Is the future Digital?

The Circle Club recently played host to a Creative Industry debate entitled "Is the future digital". Quite a hot potato of a topic given the effects of the current recession and the aggressive onslaught of digital marketing.

The panel of industry experts consisted of Colin McCaffery (head of products at 2ergo), Sarah Hartley (Journalist for MEN), David Bird (Course leader MSc Digital Marketing Communications at MMU), and Rob Brown (MD of Staniforth PR).

As it unfolded, it became apparent the event was more Question Time than debate, with the panel trying to answer near impossible questions from a slightly bemused audience. And, with the make-up of the panel and the nature of the businesses in the audience, the whole thing seemed to take a very PR / Press slant as well. Fortunately there were many points made that extended far beyond PR and press, and bore relevance in a much wider capacity

My interest in the issue is not just one of general wonderment and curiosity (I defy anyone to not be intrigued by the tidal wave of new technology invading our lives), but one that relates directly to my job as a recruiter in the ‘creative sector’. Will the industry be turning it’s back on print? Will there be an army of hungry print-based designers and artworkers flooding the job centres? Or will the digital honeymoon period come to an end, with a harmonious balance being restored between digital and traditional technologies? 

One element discussed questioned whether the rise in blogging and public participation in the supply of information would bring to an end the requirement for traditional mediums of information delivery, such as newspapers and tv news channels. It seems that the ability to get breaking news faster than ever with the likes of twitter, and with the dramatic reduction in spend on press and TV advertising, it would seem that the more traditional mediums have no place in our future. 

However we need to be careful, as if we follow this trend, we will be relying on individuals (bloggers etc) who we do not know to provide accurate information. Equally, where researching products or services online, we are again trusting consumers we do not know to replace dedicated magazines, such as Which? etc. Whilst this on one hand gives us potentially valuable and immediate access to information, it is often is unqualified. 

People need to feel they can trust the source of information. So what we are likely to see is a situation where trusted companies or individuals act as a go-between, between the bloggers / recommenders, and the viewer. News companies already do this when breaking news, using bloggers on the scene to get news to the public via tweets. It was further suggested newspapers and magazines would still exist, possibly concentrating on larger more in-depth articles, where the digital side would offer the breaking news. Furthermore, sitting down to your toast and orange juice on a Sunday morning just wouldn’t be the same without a paper in your hands.

In terms of marketing and PR, the debate continued to discuss the many new avenues available to them, and the likelihood of a complete revolution in favour of digital technologies. It was questioned whether traditional mediums such as brochures and direct mail would suffer at the hands the newer ‘better’ digital brother. Also whether new technologies would make it more possible for companies to do their own PR for free. All valid points. Rob Brown responded stating that in a sense, companies have been able to do their own PR since the year dot, the new technology is really just another tool, what companies pay for with PR is targeted solutions using whatever medium is best, and expertise in conveying a message with the right tone of voice to the right audience. In the same breath the same could be said for tradition design. There will always be a place for direct mail, glossy brochures, company report and accounts, leaflets etc, they will just have to give up some of their share to the new wave. Instead of worrying about the demise of old techniques, in whatever field, people need to embrace the new technologies as extra strings to the bow and use mobile and digital marketing to be more targeted and ‘personal’ in our approach.

And bear in mind that some of the new technologies may fall flat on their faces. David Bird likened the growth of social media marketing to observing a load of new born babies. They all have so much potential, but only through time will the achievers be separated from the rest. The big question being, do you sit back and observe, letting others make the mistakes, or do you jump on board and be at the head of the pack when you succeed.

At the end of the day, consumers still need to be approached, and in some cases older techniques will still work better, we now simply have more tools in our arsenal. Consumers still need information but they also want to trust the information they receive, we need our trusted services to utilise the raft of willing contributors. In short, we simply have to adapt and embrace, rather than run in fear. There will come a day when ‘Digital’ is no longer referred to as an industry in it’s own right, but will simply come under a wider banner such as Marketing, at which point we will all no doubt be weighing up the next new technology on the block. If you’ve seen the closing scenes in Toy Story, you’ll get the drift…

Thanks to the panel for an interesting insight.

Andy Chesters


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