Goodbye to the golden era of mass communication.
With the burgeoning of our technical ability to send messages - to saturate large audiences over a wide geographic area, or to zero in on one or more persons in a finite target area - comes a second phenomenon: the fragmentation of publics. No longer can we as communicators aim at a relatively few large targets based on the traditional demographic groups.
We can't depend on the conventional mass media as our primary vehicle for informing, persuading and activating our publics.
With the winding down of the second millennium, we appear also to be nearing the end of a figurative millennium the golden age of mass communication. We are moving into the age of multiple mini-communication and fractionated publics/audiences/markets.
As we communicators play catch-up with today's communication technology, we fantasize about tomorrow's and strive for the appearance of being aucourant by dropping references to exotic forms of communication into our conversation with colleagues and potential clients. The jargon is fascinaring terms like teleports, video windows, fiber optics, voice-text synthesis, ISDN (integrated services digital network). Actually, all of these have potential value to PR practitioners, but we will have to learn about them, or hire someone who does.
It is safe to say that many PR practitioners have not grasped that today's communication technology, not to mention what is to come, is both a curse - overloading the average person (public, audience, consumer) with sound, picture and printed word - and at the same time a blessing - providing an infinite number of avenues for transmitting messages.
Nor, unfortunately, have we fully grasped the extent of fragmentation of our PR publics.
Problems Confronting Communicators
Don E. Schultz, professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Evanston, Ill., teaches a graduate program in corporate public relations. Schultz told Communication World that lie sees several problem areas confronting today's public relations practitioners. First is the loss of credibility of the traditional media, accompanied by the fact that "communication offers so many alternatives."
We have become skeptical," says Schultz. "The question now in the average person's mind is: "How much faith can I put in any particular information source"" He sees conflicts the field of communication. We get conflicting information; we are given alternatives. Therefore, it is difficult for any one medium, or medium organization, to be the authority, to be as influential as it once was."
As for communication technology, Schultz says we are becoming an aural society. "We take in information through our ears rather than reading. We can listen, or watch, while doing something else, and no longer have to concentrate on what's coming at us."
Schultz tells corporate executives in his seminars that their organizations are trying to communicate in too many voices. "The marketing department is putting out one message, the advertising agency another, the PR people another, and the sales department joins in with another pitch.
"You need to get all the parties together behind a total communication effort, an integrated communication program." Schultz advises PR practitioners to become proactive strategists, rather than merely reactive tacticians.
One Press Release Doesn't Fit An
So we in public relations are led to this: communicating selective messages to selective publics via selective communication mediums. The selection of the message and the medium depends, more than ever now on detailed, and sometimes painstaking, research into the public at which we aim. No longer can we do as we have done, send out the same basic news release with some rewrite and localizing, to all of the mass media in a geographic area. Now, we must deal with micro-media directed to mini-publics.
Corporations fund research and development departments to anticipate future trends and come Lip with products and services to capitalize on those trends. Why not R&D departments as integral parts of PR agencies and/or organizations' PR staffs' We talk about issues management. Why not formalize this function with budget and personnel? And to this department we could add a resident expert in high-tech communication tools and methodology.
As publics fragment from larger publics into splinter publics, as they coalesce and fall apart, and as our interests as consumers of information and ideas wax and wane, those who wish to reach us with their messages must do more and more audience research.
"That research is there for the use of PR practitioners," says Philip W. Steitz, whose Washington, D.C.-based Survey Research Corporation serves Fortune 500 clients representing such diverse interests as aerospace, international banking and telecommunications. In an interview with Communication World, Steitz said that it is now possible "to take the composite, the profile, that you (the PR professional) provide us, for the person who typifies the public you want to reach, and to provide you, in return, with a list of persons, or households, that make up that public, in any geographic area you designate."
Public opinion researchers and analysts are finding more and more ways to identify individuals as members of focus-publics, and multiple publics. Steitz cites the expanding use of bar scanner code technology in supermarkets to do more than just tote up prices at checkout counters. "As customers are willing to trade in a little of their privacy and divulge certain information about themselves, we can determine exactly who is buying what," Steitz explains. The next step beyond this could be identification of lifestyles of each purchaser, a factor PR communicators are including in their public persuasion equations.
Privacy, and the invasion thereof, raises the flag of concern for communication professor Douglas Ann Newsom of Texas Christian University. Newsom, familiar to persons in public relations for her (co-author) college textbook, "This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations," (now in its 15th year and fourth edition) says the proliferation of "micro media" is bringing a concurrent invasion of our privacy.
Newsom emphasizes that just because a message gets to its destination and the content is credible, does not assure the public reception desired by the sender, if the recipient perceives it as an invasion of privacy. She advises that PR practitioners need to research "the expectancy quotient of a specific communication medium with the type of public" toward which it is directed. Must Watch Psychographics As for message content, Professor Newsom: "People watch what they want to watch. We're not going to get our messages across unless we pay attention to psychographics. Our interests go beyond VALS (Values and Lifestyles); they cut across politics, religion and social issues .... Our lifestyles may change, but this doesn't mean (all of) our interests change. I took ballet lessons as a youngster, but haven't danced ballet for years. Yet if a ballet slipper appears on the screen, my attention is caught."
And while getting your attention might be tougher for the big four mass media-newspapers, magazines, radio and TV (exclusive of cable)-don't rush to count them out as major players in PR-oriented communication in the future.
Confronted by competition from cable television, the traditional broadcast media-network and local-are going to "niche" programming. Based on continuing audience surveys, they are directing advertisers to the time of day and type of program that offers maximum impact on specific audiences; e.g. married women between 26 and 40 with two children. This projected narrow-casting is based on consumer market profiles. Public relations practitioners can use the same research in planning institutional image or advocacy advertising.
Newspapers continue to fragment their daily print package into multiple specially labeled sections and pages aimed at specific reader interests. Special zone editions for specific geographic areas have replaced the now outmoded city, metro and downstate editions. Special sections abound. Typical is The Oregonian (Portland) which announced 34 special sections for 1990, with editorial (publicity giveaway) themes ranging from winter sports, to jazz, to health and fitness, to personal finance.
Magazines have taken dramatic steps to provide a print product that meets the need of today's "fractionating" publics. Through the use of inkjet imaging and selective binding, magazines - following the lead of catalogs - are into personal publishing. Selective binding, through computer control, uses an automated assembly line on which each copy of a magazine can be assembled with a different mix of ads and articles. You could receive your own personalized copy of a nationally distributed magazine-or any publication prepared by a public relations practitioner.
Information-service companies have computer lists of millions of names with individual personal information on each which has been researched from vehicle license registrations, and other public records, such as census data and change-of-address requests.
It is interesting that a farm publication, the Farm Journal, which has over a million readers, was the leader in personalized publishing. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, F-J executive Roger Randall said, "Each individual subscriber's magazine is manufactured separately ... Based on known information about the reader, you're building a magazine that hopefully is more interesting to the reader." Aimed at an agricultural readership that varies widely by crop, geography and acreage, the Farm Journal each year sends out more than a thousand different versions of each of its 14 issues.
The Time magazine group (Time, Sports Illustrated and People), garnered headlines with its highly publicized January 1990, PR ploy; each of the group's 9 million subscribers opened his or her magazine to find an Isuzu advertisement with her or his own name imprinted, plus that of the nearest Isuzu dealer.
Public relations practitioners-like their counterparts in advertising and marketing-are being offered an amazing array of technology by which to transmit messages. They are in danger of being overwhelmed by their options.
The PR challenge today is, as it was in the past and will be tomorrow, to get persons on the receiving end of our messages to pay attention to them and respond in the desired ways.
Perhaps the hottest job opportunity in communication will be public relations psychographer or communication technology coordinator. We may well see in-house or on-call these primary support personnel for our communication and public relations planning and implementation.
The communication technology of the '90s and in the decades to come will require the PR professional to:
* Select the medium for each public that will be accepted by the members of that public into their homes or offices with no feeling of invasion of privacy;
* Select the medium that will be considered credible by the recipients and paid attention to;
* Frame each message in content and presentation/style that convinces the public of its relevancy, that it is in the recipients' self-interest, that it satisfies a perceived need of members of that public.
With the proper research of each public, the PR practitioner has limitless possibilities, technologically speaking.
FUNNY MONEY AND THE MILLENNIUM
In order to approach a basic under, standing of a truly global economy, it's necessary to boot up your thinking to terms of trillions-$87 trillion to be exact because that's the dollar value of monetary transactions recorded in a year. That's transactions, not exchanges of money for goods or services, just money being moved from one place to another in search of increased mass through greater velocity. Moving money for the purpose of making it grow quickly has become an end in itself and according to some economists will help define the rules of the 21st century.
World Watcher Peter Schwartz, writing in Stewart Brand's "Media Lab," said this about the phenomenon: "Now our technology has progressed so that increasingly the wealth-creation process has to do with information instead of with the material manipulations of manufacturing. That is, the value added in the transformation of stuff has to do with our capacity to understand and use information in various ways. If that's the case, then you have to ask yourself, how're the rules of that (new) system going to be written?"
As an example, futurist Jay Ogilvy in the same book writes: "What gets me is how utterly inappropriate our basic economic categories are. We need to recast the concept of property, for one thing, because in Marx's terms property is by definition alienable: that is, unlike your elbow, which is you and not yours, property must be transfer. able to another aha equals other). I sell you the cow. You got the cow. I don't have the cow anymore. I sen you information. You got the information. I still have the information."
PRINT'S NO GOOD EMPLOYEES CAN'T READ
Another reason for carefully analyzing your employee audience is that a growing number of them can't read. "Despite surveys showing that a significant proportion of job applicants lack basic reading, writing or arithmetic skills, barely one in four companies questioned by the Society for Human Resource Management offers remedial classes to workers," according to the November 7, 1989 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article points out the fact that most firms surveyed don't see the basic skills crisis as their problem yet.
RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN STUDY AT CAL STATE
Fifteen Soviet aircraft plant managers recently took a compressed MBA program at California State University at Hayward aimed at teaching them the American economic system, marketing, human relations, management, motivation, quality control and high-tech production management.
"They'll take what they learn and apply it to doing business in the Soviet Union," according to lay Tontz, dean of the school of business and economics.
The Soviet managers also visited several aircraft and high-tech manufacturing facilities. Other highlights of their stay included a show and tell trip to the automated teller machine and an afternoon at the Price Club, a retail discount chain.
NEW WAY TO REACH KIDS
Christopher Whittle, chairman of Whittle Communications, Knoxville, Tenn., is changing the way expert communicators are targeting their messages. His basic approach is to identify a slice of the market that isn't currently being served, then dishing up the appropriate medium.
His latest is educational television programming to kids in school, interspersed with commercials for candy, snacks, shaving razors and other products. The 12-minute program launched in March amid considerable wing-flapping from the educational community, contained two minutes worth of 30-second spots.
Whittle also is pioneering advertising in books and controlled circulation (free) magazines distributed to doctors' offices to replace the dog-eared, two-year-old copies of National Geographic. Captive patients are otherwise forced to read.
YUPPIES REPLACED BY POSTIES
The latest US generation group is called "posties", according to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Posties "are defined by what they are not," says writer Shan Nix. "They are post-yuppie, post-hippie, post-modern, post industrial, post-punk. Their lifestyle is post-AIDS, post Vietnam, post sexual revolution.
"The William T. Grant Commision on Work, Family and Citizenship reports that posties can expect to earn an average of 25 percent less throughout their lifetimes than the generation 10 years before them," the article said. Summing up the rather glum outlook of these folks was Chris Esparza, 23, a San Francisco club manager who said: "The more we learn about what's going on around us, the more hopeless we are." Plenty of room for improvement.