As vaccines become more prevalent and the COVID-19 pandemic slowly, very slowly, starts loosening its grip on technology firms and the media that covers them, it is time to look at the impact and what is ahead for software PR firms professionals that represent these companies.
First, a look back. The pandemic hit the states of Washington and New York early in 2020 but expanded nationwide quickly, with the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic in mid-March. The last technology trade show of any note that took place as originally scheduled was CES 2020 in Las Vegas in January.
Other trade shows that draw customers and the media alike were initially postponed, with some eventually going virtual, while others never took place at all. So, one of the major venues for software and other technology firms to showcase new products and platforms to the media and conference attendees was largely disrupted. Many opportunities to engage journalists are tied to these shows, with products and other announcements released in conjunction with the conventions.
Advertising dollars for print publications largely dried up, though much of the ad spending shifted to digital sites. According to eMarketer, the U.S. computing products and consumer electronics industry, including software, was expected to be the fastest-growing digital ad spender in 2020, increasing its spend by 18 percent in a year when the total US digital ad market grew only 1.7 percent.
Software solutions providers like Intuit, Salesforce, Shopify and Zoom, as well as game console makers, shared economy apps and mobile payment platforms were included in this total as well as hardware and networking firms like Apple, Adobe, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Oracle and Sony.
Digital advertising is much less expensive for companies than advertising in print publications. As a result, media outlets reduced staff and the amount of published content. With fewer journalists to work with and many bloggers and reporters focused on COVID-19, software PR firms representing big companies had to work harder to get their clients mentions in articles and blogs.
While the big, entrenched software companies still commanded the majority of media and public relations attention, like the shifts caused by the pandemic, the focus moved to those companies who could optimize work from home, cloud services, contactless payments and anything else that enabled businesses and consumers in the socially distanced pandemic environment.
This trend is continuing this year. In 2021 business leaders will pursue a reconstituted set of IT stack initiatives heavily embossed by the black swan that was 2020. 451 Research says in a S&P Market Intelligence blog, “If there was a silver lining to 2020, it was that the pandemic was adept at shining a light on IT strengths and weaknesses equally, providing clarity on necessary course correction. This was particularly true in dealing with a nearly overnight and massive transition to WFH, and digital channels becoming the most critical path of customer experience for all types of businesses. Sudden and disruptive changes such as these heavily favored infrastructure and operations environments that are flexible, automated and adaptable. The ongoing COVID-19 experience dictates that nearly every IT investment spanning infrastructure, software, services and skills in 2021 must bring measurable benefits in overall automation and agility.”
In a survey, 451 Research found that 36 percent of respondents are putting a greater priority on customer/user experience, while 35 percent said they are accelerating initiatives that support greater business agility.
The research firm adds that the working world has become increasingly dynamic, laser-focused on productivity and results. Even as many companies return to the office, few expect the return to pre-pandemic levels. Firms will continue to rely on software technologies that facilitate collaboration from disparate locations and solutions that leverage cloud technology.
CompTIA reports 12 percent of the $5 trillion in tech spending this year will be on software. In the U.S., which represents about one-third of the global market, 20 percent will be spent on software. In addition to cloud and collaboration solutions, other popular software will be Low Code/No Code solutions that enable companies to easily start using the software or to make changes themselves, even if they have little technical expertise.
What does this mean for software PR firms and the communications and marketing professionals that staff them? Simply that the focus on innovation surrounding remote business, virtual connectivity and cloud technology will continue to thrive, and some of the more monolithic software companies are likely to see their business disrupted. This disruption is going to continue to shape the coverage and reviews that software product launches and new firms attain.
In terms of physical trends and event support — traditional PR venues for client support will remain strained – trade shows unlikely to come back in any meaningful way until the final quarter of the year – CES 2022 will likely be the first one anywhere near what it was in 2019. So, there will be increased competition for digital coverage. The entrenched names can command some notice just due to their size, but if their solutions don’t have demonstrable benefits for their clients that a software PR firm can convey via customized media outreach, coverage will be nil. Meanwhile, software PR firms that can show how larger – or smaller – software firms are making a difference for their clients will get the bulk of media mentions.