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Stirring the pot: Is it good business to get involved in controversial (technical) discussions?

January 24, 2017

Controversy is not usually a media strategy that we recommend our clients purposely get involved with, but there are times when the appropriate approach and contribution to a controversial topic helps to generate the right interest and positioning for you and your company. The requirements for making this a win are steep however: Thoughtful comments, regularly applied and not getting into personal fights. Commenting often with thoughtful, reasoned discourse goes a long way to establishing you and your position in the correct light. Examples of recent highly charged industry debates include Net Neutrality, Patent Trolls and NB-IoT vs proprietary options. 


The goals for participating in this discussion is twofold: help shape the conversation with a point of view that moves your business forward, and establish you as a thoughtful, knowledgeable individual that is worth listening to on this topic. Some execs like to use these discussions as a bully pulpit and you certainly can, but I’m talking about using controversial subjects in a more thoughtful manner as a jumping off point for your broader media (social, business and trade) activities and a way to engage with media that might not normally cover your company or, in some cases, industry.


Your best chance for success if you are jumping into the fray depends your interesting point of view, your ability to communicate that POV clearly, concisely and most of all, consistently.  Can you engage in a conversation, over a long period of time, with good back and forth?  Ignore the pointed and sometimes personal insults and present yourself as a statesman/stateswoman?  The old adage does apply: ‘Opinions are like xxxx, everyone has one’.  Yes, but the QUALITY of those opinions is what separates you from the huddled masses on the internet.  Quality, humor and maturity are lacking in most internet discussion.


Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are usually a few ongoing issues you can jump in on to join/lead/contribute to the discussion. Let’s take one for example, around 5G. 5G is one of those choice topics that gives and keeps on giving – it’s a blessing to the PR, AR and tech communities because it has five key characteristics:


  1. It is widely known across industries, technologies and markets (it’s a global phenomenon).

  2. It has many different facets so the range of topics you can get involved with is broad.

  3. It will be around for the next 2-3 years at least, so it has legs.

  4. Nobody owns the topic and they can’t, so you will not get locked out or end up supporting your competitor.

  5. At some point the vision will narrow and someone will be proven right or wrong (and that is a good thing).


Let’s take this step-by-step:


  1. Widely known. This is good because it means the opportunity for visibility is very high. Tech discussions by nature tend to end up as narrow, cloistered conversations that quickly get into mundane, mind-numbing details. Let’s avoid these at all costs. But 5G touches everyone from telco, wearable, automotive, enterprise, and all of the SMART markets including home, city, grid, hospitals, toasters, watches, etc… The down side is everyone and their brother may be commenting so you’ll need to be sharp to rise above the noise.

  2. Wide range of topics. This is also good because you get to pick your battles.  For 5G this could be the high-band versus low-band spectrum argument.  Or is Wi-Fi still needed with 5G (and visa versa).  Or is LTE-A pushing the need for 5G into the future.  Is autonomous driving the killer 5G app?  Or is it IoT.  Or Gigabit services (but see the LTE-A point here) or VR/AR?  How about, what is the definition of 5G?  That drives people crazy.  Lots to play with here.   Go crazy.

  3. Long legs. No, not THOSE legs, stay focused here. Unless you are looking for a quick hit, stories that are going to be around for a while offer a lot of opportunity for participation. Standards work on 5G will last until 2020 and likely beyond. With the many consortiums and vendor/operator relationships already doing trials and setting their own 5G specifications, there is so much to comment on. And even LTE is still undergoing standards updates so this is a discussion you can have for a long time if you choose to. Not to mention the entire ‘always on/always connected’ 5G ‘feature’.

  4. Lack of single ownership. It is apparent to everyone in the industry that the standards bodies have lost control of the standards process. Each vendor has its own 5G developments; Verizon, China Mobile and others have their own 5G specifications, and even AT&T has started its own ‘5G’ testing programs.`The foxes are ruling the (standards) hen-houses and that means there are lots of points of control (or lack of control) to discuss.

  5. Reality will eventually set in. At some point, there WILL be a 5G standard, but at that point it likely will simply reflect what vendors and operators are already doing on a base level, or will reflect some subset of features or characteristics already in play. Then, commentators can choose winners or losers and decide if the right winners or losers were chosen and a new round of arguments can begin. Like I said, 5G is the gift that keeps on giving.


Not all controversial topics have the range or features of the 5G discussion, but the ones that have similar characteristics offer the most promise to make you something of a star.


The key thing is to have a point of view, express it clearly and thoughtfully. The bit of humor helps too.


Chris has conducted strategy sessions for vendor and operator clients across the US, EMEA and Asia addressing competitive, market and positioning issues during his time on both the vendor and analyst side. His ability to understand and communicate technical issues to a wide variety of audiences has helped him become a versatile asset to his clients.


Chris has researched and spoken on a wide variety of telecom issues including 5G, LTE, Small Cells, Cloud RAN and Connected Cars. Chris brings to Engage PR direct industry experience to help clients with their competitive positioning and messaging for positive effect in the press, to customers and partners.

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