Keeping Up with Mobile: A Game-Changing Strategy

October 22, 2013

Mobile technology has changed the way we live and how we get information. From social media platforms and blogs to online news sites and mobile news applications, people depend on mobile technology in order to access breaking news, connect with one another and share information. And the use of mobile devices is only expected to grow: According to a projection by Gartner, by 2016, two-thirds of all Internet traffic will come from mobile devices.

It isn’t surprising, then, that mobile technology is impacting how PR professionals communicate their clients’ messages. Communicators are now compelled to consider incorporating mobile-based platforms into every strategy. But as new innovations continually change the face of mobile and how consumers interact with the technology, there’s also the potential for failure.

The key to effectively engaging consumers via mobile is to apply the same discipline that you would when developing any strategic communication initiative. Determine your objectives, audience and message before jumping into creative ideas and tactics. Consider who you want to reach and the information you wish to convey will guide you in determining the appropriate content and tools so that that your messages will resonate.

Measuring the impact

With the advancement of mobile technology, audiences have changed, and so have consumer behaviors and expectations. According to Assisted Living Today, the average attention span has fallen to five minutes, down from 12 minutes a decade ago, a 58 percent decrease. Users “snack” on information via mobile devices, taking small “bites” every time they log on. This has prompted a change in the way the media disseminates news and how communicators develop campaigns.

It wasn’t long ago that an “integrated public relations campaign” meant conducting media relations via a press release, phone, fax or email; advertising; and maybe a corporate newsletter. Today, integrated campaigns are likely to include everything from media relations and advertising to flash mobs, virtual events, social media contests, Vine and YouTube videos, and mobile apps.

Corporate communicators are not the gatekeepers of news, responsible for managing access to executives and courting beat reporters to deliver information in carefully crafted news releases and statements. And the media doesn’t represent the only filter for your audience. In addition to traditional writers, professional communicators now find themselves working with citizen journalists, brand fans, bloggers and more.

Man-on-the-street interviews aren’t exclusive to network affiliates engaging with a community member about a local happening; rather, anyone with a smartphone or tablet can upload video or photos and share their accounts of breaking news, customer-service interactions and corporate responsibility.

In fact, NBC News has taken an unprecedented step in this regard, recently announcing its purchase of the startup Stringwire, which will allow the station to send user-generated video content from mobile phones worldwide to its studios in New York. In doing so, the news organization hopes to turn eyewitness accounts into breaking news via mobile technology worldwide. While this reduced control may be unsettling for communicators, they benefit from the direct, unfiltered access to their audiences along with unfiltered communication.

Managing mobile

Mobile opens the door for flexible engagement, allowing communicators more freedom and room for creativity. Yet it should not trump strategy; strategy must remain the foundation of every campaign. When considering the many tools and platforms available to engage audiences via mobile, communicators must carefully consider which is best to convey their message, how it will complement the other tactical elements of a campaign and what action they are trying to encourage.

To effectively navigate this new mobile world, senior-level communicators may need to relearn how to write and think. It sounds extreme, but it’s true.

Research has shown that many practitioners are not fully embracing mobile media, are unprepared to do so or are apprehensive of mobile technology and its implications. Many are fooled into thinking that writing is not as important as it once was, given the short bursts of information consumed via mobile. Quite the contrary. Communicators must work harder to provide content that is palatable for a mobile audience, meaning that they must convey it succinctly while reflecting creativity, accuracy and insight.

When creating mobile content, avoid material that’s simply a condensed version of your website. Instead, take the time to determine what your clients are looking for on the mobile site and develop information around those key functions. Position the most important information where users can easily find it and access it through mobile platforms. Make sure that sentences, links and headings are plausible and self-contained.

White papers and more in-depth articles will continue to have their place, but communicators also need to include pictures and videos in their messaging, not just words on a page. Communicators must adapt press releases to mobile technology; client content must be accessible and easy to download from a mobile device; and the ability to share information with a tap of the finger must be incorporated into every campaign today.

To convey complex information, the written word may not be the best choice for a mobile platform. Consider video or images instead. In fact, 50 percent of all mobile traffic is online video (Byte Mobile) and 92 percent of mobile video viewers share videos with others (Invodo). Because, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, Americans are accessing their news through photo galleries that they upload to their phones and tablets, and ideas that outlets present through infographics.

Embracing new tools

Effective mobile management is about being strategic, not about being everywhere. Blanketing a campaign with videos, social media, a mobile app and more will only be successful if you  manage it properly and target it to the right groups. Where are the people you’re trying to reach, and what are the appropriate media for your message? You are not likely to be effective at putting out a fire on Twitter by simply issuing a video statement on YouTube, even if the audience is bigger. Many companies, large and small, are still finding their way in this regard.

The 24/7 accessibility of mobile has clearly created new challenges for communicators.

Prior to the wide adoption of smartphones, communicators had more time to get the details of a crisis and formulate a response. Today, response time has been cut to an hour at most, as mobile users access media at all times. While communicators may feel the pressure in such circumstances, mobile technology also presents huge opportunities for the PR industry. Mobile media have increased demand for more information, faster. They have also expanded our ability to convey information quickly and directly to our audiences.

Many believe that mobile technology is a game changer for communications professionals, forcing us to rethink how we develop and implement campaigns, and altering the face and pace of our industry as a whole.

In reality, the rules of the game haven’t changed. With any PR campaign, the key is still — and always will be — strategy. Mobile is simply adding a new dimension, enhancing the tools available to communicators so that we can respond more effectively and quickly whenever, and wherever, they are.

PR professionals bear the responsibility of staying abreast of the evolving resources available to us and determining when and how to use them. It’s not easy. But by understanding and embracing what is relevant and what resonates, we can ensure success for ourselves and for our clients.


Amy Calhoun
Amy Calhoun is agency principal with Stanton Communications in New York. She develops comprehensive communication strategies and media relations programs for Fortune 500 companies, industry associations and U.S. government agencies.


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