Many things changed in the course of writing Public Relations, not the least of which was the passing of David Bowie. On that January morning when I learned of his death, I created my own David Bowie station on Pandora and blasted his music in my car on the way to work. Stopped at a red light, I looked around at all of the other drivers with their windows up. For a moment, I wondered if anyone was listening to the same station as me, hanging on the same notes and lyrics at the same time. It’s a game I used to play growing up—looking out the backseat window and trying to figure out who was listening to the same station. Who was sharing the same experience? Then the loud sound seemed to fade. My station was my own, personalized for me and nobody else.
The light changed, and I drove on, contemplating yet another round of chapter revisions for Public Relations. In particular, I thought about how I’d better add something on personalization to Chapter 10 on multimedia and mobile.
It’s not surprising that Bowie’s fame trended across all channels as the day progressed, but I was shocked by how many of my friends, colleagues and students shared memories on social media. So many of them were listening to the same music, watching the same videos and recalling the same lyrics. The personalized media that had me feeling very still and alone in the morning reassured me with connectedness in the afternoon. It’s an apparent paradox. And Public Relations is full of them.
Understanding digital media means understanding how they can be highly personalized and private at the same time that they are extremely amplified and social. In the same way, understanding the field of public relations means understanding how the interpersonal concept of human relationships can be extended to large organizations and broad publics. Public relations requires one-way and two-way communication, mass and interpersonal media, quantitative and qualitative research, advocacy and accommodation, controlled and uncontrolled information, global and local strategy, etc.
If you get these big ideas, you’ll be able to manage all of the technological change just fine.
Turn and face the strange.