Posted on: December 15, 2020
Consider how much business has changed in the last six months. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the “Zoom call” was not particularly well known. Within weeks, the U.S. economy shifted from the traditional workplace to remote everything, with social contact limited and virtual moneymaking the norm.
Now, consider how much business has changed in the last four decades. I often think about the evolution of corporate America, specifically in terms of public relations — one of the most rapidly changing industries around.
When I started in PR, I used a typewriter. I felt lucky when I received a typewriter with an erase key and I didn’t have to use white-out to erase any typos. I also remember using a mimeograph machine to make copies of press releases to send in envelopes to the media.
Whereas sending emails and text messages now happens instantaneously, such technological efficiency was not commonplace in the 1980s. I often recruited people to stay up all night and help me stuff envelopes with the press releases, before running them through the postage meter to send out. At one point, I was sending 1,400 press releases out every week — by hand.
With so many press releases, we helped the Maine paper industry immensely, but it now makes me cringe thinking about how many trees were killed in the process.
During the 1980s, the PR industry also relied on shooting videos with 3/4-inch tapes and making duplicates of them for delivery to TV stations. How were they delivered? In a car, not via email on an iPad. Sometimes, I drove 10 hours a day to hit the major media markets.
Of course, then, like now, human innovation played a pivotal role. Without it, you would waste time and money, without achieving your goals.
As PR has progressed, industry experts have inevitably adapted and adopted new forms of technology that allow us to connect with target audiences. Moreover, we are now less reliant on the media to spread the word about a specific client or a given project. We can create our own content.
In the past, media members held all of the leverage, and PR professionals scrambled and competed to pitch the best story. Today, we are scrambling and competing to create the best content, whether it’s a LinkedIn post or a YouTube video. But that content is ours.
Two years ago, I started my own podcast, and I have now produced over 110 episodes. Earlier this month, I interviewed the general manager of a company where I worked in my 20s, and we laughed about how far PR has come. Back then, we needed a local TV station to conduct an interview that podcasters can now execute — and often even better.
This is not to say that the media no longer matters. On the contrary, media members still wield tremendous influence, as tens of millions of Americans tune in to CNN or read the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis. Many journalists are experts on their beats, reporting the most complex news items with integrity, objectivity and rapid speed. I respect journalists for what they do, and I regularly communicate with them, pitching stories but also connecting on a personal level.
But 21st-century technology has democratized the content space. It is no longer centralized in the hands of Fox News executives or in the hallways of the New York Times. There are other options. People can rely on their favorite influencers for tailored content. With millions of listeners, it’s no wonder that a podcaster like Joe Rogan can secure a more than $100 million deal from Spotify, when many people likely choose his interviews over Anderson Cooper’s or Don Lemon’s.
In today’s PR landscape, our relationships with media members need to be mutually beneficial. It’s like dating: If the other person is interesting and interested in you, then you will pursue a relationship. If not, you will consider other options. In PR terms, a YouTube channel or Spotify podcast may now take the place of a traditional news outlet.
This leaves us all with extraordinary power, whether we work in PR or not. Now more than ever, we are masters of our own content. We are masters of our own universe, so let’s take advantage of it.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in September 2020.