A Lot Can Change in 15 Years

By Melanie Wilt, APR


The last 15 years have brought significant changes in technology and the workplace that impact how we communicate personally and with the masses. No other time in history has seen so much change in the way our interactions, relationships and communities are built. We’ve essentially built Shift•ology Communication during this, the PR Revolution. Rather than resist it, we even defined ourselves as the “science of change.”

In the last decade-and-a-half, we’ve seen cosmic shifts in how we relate to one another (our publics), which have influenced us as individuals and a society; for better or worse. We can agree these advances have had a profound impact on our relationships, business interactions and society. 

Here are 15 shifts during the PR Revolution we’ve witnessed from a front-row seat at Shift•ology: 

  1. Immediate expectations – With a smartphone at our fingertips, the expectation of instant information has changed lightyears in just over a decade. These expectations require communicators to anticipate, react and respond quickly. Quick, imperfect — but solid — content beats slow, methodical, highly-polished stuff. We have to be more authentic, trustworthy and first-to-audience.
  2. Integration of PR and marketing – What we practice as “public relations” is easily confused as marketing, branding and sales. It doesn’t matter what we call it as long as our processes are proven, and we achieve wins for our partners. The important thing is that brand reputation matters regardless of the methods we use to build trust and relationships. 
  3. Sunset of mass media – When we started this business, our most notable mark of success was placing an article on the front page of the newspaper above the fold. Over time, traditional news outlets have been replaced by social outlets and influencers. Today, relationships with influencers and bloggers are just as important in a communication strategy as relationships with traditional reporters. 
  4. Cameras at our fingertips – We’ve evolved from a society focused on written words to one that relies heavily on visual communication. A photo, video, meme or montage can tell the story of an entire life without the use of a single word. Pictures can also communicate a simple thought through a snap.  
  5. Writing like we text – English and grammar is being diluted as we adjust to a world with fewer characters. Some of us still love great prose, but it tends to be considered a “luxury” to read or write these days. Communication is a verb, and it’s moving at a faster pace than ever before. 
  6. Social influence – There’s nothing better than word of mouth to support your cause or business. When used right, social media is a way to amplify engagement, interactions, reach and influence. Social media has a significant impact on communication, news dissemination, marketing and activism.
  7. Privacy and transparency – The social era has brought about a shift in consumer expectations about transparency and privacy. Corporations and government are under constant scrutiny, and many individuals struggle to find a balance between having a private life and a “socials” life. 
  8. Words are more and less important. We write in code, emojis, snaps and GIFs and need fewer words to make a point because visualizations are as accessible on our keyboards as A-Z. And, while we may use fewer words, the ones we choose are important. We have less space and attention to make a salient point with great analogies, metaphors, similes and examples. 
  9. Personal news outlets – Regular people are today’s journalists and spread the news through their own social media channels, podcasts, blogs and vlogs. While we applaud the access to tools and transparency, we pine for the days that required a modicum of expertise and ethics to postulate. 
  10. Zooming in and out – The development and widespread adoption of video conferencing and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have transformed remote communication and collaboration. These platforms have allowed us to have face-to-face meetings, innovate Virtual Farm Trips™ and collaborate in real-time regardless of geographical locations. Our team embraced remote working even before the pandemic forced it. 
  11. Cloud computing – Another key to enabling virtual and hybrid workplaces, cloud-based computing and storage allow us to store and access data and applications remotely, allowing for seamless collaboration and easy access to information from any device with an internet connection. 
  12. Artificial intelligence – One of my colleagues recently wrote about the phenomenon of AI in this article. 
  13. Mobile apps – Do we even really use “sites” that much anymore? Traditional websites are used mostly for search and services these days, while we rely on apps, social accounts and feeds to direct us to the content we find useful.
  14. Opinions are like… – Research is essential to public relations. We can’t shift public opinion if we don’t know where it stands when we start. Phone surveys used to be the gold standard; but they’ve become expensive, and it’s difficult to obtain a random or diverse sample. Today, fewer people want to take time to share their opinions in a structured forum, like a focus group. Perhaps AI will allow us to proactively gather all the unsolicited opinions from the socials and filter them for valid insight in the future. 
  15. Cancel Culture – Our parents told us we would be judged by the company we keep, and the PR Revolution has proven that through cancel culture. Our personal and company brands are closely associated with the values and standards of the companies with which we align ourselves. Corporate reputation management and personal brand reputation are now inextricably linked. 

Fifteen years ago, I was marveling that I had a phone on my camera and didn’t have to punch numbers into my Blackberry. I was delighted that I no longer had to go to the drug store to have film processed for pictures. The only “filter” we discussed were the ones people didn’t have on their mouths. AI, mobile and desktop applications, and visualization are already setting the stage for the next phase of the PR Revolution; but one thing that will never change is the need for personal and public relationships that stand the tests of time and technology.