about nine years lie between us today and that historic Monday morning,
January 3, in the year 2000, when you will go to work for the first
time in the new millennium. In the afternoon of my own life, I can't
very well be assured of being with you at that turning point, even
though my home computer tells me that I will probably live about
19 more years, to about age 89. That would carry me to the year
I won't depend on it, most of you will be there. Most of you will
still be working in public relations. You will still be grappling
with the difficult problem of influencing public opinion favorably
on behalf of your clients or employers. And you wonder, understandably
enough, what your professional life will be like, and what you can
do now to prepare for it.
flows to those groups and individuals that succeed in developing
the year 2000, your role as a professional communicator will be
vastly more important in our society than it is today. If you have
or can develop the ability to communicate persuasively on behalf
of the organization that employs you, your services certainly will
be in greater demand than they are today. This is because our society,
and much of the rest of the world, is becoming progressively more
democratic, and therefore automatically, more contentious. Winston
Churchill once said, "Where there is a great deal of free speech,
there is always a certain amount of foolish speech." Your organization
will need to contend with that. And besides foolish speech, every
group speaks out for its own self-interest. This is true today,
and it will be more true nine years from now. In such an environment,
power flows to those groups and individuals that succeed in developing
public support. This is very different from the past when power
rested in the hands of those with lots of money and important political,
social and business connections.
the days when Republican and Democratic party bosses controlled
and counted the votes, public opinion wasn't nearly so important.
The party bosses ran things. In the days when money equaled power,
the rich ran things. Once upon a time, it was more important to
cultivate the "right" relationships with the few people
and the party leaders who decided things. That isn't true any more.
Ask the lobbying professionals in Washington who built successful
and profitable careers on knowing and having access to the right
people. Today, they'll tell you that their political and government
contacts mean little unless they can persuade significant sections
of public opinion back home to support the position they advocate.
corporate managements could run their factories as they saw fit,
without interference from sanitary laws, pollution controls, child
labor laws, limits on working hours and the like. Today, those days
seem as far away as the time of ancient Egypt. With each passing
year, public opinion demands higher standards of corporate behavior
and higher standards of public behavior from our elected and appointed
officials. The old era is gone not the corruption of the
past, but the ability of the corrupt to get away with it forever.
Public opinion surely influenced by the media as it simultaneously
influences the media exerts its force today. By the year
2000, this force will be overwhelming.
we look ahead to the future to try to foresee the year 2000, we
tend to see more or less of what already exists. We
anticipate progression, or regression, but not radical and fundamental
change. We foresee the path to the future as a straight line, whether
up, down or across. But that isn't the way life unfolds. Life is
Herman Kahn, the scholar and futurist (as he called himself), the
president of the Hudson Institute, who in 1970 wrote a book called
"2000." Just one year after his book was published, the
Arab oil embargo changed the entire world economy, caused gas shortages
all over our country, and began the flow of billions of so-called
petro-dollars into the Arab countries. Yet, in Kahn's book, you
will discover not a single reference to oil, the Arabs or the Middle
East. In 1970, they weren't important. By 1971, they had become
very important, as they are again in 1990. Kahn couldn't foresee
the academic community as well as government officials failed to
foresee that Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika would drastically weaken
communism not only in the USSR, but equally, in Eastern Europe.
They did not see or believe that perestroika would introduce political
democracy into the Soviet Union itself. They did not foresee the
centrifugal force of nationalism that will tear apart not only the
USSR, but many other nations as well, with consequences to us that
are not yet foreseeable. They surely did not foresee that the General
Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party would be awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize, as we Americans cheered.
won't be terribly important where you work, whether in an
urban metropolis or in a small town; whether in your office
or in a room newly converted into an office in your home
I make predictions knowing the hazards. Change doesn't happen because
someone plans it. It won't happen because someone gets a bright
idea. Change happens because available technology invariably is
put to work to do things that couldn't be done before. We must look
at science and technology to see what will change your future and
create the world in which you will work in the year 2000.
universal communication, brought about by science and technology,
is intensifying the force of democratic life. Didn't Radio Free
Europe influence the beginning of political democracy in Eastern
Europe? Didn't fax telephones influence the events in Beijing before
hope was crushed in Tiananmen Square? Isn't the computer changing
the education of young children across our country? Science and
technology are causing this.
science and technology signal clearly to us what your work will
be like on that Monday morning of January 3, in the year 2000. I
will mention three signals that I believe are significant.
it won't be terribly important where you work, whether in an urban
metropolis or in a small town; whether in your office or in a room
newly converted into an office in your home. Developments in the
transmission of information will cause this to happen. Today, anything,
anywhere can be transmitted inexpensively to anywhere else, whether
words, or sounds, or pictures, or data or all in combination. Optical
fibers threads of glass are now being unrolled like
vast superhighways under the oceans from one continent to another,
carrying torrents of messages, pictures, videos and data, at less
and less cost. A new Trans-Pacific undersea cable will carry six
hundred thousand phone calls at once, compared to the 48-call capacity
of the first undersea cable that was placed at the bottom of the
Atlantic Ocean in 1956. Dozens of TV channels today come into your
home by cable and satellite, compared to the lonely three that broadcast
intermittently when I joined CBS Television News in March 1946.
technology enables you to work as effectively maybe more
so in your home, it will reduce corporate needs for high-rent
space in downtown office buildings. If you work at home, you will
reduce the overhead of your employer. The way to get ahead at the
office will be not to go into the office and thus, keep down the
overhead. As technology eliminates location as a significant factor,
corporate overheads and the real estate markets will change fundamentally.
Cities will change fundamentally.
repetitious work will disappear. Not just repetitious work in the
factory; 30 years ago, automation began to eliminate repetitious
factory work. Now, repetitious work will disappear from the office,
and from much professional work as well. Developments in the science
and technology of memory are bringing this about. Tiny chips under
development will store 64 million not 64 thousand
but 64 million bytes of information on an area the size of your
little fingernail. Processors will find the right answers and print
them out at unimaginable speeds. The computer, for example, has
already changed every profession from legal research to seismic
exploration. It has changed the engineering profession. It is changing
medical practice, particularly in diagnosis, where it can remember
the significance of infinite combinations of symptoms that an ordinary
physician could never remember.
availability of unlimited memory is changing the public relations
profession as it has already changed law and medicine. If you work
in marketing support or product publicity campaigns, you won't spend
time selecting media to match the demographic characteristics of
your target audience. You'll tell your desktop computer whom you
want to reach, and your computer memory will make the selection
with a precision not now possible. The folks at Lotus in Cambridge,
MA, already are selling inconceivably large masses of information
encoded on optical disks. You buy not just the disk, but the keys
to extracting the particular categories and specifications you wish,
at so much per 5,000 items of information.
you have approved your computer-selected media list, your computer
memory will call up whatever information you wish to communicate
to the media. It will be edited automatically to fit the special
interest of each newspaper, magazine or broadcast outlet, according
to general instructions you have previously placed in memory. Then
it will send out your information, probably in computer-readable
digital form. Postal service and bicycle messenger services are
fading away as postal rates and messenger charges climb. By Monday
morning, January 3 in the year 2000, you probably won't be able
to recall when you last mailed a letter or relied on a bicycle messenger
in the city.
communications will be directed to more specific and sharply identified
audiences. The mass media will have fragmented, fading away possibly
to the point of extinction. Advances in computer memory and in the
techniques of reproduction are making this happen. Today, copying
machines are everywhere, and every amateur and would-be editor who
has something to say to others uses desktop publishing. By the year
2000, two technologies the computer and the copier
will have fused into one. The new Xerox Document Machine is leading
remember masses of data about who we are, what interests us, how
we live and what we buy. This will make it easier for those who
want to communicate with us. They won't waste their circulation
or their money on getting their messages to people who aren't interested.
Examine the 100 different current editions of Time magazine.
Granted, today they differ only in advertising, not in editorial
content. But for how long? Examine The American Baby, whose
computers tell its printing presses what articles to include in
your copy of this month's issue, depending on whether your baby
was born this month, three months ago or six months ago. These examples
point the way to what will be commonplace at the beginning of the
millennium: the withering away of the general or mass media, and
the development of highly specialized, highly targeted magazines,
newspapers and broadcasting stations.
who are skilled at communicating...will surely have their
work cut out for them in the years ahead.
the year 2000, optical computers will have intensified this trend
beyond what is now possible for us to foresee. Photons instead of
electrons will be widely used, not only for the transmission of
information but for processing it in computers. The AT&T Bell
Laboratories have invented a way to manufacture and place two million
lasers on a chip the size of your fingernail. How can we foretell
the impact of light waves instead of electricity?
consequences of scientific development can rarely be foreseen. For
example, the transistor, surely the most important invention of
the 20th century, was initially seen simply as something that would
eliminate vacuum tubes from radios and telephone switching equipment.
That's the way The New York Times first reported it. Who
could have foreseen that the transistor would first make practical
the computer, and that in turn, the computer would bring about space
is science and technology that have encouraged the development of
democracy, ever since the Industrial Revolution. Science and technology
today are strengthening our ability to communicate. For this reason,
science and technology offer positive hope of strengthening democracy.
Democracy is a process, not a solution. It doesn't solve the problems
of society. It is superior to all forms of dictatorship primarily
because it provides an orderly process for people to express their
views openly, and then hope their elected officials will be able
to reach a compromise in an effort to find the best answers to their
our own country today, it is fair to say that democracy has reached
the highest level yet known in any modern society. Everyone speaks
out. Everyone is listened to. Everyone who chooses to speak out
influences decisions. And the result all too often is a deadlock.
No wonder Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst system
of government, except for all the others."
at the abortion issue. The conflict can be summed up in the catchphrases
"pro-life" and "pro-choice." This issue has
divided our country with an intensity perhaps not seen since the
days when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated the issue
of slavery on political, moral, economic and religious grounds.
That issue tore apart the nation. But not all the issues dividing
our nation are as big or perhaps as important.
cite one example that confronts us today, thousands of the mentally
ill are living homeless in the streets. Some people of goodwill
say that the government should have no right to take them off the
streets and place them in hospitals or mental institutions for treatment,
because they threaten no one but themselves. Others say that simple
humanity and their desperate need for help should require their
removal to places of treatment, whether or not they wish it. The
issue is deadlocked. Public opinion has not yet crystallized.
me cite a minor conflict involving the telephone companies, in which
I was involved for 33 years of my life and, therefore, have a particular
interest. The state of Pennsylvania has prohibited a new telephone
service that automatically shows the number or name of the person
who is phoning you the instant your phone begins ringing. Some civil
liberties advocates say this violates the privacy of the person
calling you. So Pennsylvanians are not permitted to buy this service.
But across the river in New Jersey, the Public Utilities Commission
has approved it, on the basis that you have just as much right to
know who is phoning you as to know who is ringing your doorbell
before you open the door. As a result, in New Jersey, obscene and
threatening phone calls have decreased sharply. The right of the
caller's privacy conflicts with your right to identify who is calling
you. In many states, the public utilities commissions are divided
over this issue.
these as representative of the great number of issues, large and
small, facing our country that are unresolved because public opinion
either is too sharply divided or as yet unformed. How these and
other issues are finally resolved will affect all of corporate and
common factor encompasses all these difficult problems: ultimately,
they will be decided by public opinion. Not by some president's
or dictator's opinion, but by public opinion. As democracy has flourished,
both in our country and in the world, the opinions of ordinary people
have become decisive. Yet many folks don't believe their opinions
are important. A majority of eligible citizens often don't even
bother to vote because they've lost faith that their vote makes
any difference on important issues.
have become cynical and distrustful that their leaders can or will
resolve contentious issues. Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) once said
in a moment of frustration that Congress in one session had managed
to do hardly more than proclaim National Peach Month. In addition
to a widespread sense of futility, millions of people see that leaders
in every part of our society lie regularly business leaders,
labor union leaders, religious personalities, trade association
officials, elected officials and so-called community leaders. The
credibility problem of any communicator is immense.
it seems inescapable that those who are skilled at communicating
those who know how to identify the right channels of communication
to reach those who are important to them; those who use research
to identify and understand the underlying currents of public opinion;
those who know how to present their case most persuasively and credibly
will surely have their work cut out for them in the years
that the public relations professional who begins work that morning
of January 3 in the year 2000 will be vastly more important than
she or he is now. This is because public relations professionals
will be more skilled at influencing public opinion than we are today,
and because public opinion will be even more decisive in influencing
corporate and public policy than it is today.
all love to talk about the blessings of democracy. And we are right
in doing so. The opposite of a democratic society is one in which
someone, whether a king, or a dictator, or a despot or a religious
official who believes he is acting on behalf of the Deity, orders
us and compels us to do things we might not wish to do. Whether
the king, or dictator, or despot or religious official is right
or wrong, we have no voice in the matter.
opinion develops, changes and crystallizes very slowly. In the case
of the communists, it took 70 years for the Soviet people to say,
"Enough'" For the bungling King Louis XVI, the French
Revolution ignited in the 15th year of his reign. Martin Luther
meditated for 12 years before he nailed his Theses to the church
door at Wittenberg and began the Reformation. Public opinion very
rarely changes overnight.
was a wise public relations professional who understood this. He
was the very first corporate public relations officer, incidentally
Arthur W. Page, vice president of AT&T, who in his retirement
years, was asked by Walter Straley, one of his successors, "How
do we keep out of trouble with our critics in government?"
Mr. Page replied:
business of our size will always have critics in and out of government.
We should expect to defend ourselves from time to time, as best
we can. But if we want our enterprise to live for a very long time,
we must decide what kind of changes we will need to make in our
business over coming years. Then if our future depends, as surely
it will, on permission and approval of government bodies, we must
ourselves devise the laws and regulations we believe to be in the
public interest with respect to our enterprise. We must place them
before government people and public leaders, and make clear why
those laws or modifications are in the public interest. And listen
to this: we should let the strength of our ideas lobby for us."
is the slow way to do it. But it is the way to keep our system alive.
Government people are not our enemies. They are as interested in
what is best for the public as we are. When we recommend laws, they
are naturally suspicious. But if we devise and present good ideas
and sound specifics, a few people will take them up, or perhaps
pieces of them, and in time, politicians will even use our ideas
to become re-elected."
after five years, or 10 years or even 20 years, some of what we
want to happen, if not most of what we want to happen, will happen.
We must do our most important planning before the public knows what
it wants. By the time it makes up its mind, we are too late."
W. Page's message has a special meaning for us today. Nine years
from now, you will be going to work on Monday morning, January 3,
2000. Today is the day public relations professionals should begin
planning to deal with the problems of public opinion that surely
will determine the survival of each of our organizations.
November 4, 1990 isn't one day too late to begin.
Relations Society of America
College of Fellows 10th Anniversary Dinner
Costa Mesa, California, October 23, 1999