10 Years of Radical Change: The Brave New World of Communications


The challenge of writing about the changes in public relations, public affairs and marketing within the past 10 years is like  whipping up a quick summary of the history of the universe. A slight exaggeration, true, but for those of us in the business of communications, the changes have, indeed, been enormous.

Consider these:

Media fragmentation – Cable and satellite TV are now ubiquitous, bringing consumers a vast array of choices – literally hundreds of channels on everything from rural living to NASA missions. Magazines also continue to proliferate, with almost 200 new U.S.-based titles launched in 2009. While newspapers have seen their numbers shrink, online media outlets are exploding as more and more consumers make a Web-enabled device their window to the world. In short, the target audience for any piece of news, information or marketing outreach is now far more scattered than at any time in human history. Reaching that audience often requires an extremely broad mix of traditional and new-wave media channels. It also requires communications professionals to stay constantly plugged in to the rapid evolutions of this brave new media world.

Social media – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and blogs of every conceivable title… These outlets for sharing personal news, opinions, status updates, photos, videos, coupons, event invitations and so much more were unheard of in 2001. Today, they are radically decentralizing the way people give and get information. Some commercial enterprises, like Southwest Airlines and Starbucks, have jumped right into this tsunami and are riding it for all it’s worth to build customer loyalty. Others are barely dipping in a toe based on valid legal concerns. But this much is certain: These channels are here to stay. And if your organization doesn’t connect with your audiences here, your competitors will.

Information globalization – While many Americans likely assume everyone everywhere has Internet access, in reality just under 30 percent of the world’s population are Internet users. Still, that’s about 2 billion people from across the globe. And for the most part, that Web access gives them access to global news and information. That mostly unfettered ability to see the world means people are getting unprecedented insights into how others live and think, and it’s making it possible for any business to connect directly with potential consumers almost anywhere. From a PR perspective, it also means that when a company gets into hot water anywhere in the world, its customers are going to know it, no matter where they are. Gone are the days when a corporation could assume that its mistake in, say, Slovenia, would go unnoticed by its customers in Cleveland.

But one thing hasn’t changed despite all this upheaval: As always, a great story is still a great story. The fundamentals remain the same. PR and marketing communications professionals are still on a quest for what makes a company or organization great, what makes it stand out from its competitors and what makes it worthy of positive media attention, customer loyalty and support from leaders and influencers. The fact that communications move much faster today than ever before, and that there are vastly more ways to get your story to your audience, is a huge challenge…and a great opportunity for forward thinkers.