The 20-Year Evolution of Communications

By Alison Milligan, Allen Hall Public Relations

As PRSA PDX’s Communicators Conference approaches, it is important to realize how communications has changed since the first conference 20 years ago. Back in 1996, public relations was just starting to develop more specialties like investor relations and an emphasis on corporate social responsibility. and the Internet was starting to become available in most homes. 20 years later, public relations continues to play a crucial part of a company’s success, and the Internet is an integral part of everyday life.

Here are five ways that communications has changed within the last 20 years:

  1. Sharing:
    20 years ago, if you wanted magazines and newspapers to cover your news, you had to type up your press releases and physically mail copies to publications. Public relations professionals can not only email press releases and have them up in minutes, but they can also pitch reporters on social media. Professionals are now sending pitches via Twitter DMs and tweets. Also, social media is making it easier for people form relationships with reporters. For example, Twitter enables people to follow each other and learn more about the reporter as a person, enabling them to cater pitches better!
  2. Social Media:
    Social media has been one of the most important changes for public relations within the last 20 years. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many more social media outlets are relatively new to the public relations world. Yet, they have become crucial channels for reaching audiences and sharing your story. In 2005, only 10 percent of Americans were active on social media. In 2015, 76 percent of Americans were active on social media. This data shows how important social media has become in Americans daily lives. Not only do people go on social media for fun, but they go to social media to find out the latest news. Now, 59 percent of Twitter uses go to Twitter for news updates, while 31 percent of Facebook users go to Facebook for their news updates. Over the past 20 years, social media has completely changed the way we look at news and distribute it.
  3. Measurement:
    20 years ago, it was harder to track how many people read an article or bought your product as a result of your news placement. This data has always been important, but up until a few years ago it has been hard to measure those crucial impressions. Now, there are many tools that will measure important public relations impressions, enabling public relations to become more effective and impactful.
  4. Affordability:
    Social media has made a variety of public relations practices more affordable. In the past, companies would spend around $80,000 for a 30-second ad on primetime television. 20 years later, most companies are able to focus on making great content that can be published for little to no cost on social media platforms. Now, money can be spent in smarter ways for companies depending on their needs and budgets.
  5. Blogging:
    Blogging has changed how public relations professionals interact with reporters and publications. Blogging enables your audience and customers to engage with your brand more effectively than traditional public relations channels. Not only are corporate blogs important, but relationships with outside bloggers are as well. Now, you do not have to depend on reporters to get your story out. Blogging has taken off in the last few years and now maintaining relationships with bloggers is just as important as maintaining relationships with reporters.

After reading these five big changes within communications, what do you think communications will be like in the next 20 years? Leave us your comments below! Also, do not forget to register for PRSA PDX’s Communicators Conference on May 2, 2016. Click here for more information.


  1. Tom Unger, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

    I think you’re right in pointing to social media as being among the biggest changes we’ve seen since the first Communicators Conference 20 years ago. I think, though, it would also be fun to discuss the things that haven’t changed in the past 20 years: 1) the importance of writing clearly and succinctly; 2) the importance of establishing meaningful relationships; and 3) the importance of being deadline oriented. None of those have changed and, perhaps, will never change. Even the communicator with the most honed social media skills will not succeed if they don’t haven’t mastered those skills also.