There are many reasons why the public relations industry should focus more attention on mobile communication. To explore these in detail, Fleishman-Hillard ran a seminar at the start of the Cannes Lions festival, looking at the opportunities that exist in ‘social mobile marketing.’

The session itself featured F-H tech MD Bob Winslow, along with LivingSocial SVP Mitch Spolan and Johns Hopkins executive director Orin Levine. I caught up with Winslow and Spolan afterwards to discuss why brands remain cautious in the mobile arena.

Of particular interest was the diversity represented by the panel. While Spolan wants to use mobile to sell more deals, Levine is more interested in educating poorer people in rural areas about drugs. As Winslow pointed out “they are both dealing with same mobile ecosystem”, but the goals are radically different. Regardless, regulatory and social issues remain constant; and both of these organisation’s - fundamentally - are being challenged by rapid changes in the behaviour of mobile users.

The opportunity offered by mobile technologies to meet the markedly contrasting needs, said Winslow, helps explain a “bigger appetite” for mobile communication efforts. “It’s a little bit of fear, more than knowledge,” he added.

Spolan, for his part, admitted that “brands are very cautious in terms of how they jump into mobile.” Unsurprisingly, he feels that there are “many phenomenal ways to engage with an audience on the handset they carry in their pocket everywhere they go.” An example is LivingSocial’s new Instant service, which provides users with targeted offers based on their location.

Spolan adds that brands must be more courageous when it comes to trying out these new platforms. Like many areas of PR, measurement is an issue. Winslow notes that “CPM won’t apply here, CPA (cost-per-action) maybe.” Regardless, he points out that the increasing “intimacy” of mobile relationships brings opportunities for PR firms that are already adept at creating and managing dialogue.

Brands should, however, be wary of the need to tread lightly. That same intimacy can also result in less positive attitudes towards branded communication, particularly - adds Winslow - when you factor in the lifestyle aspect of the equation. “It’s going to be difficult because our tolerance level when we are out and about is far less than if we were sitting in front of a screen,” he explains. “The intimacy that mobile introduces to our lives means it has to be a very specific engagement we are willing to tolerate. So you have to look at mobile as a lifestyle and as a device.”

The increasing adoption of smartphones means that a given brand’s mobile marketplace - via apps or QR codes - becomes considerably more tangible. If the lines between smartphones and basic handsets also disappear, then overall reach will also dramatically expand. But all of these opportunities will amount to very little if brands and agencies, says Winslow, do not appreciate the critical importance of timing.

“What’s interesting to us is this intersection between social media, the mobile ecosystem and human behaviour,” says Winslow. “You may donate at a certain point of time, And with retail, you’re making a decision at a point of time. That’s the common ground. All of those require that moment in time when you are open to an interaction.”