The Year the Communications Industry Changed Forever

We started 2011 walking an economic tightrope and we’re ending it balancing precariously on the precipice of a double-dip recession. On the face of it, it would seem that not a lot has changed over the last twelve months. And yet this year has seen some fundamental changes to the way business operates and communicates with clients, customers, suppliers and peers. The influence of social media has grown further and the world of public relations has finally started to wake up to the fact. But perhaps the biggest change that I’ve observed over the last year has been the incredible increase in the speed of communications, and the resultant stresses this is placing on those working in the industry. Real-time has gone, well, real-time.

Working in a PR or marketing agency has always been fairly pressured. Managing (and balancing) the demands of multiple clients can be tough, but the dynamism this necessitates makes the communications industry an exciting place to work. Responding to the pace of change of the industry, however, and perhaps driven by the expectations of consumers facilitated by the social web, client demands are becoming ever greater. Respond to an email in more than an hour? I don’t think so. Not be on call 24/7? Forget it.

Back in January I made some predictions about what the year ahead might hold, most of which I’m pleased to say, have manifested (social television’s not here yet, but it’s coming!). One of these was about the increasing speed of the way we communicate and the resultant requirement for brevity. Arguably greater than content marketing, the decline of the website, platform consolidation or even mobile computing, it’s this that has had the greatest impact for me personally and for many others in 2011.

Client demands are increasing

The expectations of clients that proposals and strategies can be turned round in (in some cases) hours and that everything is needed in double quick time mean that I’m bloody busy. All the time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m busier than I think I’ve ever been in my working life.

And it’s not just me; the PRSA in the USA and the CIPR in the UK have recently joined forces to try and redefine what being a PR practitioner really means in today’s always-on, real-time, digitally-driven world. It’s (to me at least) a redundant exercise that will do little but enable those within the organisations to congratulate each other about their amazing insight while us common folk get on with doing the job. I don’t care how PR defines itself, and neither should you. But the main point to take from this is that there’s no going back. When PR dinosaurs start to realise that they need to react to social media and the pace of the industry (even if solely to protect themselves), you know it’s here to stay. The communications industry is evolving right before our eyes. And it’s doing so very, very quickly. Keep up or become extinct.

As I say, I’m now busier than I’ve ever been and seem to spend far too much time fire-fighting and nowhere near enough time strategising, planning and thinking. Five minutes in the shower every morning really shouldn’t be all the time I have for creativity and brain space. And this has impacted on other areas of my professional life; I’m not using Google+ nearly as much as I’d like, and this blog has, I feel, suffered over the last six months.

The evolution of blogging
The blogosphere in general has changed noticeably this year. Some bloggers who I read avidly in January now hardly ever post. Others have started regurgitating the same old content and have become entirely predictable and, yes, dull. The echo chamber within social media and communications has grown ever larger during 2011 and the lack of original and insightful voices of people who are prepared to speak out, challenge and say something different is a little depressing if I’m honest.

A few months ago, the hugely respected and admired Danny Brown published a post titled ‘The Mind-Numbing Banality of Sameness that summarised his own thoughts on what was happening. I have to respect the way that he seemed to recognise a little of this in himself and repositioned his massively successful blog to ensure he wasn’t dragged into the mire. As a result I tapped into a whole new slew of bloggers, mostly from the USA, who thought along the same lines. But after a few months of reading, even these guys have formed something of their own micro echo chamber, just with a different viewpoint. But maybe that’s the way of the blogosphere?

Seeing things from a new perspective
For me personally, the year has been successful in many ways: my agency, BOTTLE, won our first ever social media award in July, followed by another in November. It was also short-listed for others, including Best Digital PR Agency. And then a few weeks ago, the wider agency won Outstanding Consultancy of the Year at the CIPR PRide Awards. 

But I can’t help feel that I’ve gone backwards as a blogger over the last few months. This is my 61st post on The Social Web this year; in 2010 I posted 98 times. That’s down by over a third. And if I’m being 100% honest, some of those 61 posts have been based on half-baked thoughts and ideas, rushed out without giving the concepts or writing itself time to develop. Not good.

When I look back over a year’s blogging, I started well with original thoughts around developing a model for social communications ROI and openly calling out PR agency heads for being idiots due to their lack of nous about the evolution of the industry. During the summer I carried out a two month experiment where I didn’t use a search engine, and I blogged about the findings from this. I was prepared to challenge, to question and to be original. And then somewhere around August/September, I lost my way and fell into the chasm of the echo chamber. My writing has become predictable, overly critical and, in some cases, pointless.

This is, I feel, in part due to the aforementioned levels of work and pressure I find myself having to deal with. But it’s not an excuse. And when I look at this lack of available time, the need for brevity and the (related?) rise of Tumblr, it gives me a lot of food for thought. 

And so over the Christmas holiday period and into January I’m going to be giving serious consideration to how, and indeed if, this blog continues. I need to get back to offering original thought and personal opinion on hot digital, social and technological topics – and on how we as people think about them. Blogging is by people for people – it shouldn’t be about the latest Facebook development or how to use Google+. But at the same time, I want to provide easy access to some key trend data that you, dear reader, may find useful. Chances are, when I come back, it’ll be with something new and different, and I very much hope that you’ll still be interested enough to stay with me in the next stage of my blogging journey.

In the meantime, thanks for sticking with me in 2011. Merry Christmas to every single person who has read this blog, commented or shared a post with their networks over the last 12 months. Have a wonderful holiday with your family: eat, drink and be merry. Sending the best of season’s greetings to you and yours, from me and mine.

Paul x

 Like This Post? Subscribe to TheSocialWeb

  • Lee

    Hi Paul. Warm, heart felt and honest – thanks. And a tinge of sadness in your words too – lets hope your back in the new year…I took 7 months off this year – an felt it has done me the world of good :) writing more for me now as a way of organising my thoughts …Take care, have a wonderful Xmas and see you in the new year…