PR Update – How The iPhone Changed Consumer PR


It is arguably one of the most important technology advances of the 21st Century but it’s hard to imagine modern life without the ubiquitous iPhone. In the PR industry, we’ve had to adapt to the changes too.

It’s been 10 years since the first version of the world’s most omnipresent handset hit store shelves.

And, regardless of your opinion on the technology goliath Apple, it’s hard to deny that this particular touch-screen phone has touched and revolutionised almost every aspect of modern day life.

Of course, this era can also claim the boom of social media – including the giants of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And there is a valid argument that none of these would be the success they are without the device that is glued to the end of your hand.

There are other smartphones, of course. Technology giants everywhere have rolled out their own to varying degrees of success and Google’s Android is still the most popular OS on the planet. But no one handset has had such an impact as the iPhone.

From ordering a taxi in seconds courtesy of Uber, navigating your way through cities of the world with Maps and ensuring that your friends never miss out on your best adventures, or ‘amazing’ salad, via the likes of Instagram.

It has completely changed the way we consume and deliver media.

While PR and marketing companies once coveted pages in tabloids, there’s now an increasing demand to instead appear on the nation’s iPhone screens – and with this a pressure to find new and innovative ways to do so. Whether this is free ice cream delivered by Uber to launch UberEats or handing out VR Google Cardboards to promote the NME.

Crucially, the iPhone has revolutionised the world of journalism, dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Whether it is a fun publicity stunt or a press conference, PR companies have to increasingly consider how their work will appeal to as many of those powerful iPhone screens as possible.

It’s a huge seachange.

With the power of an iPhone, everyone is a story-teller. Whether it is the shocking images captured at the scene of Lee Rigby’s murder, or the Facebook Live broadcasts and Snapchat stories of the worldwide marches protesting Donald Trump this weekend, stories are captured and relayed first on smartphones.

One thing’s for certain, working in the press office for a politician is a trickier task than it used to be, with social media instantly and constantly reminding voters of past-mistakes and YouTube having a record of every single regrettable sound bite.

User generated content, the new wild west of the media landscape, might be a brave new world but comes with obvious downfalls. Fake news, for example, is very much a product of everyone suddenly being a story-teller. And, it spreads like wildfire – American actress Betty White has, it seems, died on some 20 odd occasions over the last few years.

Put a smart phone in the wrong hands, as seen with the Islamic State, and it can spread hate. The big social networks like Facebook are having to jump sideways and take extraordinary measures to safeguard the sanctity of truth in news.

The iPhone has, ultimately, empowered consumers. Never have negative consumer reviews been more powerful. Posts about terrible customer experiences blow up instantly on social media and are being shared thousands of time within minutes. It might be a press office nightmare but it means brands are instantly, sometimes unfairly, held to instant account for even the smallest slight.

Continued Growth

Still, smartphone screen time shows no sign of decreasing. Smartphones mean young people are now more interested and engaged in news and politics than ever. Would Brexit, Scottish independence and Trump have been as big, as all-consuming and as powerful without the ability of everyone to post their view instantly via their handset? Probably not.

News channels have had to change to appeal to the small screen audience. Some may call it dumbing down, others may say it just delivers more of the content its consumers are demanding. Whatever. It means both Sky News and The Guardian have regularly pandered to the world’s fascination with Obama and Biden’s bromance and it sees ITV news departments taking part in the mannequin challenge. The new news?

It also means we have had to become accustomed to a dramatic re-ordering of the established media landscape. New media giants like the Huffington Post and Facebook favourites UniLad and The Lad Bible are today having as much sway as the old guard. And, for PR agencies, having a brand appear on one of these new breed of influential channels can rack you up way more views than traditional media coverage.

One phenomenon we can thank/blame the iPhone for is the shrinking of consumers’ attention spans. Instead of spending an hour pouring over the column inches of a traditional newspaper, most of us now consume news on tiny screens and snatch our smaller bite-sized news portions during a 10 minute train journey or five minute desk break.

The shape of news has changed forever. And that means journalists have had to adapt by telling stories through short clips, infographics and bullet-pointed reports. The press release has never looked more concise.

Now both regional and national media groups have shifted their major focus to online, some ditching the traditional media formats altogether, PR has never needed to be more focused.

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