News and Insights

How to make tech the good news story of 2021

February 15, 2021

Spurred by COVID-19, travel technology is advancing at an impressive rate and scale. The past year saw a surge of conceptual innovations swiftly rolled out to the commercial travel market: artificial intelligence (AI) crowd control, ultraviolet (UV) cleaning systems, robotic staff, biometric identification, contact tracing, smart luggage, and mobile and touchless options.

Travel’s rapid and obvious adaptation to the needs of the moment can tell us a lot about how COVID-spurred tech innovations are both a solution and story across many industries. We, as communicators, simply need to understand how to tell them. If we’re able to do so, they can be the hopeful narratives of our time, demonstrating to our audiences that—no matter what lies ahead—technological breakthroughs are either underway or already in play to help us adapt and overcome.

Let’s first examine travel as a case study, then consider applying the lessons more broadly:

Recent travel tech innovations have been anchored in health and safety, helping guide the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors through a grim COVID-19 economy. Slowly but steadily, the U.S. travel industry is showing signs of recovery. December was the second-highest month for travel spending in 2020, behind only September’s Labor Day getaways. In an effort to continue recovering $492 billion in losses—an unprecedented 42% annual decline—the U.S. Travel Association recently announced aggressive technology investments and advancements across the tourism industry, including:

  • U.S. National Parks are leveraging AI technology to manage crowd density and to predict or thwart wildfires.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing a biometric system called Credential Authentication Technology with Camera (CAT-C) to provide a more efficient and hygienic traveler verification experience at 90% of TSA checkpoints by 2022.

Furthermore, CES, the annual global consumer electronics show, gave 2021 industry watchers and tech-savvy revelers a glimpse at disaster circumvention via tech. Relative to travel, CES panelists discussed contactless ticketing and explained how “digital nomads” are taking perpetual “workcations.” It also revealed travel innovations that, one can easily imagine, will translate quickly to other sectors.

A case in point is the BioIntelliSense BioButton™, a CES 2021 Best of Innovation Award Honoree. This coin-sized, single-use disposable wearable device lasts for 90-days. During that time, it continuously monitors for signs of COVID-19 exposure, risks and symptoms. A device like this has incredible reporting and alerting capabilities to prevent infection. The Saint Lucia Tourism Authority was one of the very first adopters, making the BioButton mandatory for residents returning home. A potential game-changer across the travel landscape (for airports, cruise lines, TSA, hotels, etc.), this device also has myriad useful applications: public health agencies, schools and universities, event and sports venues, manufacturing plants, and office settings.

These applications make the BioButton a potential story for a lot of sectors. If we look hard enough, we can find more, and create new storylines for our clients. Furthermore, we can consider cross-promotional opportunities with tech innovators, a great way to build relationships and partnerships within the tech sphere.

In other words, opportunity abounds, in the midst of so much fear and uncertainty about the future, to take tech out of its niche and use its “can do” ethos to reassure all types of audiences who are thirsty for good news relative to their health, safety and eventual return to something resembling normalcy. Here are some additional tips for how to be successful with this approach:

  1. Focus more on “why” and less on “what.”

    Clearly and succinctly convey why fresh tech, relative to your clients, is important to the health and safety of your target audience. And that’s it.

    • Tell audiences the benefits to them right off the bat. Don’t build up to a big reveal.
    • Steer clear of the minutiae and palace intrigue related to things like investment partners or licensing deals. Outside of the boardroom, no one cares.
    • Keep the research and development aspects very brief and simple.
    • Avoid celebrating your company’s progressive tech investment in a self-serving tone. As we often say to clients, “Don’t expect customers to congratulate you on a job well done because customers should expect nothing less.”
  2. No “techie talk.”

    Avoid technical jargon at all costs. Using it is the easiest way to lose audiences. This may seem remedial for anyone in the public relations field, but it’s easy to fall victim when explaining new tech that does not yet have a mainstream vernacular. Sometimes, it’s up to us to create one.

    For example, smart luggage is an exciting new mass consumer product category that few are explaining well. Instead, they seem to be resorting to jargon and hoping to impress. Here are actual smart luggage product descriptions, all sourced from different manufacturer websites:

    • “treated with nanotechnology which prevents bacteria from developing on the bag’s fabric…with a layer of bacteriostatic protection that prevents colonies of bacteria”
    • “radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology for baggage tracking, providing real-time information that allows airlines to track baggage efficiently throughout all airport processes.”
    • “carry points—like handles—coated with an anti-viral additive that’s blended right into the material.” 
    • “treated with Lycra or rPET antimicrobial lining.”

    Instead of relying on insider jargon and hoping it resonates, communicators should instead rely on simple and relatable language to make their clients’ case. For example: “Smart luggage stays clean and is easy to find, no matter how grimy or convoluted your trip becomes.”

  3. Focus on the good.

    With social responsibility and equity rising in priority among consumers, 2021 can be a powerful and pivotal chance for organizations to review and rebuild stronger, more forward-thinking operations models.

    Technology offers possibilities and solutions. Some of these may already be in place. It’s up to us to more effectively promote or position them.

    • Start by drafting strong, simple messages about how new tech innovations are helping your organization or client be better and do better (i.e. better serve customers, patients, shoppers, and society at large). Then, you should:
      • Get your messages in front of your client for approval.
      • Use the messages. Don’t let them sit on the shelf. Incorporate them across all channels.
      • Find creative inspiration to get leaders to buy in. CNET’s “Tech for a Better World” series is an excellent resource.
    • Your clients may be advancing equity in numerous ways, including those that involve tech solutions, such as data software that identifies strong minority job candidates. If so:
      • Support client efforts to make progress in the D&I arena, especially with audiences that need proof the organization you represent is walking the talk.
      • Help your clients focus less on promoting initiatives, those using tech or otherwise, to advance equity and more on the success of these initiatives.
      • Be part of the comms movement in equity that makes real change happen, not just offering lip service. If tech is a tool for your client to do this, let the world know.

At the speed of 5G, and spanning business sectors, COVID-19 has elevated the presence and purpose of technology. Communications professionals can do the same by getting the word out across industries about tech’s solutions for living well and staying healthy in an uncertain time.