Public relations as a marketing discipline has been surprisingly resistant to technological progress, yet it has flourished despite its low tech orientation. But emerging are changes that may force public relations practitioners to alter their businesses, or lose ground to a new group of service providers who have grasped the new technology.
Traditionally a field with low capital expenditures, public relations has thrived because strong personal relations with those in the media have often meant more to success than a scientific approach. Practitioners can easily work out of homes, with just a cell phone, computer, and fax. Advertising expenditures, too, have always dwarfed those of public relations, and the largest advertising agencies are far larger than the biggest PR firms, most of which are in fact owned by worldwide agency networks.
The future clearly holds:
- Interactive CD-based news releases, which not only tell the product story but also provide video, interviews, different perspectives, and downloadable copy and art. Other CD-based potentials include virtually unlimited background capabilities, so that diligent researchers can delve more deeply into background information, based on key word searching. Creating one of these is expensive, at least for now.
- Forums, databases, and live on-line product discussions are a new target audience, and despite Internet users' biases against commercialization, the day is already at hand in which company CEOs and product spokespersons will place themselves in an on-line forum, answering questions and engaging in dialogue not only with media but directly with end-users. A development like this would clearly reduce the media's historic role as mediator between companies and consumers.
- Direct-to-home communications that by-pass media directly are an expansion of the forum opportunities. But instead of traditional publications that filter, edit, and revise news releases, consumers may elect to receive material on a subject of interest directly, through on-line addresses, removing the need for media covering new cars, electronics, health, or a number of other topics.
- Worldwide television lifts product announcements and news conferences across continents. Very few PR firms can produce a television news release as easily as a printed one. However, satellite downlinks, which only television stations can now afford, will become commonplace in the future, opening the potential to reach homes directly, all around the world. Why wouldn't a computer enthusiast, for example, wish to experience a product announcement news conference as it was happening instead of reading about it in the press? Why will a reporter need to attend a future press conference when it is available on his or her own combined computer/TV screen? (Verifying electronic attendance to clients speaking into television cameras in an empty room will be an interesting test of PR firms' credibility.)