Without a doubt, 2020 was one of the toughest years for many people and businesses in Europe and virtually anywhere across the globe. Compared to other industries, like hospitality and travel, technology and technology PR sectors have held up relatively well.
If you are working in or managing PR in Europe, this blog is for you. The following 8 tech PR trends and predictions will help you take advantage of the opportunities whilst taking into account some of the challenges ahead.
This blog will provide European and country-specific insights into changes in PR and the media last year that are expected to continue in 2021. I asked tech PR leaders at independent agencies from Belgium, France, UK, Germany, Denmark and Sweden to share their views on the things – both the good and the bad – that they expect to impact the way technology companies do PR in the next 12-24 months. [Bonus: At the end, we have a list of hot topics that these PR experts think will grab a lot of media attention this year]
PR Trend #1: Huge opportunity for B2B technology companies to get featured in the mainstream media
Last year, the technology sector had the opportunity to demonstrate how its innovations and solutions could help manage, improve and solve some of the imminent social, health and economic challenges. As a result – and with the right messaging – tech companies earned a spot in mainstream media. Natacha Favry, founder at tech PR agency L’AgenceRP from France, expects that this is not a temporary put a permanent change. B2B tech is no longer that ‘somewhat irrelevant’ sector with complex stories.
“In 2020, we noticed that in France more mainstream media were really starting to talk to B2B technology companies. B2B tech has surfaced to be one of the factors impacting societies, helping companies and people to change and manage challenging times like the pandemic. This is a huge opportunity for PR. Firstly, because the journalists have a better understanding of technology and how it relates to topics they write about. And secondly, PRs have the opportunity to help business and newspaper reporters build stories using insights from tech specialists.”
Tilo Bonow, founder and CEO at Berlin-based leading tech agency in Europe, PIABO PR, added: “Informative communication is still an important element for technology PR. Many concepts are known as buzzwords but have very complex functioning. As it is the case for artificial intelligence (AI) or cryptocurrency. Here, good PR must not only reach people but also provide solid and easy-to-understand explanations. Especially when it comes to innovative solutions.”
PR Trend #2: Data-driven communications will continue to be used in and valuable for media articles
Due to the pandemic, we’ve seen and consumed more data, consistently, than ever before. For example, the number of positive tests, the reproduction number and other indicators modelling the situation and spread. This might have boosted the use of data in communications in general.
“We’ve seen and implemented a lot more data-driven communications recently. Less guessing and more focus on hard facts,” explained Catarina Wigen, Head of Tech at Springtime-Intellecta from Sweden. “Companies who are able to communicate relevant, insightful data consistently, will be rewarded with trust and expert status by media and beyond.”
“And here in France, there were great examples of (tech) companies helping to manage local restrictions or providing critical insights using open data sources from the government. This has really proven the value of data and tech to understand, cope with and communicate about challenging circumstances,” added Favry from L’AgenceRP.
PR Trend #3: Communications around funding and IPOs will require a more focused and value-driven approach to grab headlines
From a business perspective, we saw a fair amount of technology companies outperform their quarterly and annual goals last year. In addition, many tech companies secured large funding rounds and went public. Across Europe, the media is starting to get pickier in terms of which funding rounds or IPOs they cover. Here are two views that could help you stand out.
Wigen sees value-driven communications as a key differentiator that is also increasingly relevant for investors. “Communicating clearly about company values and culture is what can really set a brand apart and provide value for various aspects of the business. For attracting and keeping talent and emotionally connecting with consumers for example. Even investors are now showing signs of becoming more and more value-focused. In Sweden, some of the big capital fonds have turned away commercially attractive investments in companies that have a questionable value ground – for instance, companies within the gambling industry. For brands, this means an increased focus on clarity in terms of who they are and what values they pertain.
“IPOs and M&A-activities in tech have reached an extremely high level in Denmark. A very successful IPO by Penneo in June 2020 paved the way for multiple IPOs. And I am sure that more are coming in 2021. We recommend tech companies that are planning an IPO, to plan carefully. Spend enough time building interest among large investors in the lead up to the IPO. PR could and should play a key role here. And be prepared for a lot of publicity the second the IPO announcement goes out. Last but not least, make sure you have the spokespeople and other PR resources available to benefit fully from that momentum,” said Jakob Kemp Hessellund, Partner at tech PR agency Kemp & Kjær based in Denmark.
PR Trend #4: There is no one-size-fits-all approach when doing media relations virtually. Understanding local media dynamics is a must
The pandemic brought change to technology PR. The interactions between PRs and media went 100% virtual. As a result, we all found ourselves video conferencing every day. And journalists have mentioned repeatedly, that they really had to get used to not being able to go out to events and tradeshows to get their stories. Take note of some of the country-specific changes to doing media relations – both the up and downsides – to get the most out of your PR activities going forward.
James Carter, founder of International tech agency Touchdown, explained that going virtual didn’t start off smoothly. “PRs have tried to replace press meetings at trade shows with virtual events – but early attempts at the virtual press event format have proven to be awkward, clunky and ineffective. Vendors who want to use PR to engage with media influencers need to rethink how they approach virtual events and listen to feedback from the media to fine-tune how they engage virtually in 2021 and beyond.”
Carter continued: “This is more of a behavioural change than an innovation, but 2020 has definitely been the year when video conferencing became a mainstream, everyday activity for everyone. Before lockdown many of us would have kept our cameras turned off or perhaps felt slightly uncomfortable at seeing ourselves on screen. Fast forward to 2021 and we’ve all got over our video hang-ups, and virtual meetings are here to stay. Whilst there is no substitute for face to face interaction, video conferencing has proved it’s an excellent alternative – and I suspect organisations’ travel budgets will be significantly reduced because of it.”
“With interviews now happening virtually by default, it is often much easier to find an appointment. As the German publishing houses are not based in the same part of the country, in-person interviews obviously required some logistical arrangements that we no longer need to take into account. Many processes run more smoothly now that they are being digitalized,” said Web & Tech agency founder Freddy Staudt from Germany.
“In PR, it is generally of importance to build long-lasting relationships with media partners, so that during a crisis, you still have contacts you can trust, and you can reach out to. Editorial houses, large or small, are still affected by the pandemic. As a result, some are working with reduced hourly rates or having to handle a higher volume of work. Because of that, arrangements and enquiries sometimes take longer. And journalists need tailor-made interview offers and stories that suit them. Companies who still send out tons of press releases will not get far. I assume that the workload will ease after the crisis. But I am sure that journalists will remember the organisations and PR professionals who delivered the best content and knew what was important,” added Bonow.
Favry agrees with Bonow. “French reporters need to write more articles and we’ve also seen a reduction in the size of the editorial teams. On top of that, media lunches and social events used to be a very common and efficient way for French media to meet with multiple vendors at once. Clearly, that is not an option any more. This means we – as PR professionals – need to be respectful of the pressure on reporters and be short and to the point when we engage with them.”
Hessellund has also seen a mixed impact the pandemic had on media relations in Denmark. He explained: “The media appears to have benefited. Last year, the number of paying subscribers to quality media has increased overall. For PR that’s extremely important. One of the biggest objectives of PR is to get journalists to write independently (unpaid) about your clients or organization. This improvement in subscription revenue resulted in healthier media business models, and fewer publications that rely on native advertising to survive.”
“On the other hand, the Danish media is still cutting costs in general and journalists are busier than ever. So being well prepared, having relevant press material available, and knowing who is covering specific topics is absolutely key today. When times get tough, focus on getting the PR basics right,” Hessellund added.
PR Trend #5: Podcasts will start to play a more important role in digital PR strategies
The popularity and use of podcasts have been growing in recent years. According to Grandview research the podcast market is expected to grow 27,5% annually between 2020 and 2027. Across Europe, the importance of podcasts as part of PR strategies seems to be catching an upward trend now too.
Haine commented: “Alongside the reappearance of the importance of print, we also saw a surge in podcasts. The past year podcasts really gained a lot of traction. Many new podcasts are appearing daily, up to the point where we might even speak of an oversupply. In Belgium 2021 will be the year in which it becomes clear which podcasts remain relevant and which will come to an end.”
In the Netherlands, 2020 has definitely been the year where we really started to include podcasts in our PR activities more and build ‘podcast’ press lists. That coincided with an increasing number of Dutch business podcasts reaching critical audience numbers. And broadcasters and other publishers embracing podcasts as a new channel for long-form content.
Bonow shared his German perspective on podcasts and the fast-growing app Clubhouse. “Different, new communications channels must be taken into account. A few years ago, podcasts were not such a big thing. Same goes for influencers. These are just two examples that have become almost indispensable in PR strategies. Clubhouse is a great example of how fast this environment drives change. In a single weekend, the app has also become a big hype in Germany and offered an alternative for real meetings during a lockdown. Clubhouse is ideal to position oneself as an expert, to occupy topics and to engage with media and new partners. ”
PR Trend #6: Print is making a comeback in Belgium
A trend that seems to be specific to the Belgian market, is the revival of print. Corneel Haine, agency founder at Evoke from Belgium, described how he views this as a big opportunity for PR.
“Important media platforms in Belgium have started publishing articles in print again or some even for the first time. With the emergence of the world wide web, we saw the rise of digital publications, which became more important than print. Now we notice that there is a clear hybrid and consolidated model in which news is being published both in print and online. Additionally, a weekly or monthly news magazine also remains relevant longer as its articles often go more in-depth. That’s why we strongly believe that PR should – once again – focus on both digital and print. It truly is a matter where one plus one equals three.”
PR Trend #7: The rise of niche publications & paywalls will continue
“Many Danish publications launched a range of very narrow niche media behind paywalls to address specific interests or industries. It’s a dilemma. Your story may be too small for the mainstream outlet. But do you want to ‘give’ it to a new niche media behind a paywall, where you don’t know the number of readers? It’s sometimes seen as the “last resort” for getting your story out. But less [reach] is worth more than no media coverage at all,” commented Hessellund.
In the Netherlands, we noticed a similar trend when it comes to paywalls. Newspapers and a number of trade publications have introduced paywalls. That is partly due to the boost in online content consumption caused by the lockdown. A great step forward for the media, opening up new ways to monetize their most valuable content (and rightfully so). The upcoming year will show which publications will be successful in using this strategy. And as a result, being able to ensure the high quality and fully editorial media articles in the future.
PR Trend #8: PR and content marketing are slowly but surely coming together
In the second half of 2020, Staudt noticed a growing interest in SEO and content marketing from German businesses. “In the past, if businesses needed a new IT solution they could easily meet five potential suppliers in a day at a trade show. Without these events, many potential customers rely on desktop research. So media relations, content marketing and SEO – previously siloed but increasingly together – can have a huge impact on a company’s success. Especially in a world with no or a limited number of physical events.”
We definitely second the trend that Staudt talked about. In addition to tech companies looking for PR support, in the Netherlands we noticed an increasing number of organisations asking for help in content marketing. We strongly believe that if you align the two disciplines, you can really work your MarComs impact. That’s why we recommend focusing on driving top of the funnel visibility with PR and middle and bottom of the funnel lead generation and nurturing through content marketing.
BONUS: Tech topics that will grab headlines in 2021
We asked all contributors to this article for hot topics that they see based on the stories and headlines that they see in the media and based on the work they do with a diverse set of technology companies.
- Working from Home
- Retail transformation
- Digital transformation
- Security threats (specific angle: resulting from uptake in digital transformation & increased working from home)