Mobile World Congress 2017 – A lesson in PR

Atomic was fortunate enough to attend Mobile World Congress at Fira Barcelona this year and it did not disappoint. A bumper year, the total number of visitors grew by seven per cent to 108,000 and during its busiest days, this was very much apparent.

One of the biggest trends emerging from MWC 2017 was the focus of what’s on the inside of smartphones and less about what they look like. Sony demonstrated its latest flagship smartphone (Sony Xperia XZ Premium) which films in super-slow-motion and LG’s G6 allows you to run two apps simultaneously and comes with Google’s AI-powered Assistant.

Nokia surprised everybody with the launch of its 90s throwback handset, the Nokia 3310 and anybody who has a history with this phone, myself included, will have fond memories of being able to text for the first time. However one suspects this was a cunning PR exercise to draw attention to its range of affordable Android smartphones, the Nokia 3, 5 and 6. The devices provide users with all the same software and security updates as the Google Pixel but at a fraction of a cost. So while it might appear that Nokia is regressing with the re-launch of its dumbest phone, the company is actually leading with a software-first approach. The PR exercise certainly worked because a quick search on Google News results in 408,000 articles about the 3310 and 510,000 articles on the Nokia 6. The Nokia booth at MWC was mobbed every time we attempted to get near it and Nokia was a top conversation topic throughout the week.

Another brand which guaranteed a crowd with its inspiring installations was IBM which demonstrated the capabilities of its AI solution, Watson. The IT stalwart hung a huge ‘thinking’ art installation above its booth which was created after Watson was fed with data about the work of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Guadi. Created in association with SOFTLab, an NYC design studio which merges research, interactivity, technology with creativity, the installation displayed clear Gaudi themes and included moving parts which fell and rose according to the sentiment of social media posts about Mobile World Congress. The booth also showcased a beautiful ‘cognitive’ LED-filled dress designed by Marchesa. The lights on the dress changed colour according to your emotions which you were invited to feed into the dress via Watson, phenomenal!

Whilst Samsung was mostly famous for not releasing a smartphone at this year’s event, it did however attract visitors and media to its booth via is theme park-like VR experience, another major theme during 2017.

So what does all of this say about MWC and public relations? With over 2,300 companies from every corner of the world exhibiting only a few brands dominated the news headlines including Nokia and Samsung for surprising reasons. Amongst the 108,000 visitors 3,500 were media and analysts, most of whom are non-committal to press briefings due to increasingly hectic schedules. With eight halls covering a staggering 115,000 square metres, journalists are quite understandably unable to visit every stand in every hall unless the news is going to guarantee mega volumes of views. Journalists are faced with increasingly shrinking editorial teams and oversee several beats as a result. They are often under huge pressure to find exciting news, write up their stories and file them within extremely short timeframes. Adding insult to injury, MWC is known for its woeful Wi-Fi connectivity and poor network coverage due to the sheer volumes of people desperate to connect at all times and 2017 was no exception. Many journalists were forced to decamp back to their hotels in order to connect and upload their stories in time.

So unless you are IBM showcasing data-powered, interactive Gaudi-esq art installations or Nokia with the PR spends to develop a whole new line of smartphones, you will struggle to be heard above the noise. We believe there is far more value to be gained from good old fashioned media relations done in an environment where there isn’t the constant din of “sell sell sell, buy buy buy” and where the Wi-Fi works. This will allow you to communicate important key messages and will afford the journalists the time to write up their stories. It will also allow you to get the attention your brand truly deserves.

By Clodagh Beveridge