Ever since Eliot Spitzer hit the skids in the most spectacular fashion, I have been unfettered by expectations that the world will go on as usual. When the disgraced former New York governor's activities were uncovered in early March, the sheer shock of such an epic downfall set up perfectly the year that was to follow – a year when venerable financial names would cease to be, when Tim Russert would suddenly die on the set of Meet the Press, and when individuals would learn that 401Ks – guess what? – are not risk-free investments.
The unexpected is not all bad, of course, as when America elected a black president who was alive before Jim Crow was dead. But there is a strong sense of disorientation that is permeating everything right now. This is a new reality in which we can seriously contemplate a future with a decimated Detroit and the disappearance of more once-great American brands. Nothing is certain anymore, not the everlasting ingenuity of Apple or Google, not the unchecked momentum of China, and not even the continuing growth and relevance of the PR industry.
As we recently looked back over 10 years in the industry, it was clear that the PR profession has undergone a sea change in the past decade. It no longer sits on the side-lines while marketing, digital, legal, sales, and HR move the ball down the field. But some of the components of that success are what puts the industry at the greatest risk in uncertain times. Primarily, the importance of PR is understood well beyond the corporate communications function, and more deeply in the marketing mix. CEOs and CMOs are embracing and deploying PR as never before.
Though this is a vital boon to communicators overall, we must continue to empower the corporate communications function, even as our distracted eyes might wander to other sides of the business. If you do not believe that the role of corporate communications might be threatened in a downturn, think again. Severe cuts of in-house teams could have a devastating impact on the future of PR.
The other role that is imperiled is that of the media. A vital, dynamic media is an essential partner for PR, but where are the voices from the industry in support? Is there a future without NPR or The New York Times? We cannot honestly believe it can't happen any more.
The PR industry is proud of its power – and it should be. But it needs to remain an advocate for the institutions that have helped make it worthy of that pride.
Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.