Futurology, for PR

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You would have noticed that I enjoy talking about innovation and in particular how future applications will evolve to affect the field of communication, and therefore our own area of expertise.

I am a great believer that we have firmly entered into a new era of communication standards, one in which our role as PR professional will change radically. Yes, of course, for a few more years we’ll still be making a few bucks following the old order, but what the last decade should have taught us is how quickly innovation makes its mark and how not being prepared is no longer an option. I would hazard to add that if we, the PR community, are prepared to embrace changes more vigorously and rapidly than other professions, thus becoming true trendsetters, we stand a better chance to survive and thrive than other disciplines in the 21st century, but it’s a big IF.

My view of the communication of the future is that it will hinge primarily on visual, rather than written communication. This change will initially be very gradual, but then increasingly more rapid, so much that in probably ten years from now we would look back at a blog like this like we now look at a Sumerian cuneiform tablet.

I am not alone at expressing this view and research carried out by the likes of 3M indicates quite clearly that human beings process visual communication much faster than text. But we all know this, at least instinctively. What has been happening is that only a few years ago it was much more difficult to communicate effectively visually at large scale. If you wanted to produce a film, for example, you needed huge resources in terms of people and money, and as an audience you could only follow the story while sitting down comfortably, preferably with a drink and some popcorn.

All this is changing quickly. Just look at your smartphone, and if you don’t have one then you shouldn’t read this blog! But there is much more in store. A few months ago I wrote another blog on Augmented reality (i.e. Google Glasses) expressing a somewhat sceptical view of this application. Well, I am going to eat my words now. Google Glasses are now in an advanced stage of development and in fact even Microsoft is rushing to file patents for similar devices. Of course the concept changed somewhat from the first prototype (the one that made me think it was impractical) as in its current format the glasses streams information only through a very narrow area of your field of vision (like the attached image from Google+). Now, just think if millions of people started using this application (not at all inconceivable). Do you really assume that you will be able to produce reams of text for this kind of audience to glance at in this format? I don’t think so. So you will have to project concepts and snippets of information even more cleverly than you may be doing now.

Obviously, we shall continue to produce written communications for a while longer, especially in more technical and legal practices, but the public at large will be swayed by the prospect of accessing the same information more quickly and through the latest visual means. This is happening already and there is ample evidence that very short written messages (i.e. microblogs) have a much larger influence on communication than conventional channels. Even Twitter feeds are increasingly more being backed up by visual imagery and data derived from feeds can also be turned into instant information, without the need for lengthy explanation, like the Twitter experiment carried out during Thanksgiving.

So what has this got to do with PR I can hear some of you muttering? Well, think of the impact that more use of visual communication is already making in our day to day activities and increase it exponentially, then when you have done that look at where you are now.

This leads me to another subject, which is the one of skills. I didn’t attend the recent conference on the future of PR organised by the PRCA, partly for financial as well as time constraints, but I followed some of the conversation and came across a blog from someone saying, more or less, that PR outsiders were somewhat less than welcome as they might dilute the profession. The reality is that the old guilds of the past are dead (except for those who like to dress up in gowns). They may have been a necessity when information didn’t flow freely, but in the current highly porous information environment, PR consultancies have already had to embrace skills that a few years ago were seen as firmly outside of their remits. Instinctively this may appear confusing and may put some people on the defensive, but this trend will continue unabated. Yes, this will lead to a semblance of chaos and even the perception of lack of direction, but let’s not forget that in Greek mythology Chaos was the first created being, the one from which everything else, including order, was subsequently created.




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