Four Decades of PR: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
With three decades of PR already in Kim’s rearview mirror, she’s seen the tides of the industry change more than once—and she’s got a keen view on the future and what it holds.
When Kimberly Lancaster founded Caster Communications in 1998, she had just seven years of PR experience under her belt. Following her first internship in Providence, Rhode Island, Kim spent the next eight years working at four different agencies, bringing with her on each move a developing repertoire of loyal clients who—despite Kim’s young age—were committed to her savvy and vision for the future.
Now, as she begins her fourth decade working in PR, Kim reflects back on the industry, its intense evolution, and what she sees for its future.
In the death of editorial calendars, the first digital publications rise.
“When I started Caster in 1998, faxing was still a thing—and editorial calendars were something you lived and died by,” remembers Kim.
Before publications like Engadget and CNET became the dominating forces they are today, it was the trade publications and internet media startups like eTown (remember when they forged with ZDNet and then Best Buy bought them?) that reigned supreme —and their editorial calendars dictated the entire cadence of news distribution. “Now,” Kim says, “they’re more of a loose guideline. Before you were locked in to their schedule, but now we can shift with the news as it happens.”
This same style of long-lead writing also held true for embargos, when breaking news was a little less…breaking.
“Back in the late ‘90s, even if you briefed one to two people for ‘product news,’ it wouldn’t actually be issued until month(s) later. Breaking news was typically for weekly-published magazines,” recalls Kim.
But while editorial calendars and embargo protocols may have undergone big changes around the turn of the millennium, one thing that’s remained steady are Kim’s relationships with the press: “I developed a lot of really meaningful, important relationships during the early days of my career that have carried through even until today,” Kim says.
The industry turns with the millennium.
As the late ‘90s turned into the early 2000s, digital publications made a flashy entrance onto the PR scene, and by 2010, print was starting to jostle as online content and digital broke the news. Incepted from publications that originally only covered AV news, these new digital outlets became a home for the burgeoning world of tech fiends, hosting reviews, interviews, and everything newsworthy on the wave of gadgets that stampeded into the new century.
“This was the real turning point where the product cycle changed how we approach PR. Things were much longer lead before—companies didn’t announce and ship products. No way,” Kim affirms. “It changed the entire PR perspective. Now we have to think, ‘How do we engage end-users versus the media versus merchandisers?’”
A new decade of PR and tech unfolds.
The expedient rise of smart home technology in the mid-2000s was a gamechanger, not just for the industry, but for Kim’s own career: “Smart home has been one of the biggest opportunities for me. It was a great path to tell interesting stories and touch a lot of press.
“When we started working with the Microsoft eHome team and launched media server, ‘The Home of the Future’ became a foreseeable reality. The first time we used dashboard for the home to describe what a UI managing all these devices was, the tech media glommed on it. A market category was born. That was CES 2006.”
Now, as we move forward into a new decade with untold promises for a new revolution of technological innovation, Kim muses on what PR will look like in the future—and she’s fully candid on her rather shallow depth of prediction.
“I don’t know what the future of PR will bring—I don’t think any of us can know,” Kim says. “When Twitter became a tech community phenomenon after SXSW 2007, we watched to see what it would become for PR. We spent two years growing a community that we didn’t know what the value would become. Though I understood how we would share news using it, I struggled to understand how we would sell it—never mind how we as an agency would be able to prove ROI and offer a full suite of social media services. And now we do, and it represents a core part of our business model. That is PR evolution.
“Maybe the next thing will be virtual reality,” she ponders. “Maybe we’ll be giving virtual tours and virtual product demonstrations to press—that could be a cool way to bring PR a client. And whether it’s AR videos or TikTok, we are always looking at new technology and how that will apply at Caster.”
While the future landscape of PR remains hazy, one thing Kim claims for certain is that the industry will always be valuable and pervasive in our daily culture: “Whether it’s at the crisis level, funding, investor relations, startup guidance, or speech writing, there will always be a part of PR that touches everything companies do.” And like Kim, we’re all eagerly waiting to see where the relentless speed of PR takes us next.
Have predictions for the future of the PR industry? I’d love to hear them! Let me know on Twitter @merryshoebell.