicators should be encouraged to try new ideas and push the envelope.