PRWeek turns 15: Defining moments

Industry leaders recall trends or moments that have defined PR during the last 15 years.

What trend or moment has defined PR/communications during the last 15 years?

Richard Edelman
President and CEO, Edelman
The most important moment for PR firms was the Battle in Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting that made it clear that the NGO movement was going to be important in setting the agenda on sustainability and human rights. It set the stage for Walmart and GE programs of the mid ‘90s.

Christopher Graves
Global CEO, Ogilvy Public Relations
As corporations moved away from thinking of their relationships as highly directive, proscenium stage theater and saw them as more intimate, integrated glimpses of reality, PR came closer to journalism. The most powerful catalyst in this shift has been the rise of social media, which blew apart the stage and pulled down the curtain, leaving us close-up and eye to eye with the public.

Susan Gilchrist
Group CEO, Brunswick
The financial crisis, coupled with the digital revolution, has created a very different conversation. One of its biggest impacts has been the collision of business and politics. Politicians and regulators are now active participants in every sector – whether it is the tech industry and privacy or the food industry and obesity. Every senior communications professional has to be able to respond to that.

Jeff Charney
CMO, Progressive
The moment that sticks out for me is when Chesley Sullenberger landed a plane on the Hudson River in 2009. Many people don't remember, but the defining picture from that incident – the one you saw all over the news – was tweeted by a person riding the ferry on its way to rescue the passengers and crew.

It showed how instantaneous social media is and how the Web can be used to spread information, good or bad.

Brett Jewkes
VP and CCO, NASCAR
We've seen the almost sudden death of the 24-hour news cycle and our influence broaden and deepen across companies. Both developments required communications leaders to evolve and become quicker, bolder, and more instinctive with decision-making. In organizations where that has been achieved, our discipline is driving greater value than ever.

Michael Olguin
President, Formula PR
Brand managers used to believe that they could drive consumer perception, action, and interaction between their brand and the target audience. That is no longer the case.

Consumers wield all the power and brands can either choose to participate in the conversation or watch from the sidelines. 

Bill Plummer
VP, external affairs, Huawei
While the digital revolution has enriched our lives, it is also driving real concerns in terms of a properly informed public. 

PR professionals face new challenges as we enter an age in which utter immediacy and unlimited channels are undermining disciplined fact-based communications and media accountability, including that of well-known, reputable outlets.

David Reiseman
VP of communications, Gold's Gym
It was the moment someone posted an opinion online and shared it with their friends. By hitting that post button, they single-handedly took a sledgehammer to traditional media and traditional marketing strategies. The dawn of social and digital media forever changed the way we market to and engage consumers.

Julie Hamp
CCO, North America, Toyota
Social media has changed the ability for the average citizen to bring their voice into a debate and influence millions. Add to that the availability of data and the transparency of information once thought secret – think WikiLeaks – or even the casual iPhone conversation, and you have the perfect storm of what can be reporting without responsibility, opinion-making without consequences, and bad ideas and actions spreading for others to copy and wreak havoc on.

While this may be the pessimistic view, it is also a realist view. And yet, as with most major trends, there is the other side of the coin. The other side has empowered freedom of the press to thrive in previously suppressed societies through both social and traditional media. It gave rise to the Arab Spring and free press in developing countries such as India, Brazil, Pakistan, and much of Asia and Latin America.

Laura Kane
VP of corporate communications, Aflac
Search engine optimization has certainly changed the way we write our press releases and content for Aflac.com. Aflac offers supplemental insurance, which is also known as voluntary insurance. Because people search both terms – we make sure that we use both terms in all of our external communications.

Fred Cook
CEO, GolinHarris
The trend that has redefined communications has been the move from generalists to specialists. The complexity of our business requires that we either change our approach or become extinct.

Jon Harris
CCO, Hillshire Brands Co.
It is not only expected that PR practitioners should be expert in their own craft, but must also be versed in the fundamentals of the various disciplines including advertising and traditional marketing. Understanding and leveraging data and analytics and developing and implementing PESO strategies are becoming core competences. A good practitioner doesn't just think like a journalist, they think like a marketer and the best think like a CEO.

Brandon Edwards
CEO, ReviveHealth
The fundamental altering of the pathways of communication – from an intermediated channel model with media driving conversations and setting agendas, to a disintermediated model through social media and other channels – is the single biggest trend that's affected our industry.  And I believe that trend will continue even more intensely in the future.

Bridget Coffing
SVP, corporate relations, McDonald's
Social media has given us an incredible ability to truly listen to customers and engage with them on a more personal level. This more authentic dialogue has evolved into brand story-sharing and initiatives that embrace the power of the human spirit and values, allowing customers to feel a purposeful connection to a brand.

Kelli Parsons
SVP and CCO, Fannie Mae
The importance of communicating change effectively is a substantial shift in our industry due largely to dislocation caused by the global economic crisis. Understanding business transformation, communicating in an authentic, transparent manner, and engaging internal and external audiences around a strategic change agenda are essential for companies to survive and thrive.”

Melissa Waggener Zorkin
CEO, president, and founder, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
Two of the most defining trends have been the broad adoption of mobility and the ascendancy of social media, and subsequent disruption to traditional communications. These trends have changed how and where we consume information about companies and brands; the rise of social media has allowed companies to talk directly to their customers, to glean stronger insights into what motivates them, and to forge one-to-one relationships with them. But what hasn't changed is the need to tell the right story.

Peter Granat
President and CEO, Cision
The digital revolution redefined PR and communications and continues to offer new ways to build relationships and reach. From long-tail content and SEO to social media, content marketing, and monitoring, it helps communicators better understand and connect with their audience.

Jay Walsh
Senior director, communications, Wikimedia Foundation
I've watched executives confront a new and vastly complex landscape of media and information. Those leaders approach communications teams not for a strategy on how to leverage technology, rather a way to navigate the perils and put limited resources to the best use. That's the trend that has defined my career: careful, steady, and strategic navigation through a revolution in information, media, and technology.

Bryan Specht
President, Olson Engage
Access to information is more open and immediate than ever before. Combine that with access to like-minded people, communities form, influence emerges, and leverage is used. Consumers and stakeholders have access to everything about a brand, company or public figure and this has transformed our industry.

Jon Diat
VP of external communications, AIG
The compressed news cycle has made a significant change in the way the media works. It's truly a global 24/7 world. News today can break in seconds and it requires media relations professionals to react almost instantly.  Failure to act quickly can result in a situation that's so much harder to control.

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