Is technology destroying your PR brain?

“When I see a bunch of people sitting round looking at their smartphones or, tragically, a couple on a date, it’s easy to demonise personal electronic devices.” These are the words of Peter Lawlor, dean of skills academy The Hub at PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies. So should we be afraid of our little electronic helpers, or should we champion them?

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that people were fearful of old-fashioned, brick-like mobile phones, as Lawlor illustrates: “I’m old enough to remember being mocked loudly in the street by a bunch of youths just for calling on a mobile. (Their chant of ‘yuppy, yuppy, yuppy yuppy!’ will date the incident nicely).”

Brain enablers?

Lawlor is convinced that we have nothing to fear from the march of technology, and it is not interfering with how PROs work. He says: “I’m a facilitator and trainer and I see no evidence that smartphones, tablets, etc., have had any negative effect on people’s memory or mental performance. In fact, the opposite is often the case: being able to deal with an issue, on the move, is both efficient and good for your stress levels.

“In a world of 24/7 news PROs need to have the ability to monitor, connect and respond 24/7. The key is to be mindful. Being able always to be ‘on’ doesn’t mean that we should be. (And, personally, I never want to be ‘connected’ on a plane. There has to be somewhere they can’t reach you). “Lawler is an advocate of practicing mindfulness, to help develop resilience and to get your mind in the right frame, he suggests visiting GetSomeHeadSpace.

Or brain destroyers?

It is important to rule our devices, rather than let them rule us. Michael Hartt, director international affairs/corporate and brand, at PR firm Burson-Marsteller says that the challenge is to recognise the advantages and drawbacks of our technology. Discussing the good points he says: ““Researching a client, understanding audience sentiment or gathering ideas to develop a campaign is easier than ever before. We manage communities from our mobiles and track down reporters via an app.”

However, Hartt says accessing information isn’t the same as understanding it: “This un-ending flow of information available at the touch of a key can cause us to narrow down what we read, analyse and understand. We search for articles or social media content on a specific topic, without always fitting them into the wider news, political or business agenda. In an industry that is built on spotting trends, making connections and taking advantage of the zeitgeist, our devices give us information, but we need to remember to keep fully informed.”

To stop our devices being a crutch, rather than a support, Hartt says it is important to use them in the right way: “For me, the challenge is less in preserving our spelling and grammar abilities, or keeping mental track of a diary, although that matters, and more about ensuring we use our devices to consume a wide and varied diet of media and ideas.”

When it comes to creative thinking, Helen Campbell, co-founder of agency Campbell Brown PR, believes that new technologies are bad for PROs: "Being creative and writing well can certainly be hindered by electronic devices. Not least because we are all so distracted, but also because some of the best ideas involve all of the physical senses: as far as I know you cannot yet experience the sense of smell via your smart phone, and a touch phone is not actually a very tactile object.

“When we run creative brainstorms with clients we consider sight, sound, taste, touch and smell as part of the creative process. An effective campaign makes people feel and experience something, so let's step away from the laptop and access our emotions not our emoticons."

View from the CIPR

Koray Camgoz, public relations and policy officer, CIPR, discusses the impact of digital media on how PROs work today:

“The digital age has presented a series of both challenges and opportunities for the public relations profession. The art of conveying a key message to an audience through writing has been a fundamental aspect of the public relations activity, since the industry’s inception in the early 1900s.

“Successful communicators have always demonstrated the ability to articulate themselves coherently through their writing. Indeed, written communication skills have traditionally been regarded as the most essential prerequisite for aspiring practitioners.”

“The impact of digital and social media has made a revolutionary impact on the communications industry, but the emergence of a generation of practitioners who’ve grown up with social media presents the industry with a series of key challenges.”

“As individuals seek to communicate with greater speed and brevity than ever before, the English language is increasingly threatened by the risk of dilution. High standards of written communications are essential to the success of the PR industry and must be protected.”

“Yet as much as traditional writing skills play a prominent role in public relations, the rapid evolution of the digital landscape has created a demand for new forms of written communication.”

“The immediacy of digital media means that practitioners are expected to respond to challenges and crises in real-time. Modern communicators no longer have the luxury of time afforded to practitioners of previous generations.”

“As a consequence, modern professionals are now required to communicate more concisely and quicker than ever before. This is a new skill and one communicators need to develop in order to succeed in the modern environment.”

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