Blog PostsTrendsCultural TrendsPR and the Industrial Revolution

PR and the Industrial Revolution

Moving beyond industrialisation isn't a failure — it's an accomplishment.

As the industrial revolution replaces humans, where will PR fit in?

Living in rapidly evolving times, I sometimes think about what we as PR professionals do — and why. Public relations has had a clear role to play in the industrial revolution for nearly a century, but as society evolves, we must adapt, too.

But how?

The phases of the industrial revolution

Where does PR fit in? One of many ways to think about how our world got industrialised is to think of it in three overlapping phases:

Phase I: Liberating humans

The industrial revolution liberated society from a less civilised (and much poorer) agrarian lifestyle.

Phase II: Utilising humans

The industrial revolution utilised society by schooling us into utilitarian single-output instruments.

Phase III: Replacing humans

Finally, the industrial revolution will replace the last one of us completely in favour of better machines.

Public relations, for better or worse, is functioning as a lubricant for the interface between the industrial systems and real people engaged in producing and consuming. This is how we, as a profession, has found our role in the greater scheme of societal development.

Of course, this simplified view of the industrial revolution is in many ways provocative, but this perspective bears interest as it places the digital transformation not as a separate revolutionary shift, but rather as the natural outcome of the industrialisation process (i.e. Phase III).

An interesting observation here is that the PR function was entirely born, evolved, and matured during the industrial revolution’s second phase.

An almost existential PR challenge

Being the interface between industrial efforts and humans, PR has always found itself at the intersection between objectives and ethics. But as we’re well underway transitioning into the phase of replacing humans rather than utilising them, we face an almost existential challenge.

For me personally, as a PR professional, there are two pertinent questions that springs to mind:

  • Is it our job as PR professionals to ease the replacement process by managing humans while the machines are slowly taking over?
  • If so, will it be our last job as PR professionals to just “see ourselves out” before “turning off the lights” and handing over the “office keys” to autonomous communication protocols?

For two decades now, whenever I’m asked the question what I do for a living, I’ve replied that, “I help organisations to communicate better.” That to me, has always felt like an accurate and meaningful answer. But what is an accurate and meaningful answer applicable for the next two decades?

The future of PR — an optimist’s outlook

I don’t know any more about the future than anyone else. However, this much I do know:

Transforming humanity into replaceable parts of industrial processes was never a desired end result to begin with. The use of PR to facilitate and establish the foundation of a more prosperous and advanced society was always just a stepping stone.

In history, bursts of societal progress has often meant that humans have been freed up to think, communicate, and create. And it’s often in these rare and inspired times of enlightenment that we take great strides towards discovering meaning, creating art, and understanding the universe.

And in an enlightened post-industrialised society, great communication skills will be as valued as they are today. Perhaps even more.

For PR to one day move beyond the industrial revolution is in itself not a failure — it’s an accomplishment.

Industrial revolution - Yoda meme . The future of PR is bright.
May the publics be with you.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

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Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.org/
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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