“Always On. Always With. Always Personal”. These three short phrases are often cited as characteristics that differentiate the mobile platform from other media channels. A common-sense evaluation of these statements would certainly back this up. A quick visual survey of any group of consumers would show mobile phones powered up, close at hand and ‘owned’ by a single individual. Underlying these statements, however, are broader issues of how consumers interact with their environment and peers and how they consume information.
What the three ‘always’ statements are really referring to are connectivity, context and content. Mobile phones offer consumers connectivity, whether through voice, messaging or the internet, to their friends, family, peers and the world at large. Since the mobile phone is an essential accessory for most consumers it needs to be thought of in context with what that consumer is currently doing and where they find themselves physically located. While some refer to the ‘personal’ in relation to device choice or how it is accessorized, a deeper reading points to what the consumer does with the device – what they send and receive, what features they use or what information they consume.
A recent opinion piece from MediaPost offered this by way of analysis: “The technology altered the nature of communication, in that case turning email from memo-writing into a real-time thing. Thanks to the mobile Internet, we also expect to have access to the sum total of the collected knowledge and wisdom of mankind in our pockets at all times.” What is said about email is equally true for other mobile communication features such as text and picture messaging, mobile applications and direct response tools such as QR codes. While a rapidly growing marketing and advertising ecosystem has blossomed around the mobile device, the public relations industry, at least in Canada, has been slow to adapt and integrate mobile into its tactical toolkit.
Putting Mobile in Context
Public relations, as laid out by the Canadian Public Relations Society, is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an organization or individual with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding, acceptance and support. This broad definition includes many practice areas such as government, investor, media and community relations, and array of strategic approaches and tactical executions. However, as digital technologies and emerging media such as social media and mobile become more deeply embedded in consumer behaviour, the pressure on public relations practitioners to understand and use these tools increases. Valerie Christopherson, managing director of Global Reach Communications, says, “Mobile marketing does not replace tried-and-true PR activities, such as media relations, event marketing and trade shows. Rather, mobile augments and strengthens all of these outreach vehicles.”
If the use of the term ‘marketing’ by Ms. Christopher ruffles feathers among public relations veterans, it’s worth taking the point of view that her intent was to suggest how mobile can be an effective tool in generating message awareness, acceptance and action. In short, communicating to persuade. However, even that represents a narrow view of mobile’s potential. For the public relations practitioner, mobile needs to be understood as both a technology and a media or communications platform. The technology and communication implications make a strong argument for mobile as a public relations tactic and one that will be increasingly important for measuring public attitudes, driving public understanding and support and creating favourable attitudes among an organization’s stakeholders.
Next we’ll take a look at the mobile landscape and start the discussion of mobile’s role for public relations.
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