For this week’s PrimeTimePRchat we went old-school for back-to-school with a Q&A with Gerard Corbett, PR Executive, Writer, and Photographer in Foster City, California. Based on his 40 years of PR Crisis Communication & Branding experience we figured out that basically nothing is new. 

When we started chatting Gerard said that he had been performing the same #PR functions for 40 years. I asked him to elaborate.

“40 years ago I was a Program Manager for Creamer Dickson Basford in Rhode Island. Much of my job was crafting messages for technical clients to explain the benefits and effects of their products and services. 30 years ago I was with a mining company explaining the impact of and solutions to their Superfund sites. 20 years ago I was managing communications and marketing for a global Fortune 100 company in the technology arena explaining how they benefited society in a variety of B-B and B-C industries and ten years ago I was developing communications strategies for startups and conventional firms in Silicon Valley. Through it all, it was helping people and companies define and communicate their intrinsic value.”

The major changes he notes see are:

  1. Communications is now real time, instantaneous and all the time

  2. Communications is two way

  3. Everyone now has a voice and the ability to use it

  4. Channels just proliferate

  5. The boss is no longer always right

Infographic looks at the evolution of PR over the past 20 years

Author Andrew Hutchinson [@adhutchinson] The Evolution of PR – 1999 to 2019 [Infographic] for Social Media Today by MSR Communications


As I looked for background resources I found Andrew Hutchinson’s [@adhutchinson] The Evolution of PR – 1999 to 2019 [Infographic] for Social Media Today where he notes, “There are some interesting points of nostalgia, but more importantly, some good reminders of what, and why, things have changed, and how modern businesses need to adapt.’

In the past 20 years, I have been privledged to be front-and-center as we watched madness erupt, fizzle out and then move to an obsession with social media. The speed of PR is lightening fast, which may not be such a good thing as it leaves many professionals feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.

One area of PR that seems new to me is that PR pros are now expected to be content developers, helping to formulate key messages that will resonate with the corporate culture – both internally and externally, including within the sales funnel.

And Of course technology has changed public relations over my many years (from fax, to email, to websites, to social media) however one big shift is that PR, as a strategy, has gone mainstream. It was only for very large organizations back in the old days. Communications professionals are no longer gatekeepers and while the field has evolved, managing up continues to be a challenge. CEO egos, leadership’s lack of understanding of the issues, and a general spray-and-pray approach continues to flourish.

“It used to be that PR pros represented the company to media. It typically was one way communications. Today, the successful PR pro must engage with a host of stakeholders using different channels and tactics to keep them engaged with the organization. At the same time the PR pro needs to set communications strategy so that the organization’s vision and goals are realized. The essential objective is, where does the organization want to be at the end of the day?” ~ Gerard Corbett

“In many ways PR is no longer a 9-5 job. There is no way to sustain trust without robust two communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Meaning PR pros must insure that the C Suite understands all of its stakeholders, their POVs, needs and demands. As a result, PR pros must have the proverbial seat at the table because they are representing and advocating for all of the stakeholders to the C Suite. It is this function that requires the PR Pro to be the conscience of the organization making certain that behaviors by the organization are coherent with the vision and values.” ~ Gerard Corbett

“Because the PR pro advocates for everyone, they are best equipped to define, formulate and convey the type of messages that that will resonate with each and every stakeholder. No other function has that universal perspective. It is both necessity and opportunity. In my experience, PR really sets the platform for other functions to operate from, whether its marketing, investor relations, HR, employee communications or R&D. Success comes from speaking consistently, coherently and honestly.” ~ Gerard Corbett

“Unfortunately, lying and obfuscation have become normalized in today’s heated political, cable news coverage environment. It has to change. To be fair, organizations by and large are honest and transparent but many of them do it far from the broadcast lights. This argues for greater and more frequent story telling by organizations and much louder voices of those who can speak over the negativity. PR pros can assist in this effort.” ~ Gerard Corbett

“Being the conscious of the organization means that PR pros remain alert to the behaviors of the organization and its employees and take steps to neutralize behaviors that are not coherent with the organization’s vision, values and goals. If the C Suite has confidence in and empowers the PR Pro, it can and does work. As an aside, if you are a public company, you likely have a whistle blower policy in place.” ~ Gerard Corbett

So basically, in public relations, nothing is new.