In this year’s PR Council Critical Issues Forum, there were, as always, a series of interesting panels about a wide variety of hot topics. Perhaps not too surprising, the upcoming election (don’t worry, this isn’t an election blog), which has transformed and disrupted communications as we know it, was top of mind for most. From the mountains of research being done, to message development, to the grueling schedules that can alter a candidate’s ability to stay on message, we went beyond the election to an even more controversial topic: vibrating underwear (we’ll leave that up to your imagination). And once again, we mused over the essentially rhetorical question, “Is PR dead?” However, this year, a unifying theme that stood out is the clear intersection and impact of high-tech tools and gadgetry on our liberal arts-laden communications profession. Changes in technology are constant and the disruption in our industry is massive. From how we use data to craft high impact campaigns that drive measurable business impact, to the mediums we must use to reach consumers where they are – mobile, online and everywhere in-between. If we have gone from the visual years of Instagram and Snapchat, we are now entering the Virtual Reality years of storytelling. However, some things simmer and stay as status quo in PR: the universal need to influence customers with relevant and riveting content. We Can Leverage Tech to Earn Trust We are trading the old days of having one press release designed to work for the masses in favor of multiple pieces of content customized for individuals, or like-minded, psychographically aligned groups. We will use tech to keep doing better, faster, custom research per project. This concept of making content much more 1:1 to the consumer, makes sense and feels the same as accepting the idea of having different ads for different media publications and/or writing different pitch letters per different influencer contacts. Alexander Nix in the session, “The Numbers Game: How Big Data is Winning Consumers Through Personalized Campaigns” talked about the idea of mastering a very specific message and customizing it per attitude – so that brands and even our political candidates in this election year – should not only be earning media, but earning additional behavioral buy-in based on what we are saying to who, and when. [Important Footnote, 2020: It is now known that Alexander Nix and Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from millions of consumers without their permissions. I think the idea of gaining acceptance of an idea or a message based on psychological or behavioral factors is powerful, however it must be done legally.] Sure, we’ve all been on the line for producing a volume of coverage, and we’ve all reported back on % positive coverage too. But what about changing the measuring stick to include whether or not our content was more deeply believed and psychologically accepted, and therefore motivated a desired behavior? It’s worth noting that technology is not necessarily making the cost of PR go down, it’s helping the effectiveness go up. Even Good Old-Fashioned Storytelling is Going High-Tech The futuristic session, “Into the Holodeck: What the Future of Comms Will Look Like” showed us first-hand how VR products are currently, and will be, used for storytelling. So instead of a rendering, or getting just one prototype to launch a product that is not fully released yet, we can essentially build it in VR and share the news and the experience in a way that’s worthy of an Elon Musk production. So, let’s trade press trips and press conferences for #HoloLens days. Let’s open our minds to a new form of 360-degree storytelling and transform the traditional. One example discussed was the reopening of the Cartier Mansion in NY. There was an event, a four-page, pull-out spread in the New York Times and there could be, complementing all of this… a Virtual Reality immersive experience where consumers and media can see what 5th Avenue looked like in 1905 when it was built, contrasted with a view and experience of the new store and street in 2016. So maybe now, or soon, we will have Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality specialists at agencies in our “media” departments. What’s the end game? How do we explain our changing industry and inspire the next generation of PR pros? Of course, PR is not dead, it’s going through a renaissance influenced by tech. I’m going to start by telling my teen daughters to think about how engineering and design can help them, even if they want to follow in mommy’s foot-steps, and I look forward to interviewing and mentoring graduates who do not have English or Communications degrees. For right now, I am very grateful to work at a place like WE Communications that already knows that being high-tech and investing in tech directly leads to being high-touch and highly-effective with clients and our communications results. I may not be signing up to colonize Mars, but I am ready to embrace PR as a high-tech industry.