Doctor SpinTrendsCultural TrendsPR Beyond the Industrial Revolution

PR Beyond the Industrial Revolution

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

When the industrial revolution replaces humans, how will PR work?

Living in rapidly evolving times, I sometimes think about what purpose we PR professionals have in society.

Public relations have played a clear role in the industrial revolution for nearly a century, but as society evolves, we must adapt, too.

But how?

Table of Contents

    The Phases of the Industrial Revolution

    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 entirely in favour of better machines.

    For better or worse, public relations is a lubricant for the interface between the industrial systems and real people engaged in producing and consuming. As a profession, this is how we have found our role in the greater scheme of societal development.

    Of course, this simplified view of the industrial revolution is in many ways provocative. This perspective 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 is that the PR function was entirely born, evolved, and matured during the second phase of the Industrial Revolution (i.e. Phase II).

    The 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 as a PR professional, two pertinent questions spring to mind:

    • As PR professionals, is it our job 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 “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 of 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 a meaningful answer for the coming two decades?

    The Future of PR—An Optimist’s Outlook

    The use of PR to facilitate and establish the foundation of a more prosperous and advanced society was always just a stepping stone. Transforming humanity into replaceable parts of industrial processes is probably an irreversible outcome.

    In history, bursts of societal progress have often meant that humans have been freed to think, communicate, and create. And it’s usually 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, excellent 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)


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX 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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