While channel surfing one evening this summer, I stumbled upon a great miniseries on National Geographic – “The 80s: The Decade That Made Us” followed up by “The 90s: The Last Great Decade.” Both offered the history buff in me an overview of cultural and political milestones that I wasn’t around to experience firsthand or was too young to remember.
One such event was the first commercial cell phone call on October 13, 1983. Ameritech placed a call from Chicago to a descendent of Alexander Graham Bell in Germany using a DynaTAC cellular phone. In a little over 30 years, cellular phones – as they were once called – have evolved from a novelty to necessity and transformed the way we communicate. What else has changed just in my lifetime and how has this affected PR?
Looking back on the past decade
When my older sister started college just a little over a decade ago, she did not have a personal cell phone. Personal beepers had been the hot item for getting in touch with others when she was in high school. In college, if a friend wanted to make plans, they had to call the landline phone set up in her dorm room and leave a message on an answering machine.
Less than 10 years later, my college experience, like all millennials, was characterized by the ability to instantly communicate and constantly be in the know about a person’s whereabouts. This was made possible by smartphones that allowed infinite communication capabilities, from texting to checking a friend’s newsfeed.
This level of information sharing led to the rise of social media, which also has made leaps and bounds in the past decade. Remember when Facebook was strictly for students, only allowing you to sign up using your school email address? I recall being infinitely frustrated that my high school had not yet registered on the site. Now everyone and their mom (literally) have an account, with businesses and organizations using it as a first line of communication to customers.
And just three years ago I skeptically got a Twitter account, not comprehending at all the hashtag. Now Twitter is where users turn to first when searching for news, with members of the press live tweeting any breaking news reports long before a full story gets published online.
What does it all mean for PR?
As a PR firm, part of our job is to stay engaged with the press and monitor for news stories that may be relevant to our clients’ industries. Fifteen years ago, that involved reading a newspaper, but these days a quick Twitter search and glance at trending hashtags yields a more accurate snapshot of the pulse of public opinion. And as a strategic communications firm, it is our job to stay up-to-date on these ever evolving trends and advise our clients on the most effective ways to communicate their story to the public.
There is no doubt that Ameritech achieved and surpassed its vision of a world where people “walk down the street and talk to themselves on a phone.” It will be fascinating and exciting to see what the next frontier in communications holds and how businesses, journalists and, in turn, PR firms will respond.
What do you think will be the next evolution of communications? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHetoricBlog.
RH Strategic is the PR firm for a hyper-connected world, delivering integrated media, social & digital strategies for technology, healthcare, and public sector markets.