GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

As a child, my father would often try to explain his job and teach me about how the stock market works. I would always get lost in his example of trading fictitious pencils and erasers, but the part about bull and bear markets – or upward and downward trends – made sense. Bulls were rambunctious and bears lumbered, plain enough.

So, I was surprised while reading The Wall Street Journal when I came across an entirely new term, “black swan,” to describe drastic market upheavals, such as the Sept. 11 attacks, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 1987 stock market crash – wait, I thought that was “Black Monday” – OK, this is all becoming very confusing.

The article described that the term black swan hails from the historic belief that all swans are white – a claim that was obviously false when European explorers discovered black swans in Australia.

The gist: Anything is possible. In fact, big surprises are more common than people think.

This notion caused me to think about the current upheaval in media and communications, largely wrought by the rise of the Internet. Newsrooms are shrinking, user-generated content continues to dominate online channels, and now Facebook has launched Places as a new location tracking service, the likes of Gowalla and Foursquare, to find friends and share your location with the rest of the world. But that’s a whole other blog post!

Stock market investors have the benefit of hindsight in knowing that financial markets will ebb and flow, and also rebound from dramatic black swan-type events. But not since the printing press have we experienced such dramatic change in communications. What will become of this current upheaval in the way we distribute and share information?

I imagine that more is to come in mobile communications and that both traditional and new media content sources will need to be even savvier at delivering news and information to small-format devices. I also expect the ongoing convergence of home entertainment and computing technology – whether it’s broadcast-quality TV from our laptops or computing from our flat screens. This is one thing that “Back to the Future II” got right.

Regardless, it’s safe to say that media and communications are in for continued black swan moments and that we shouldn’t expect a return to the past with a bear market any time soon.

So as PR professionals, this constant change translates into a new way of doing business. We cannot rely exclusively on a toolkit of proven best practices. To stay ahead of our industry’s own black swan moment, we need to continue to evolve our skills and use new and emerging resources to the best of our ability to meet the needs of our clients.

As an example of this new paradigm, our client Qdoba Mexican Grill recently launched a new campaign to fight burrito boredom – check it out! The campaign combines word-of-mouth marketing with online surveys and social media to keep burritos top-of-mind – a good example of how our jobs are evolving to get you (and reporters) to think differently about new and existing products and services.

(Source: Kim, Jan J., The Wall Street Journal, “Preparing For The Next ‘Black Swan’,” Aug. 21-22, 2010.)

~ Kimmie Greene

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