In Predicting the Shape ...


Tonight, I share the stage with Shel Holtz at a San Francisco IABC event that examines the future of PR and communications in 2025.

Given the velocity of change in today’s world regardless of industry, predicting what will happen one year from now — much less eight years out — is fraught with peril (and pointed objects).

Years ago, I was staffing a press interview with Philips when it had just introduced a technology for storing data on the same compact disc used for music.

The journalist kept pressing the Philips exec about how many units would be sold. He tried to dance around the question, but the journalist wasn’t having it. Finally, in an act of exasperation, he said, “Projecting sales for CD-ROM units is like asking Mrs. Magellan how many lunches should be packed. Who the hell knows?” The clever sound bite diffused the journalist’s aggression and, of course, made the story.

In preparation for talking on the future of communications, I thought about the exchange on CD-ROM and how I might conjure up context to guide my own predictions. With this in mind, I decided to go backwards eight years looking at both the business world at large and communications before throwing darts at 2025.



Here’s a snapshot of the business climate in 2009:

For starters, the Great Recession was still wreaking havoc with job loss totaling 800,000 in January, a record number.

Remember Circuit City where we flocked to buy TVs and other consumer electronic goods? The company shut down all of its 657 stores.

2009 was the year that Federal Trade Commission put an end to analog TV. All TVs moving forward would only depend on a digital signal.

Here’s a data point that captures the velocity of change. Over 50 million people turned to their BlackBerrys for email in 2009, a time when Apple’s iPhone user base totaled 30 million.Uber logo collage

And this year saw the introduction of a startup with the crazy idea of essentially turning every car into a potential taxi. Right, this was when Uber got its start as Ubercab.

You don’t need deep scientific research to get a sense of the tremendous change that has transpired over the past eight years.

Going through the same exercise with a focus on the communications industry, you don’t find the same type of drama going on as in business at large. What have been the biggest changes in the communications industry over the past eight years?

Google’s decision in 2010 to communicate that it was pulling out of China on its corporate blog was noteworthy. The advent of native advertising and sponsored content brought paid media into the domain of communications. The rise of Facebook to the point of scaring the beejeesus out of sovereign states has certainly impacted communications.

But have any of these changes or others turned the fundamentals of communications upside down?

I would argue no.

And why I believe with absolute clarity that massive changes will occur over the next eight years.

We’ve got some catching up to do.

I’ll be sharing my predictions tonight. Tickets are still available on the SF IABC Eventbrite page.


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