Technology has a tremendous impact on the field of communications. From cave drawings to the Gutenberg printing press to the Internet, the tools we have available influence so many aspects of our communications.
For professional communicators, staying on top of tools and trends is paramount to ensuring our message lands, and that we’re working efficiently. We spoke with Lilja Communications Founder Mary Lilja about how changes she witnessed impacted communications over three decades, and her advice for adopting new technology.
How has Lilja historically approached adopting new technologies?
We generally embraced new technology as it came along. At first, we had original Apple computers (with the tiny screens) and a fax machine. Our first computer that could send emails was a huge breakthrough! We had one email address, “firstname.lastname@example.org.” At first, its use was pretty limited because you couldn’t attach documents and reporters still wanted news releases via fax. But it was still necessary technology because it helped us keep up as things evolved further and keep pace with our clients.
Once we were able to attach documents, it made client interactions so much more efficient because we could email drafts back and forth. Otherwise, we would be faxing or sending drafts via FedEx. We could also distribute press releases faster via email than we could with fax — and certainly faster than the days of assembling and mailing press kits, although that continued for some time.
An interesting footnote: we started with Apple computers in 1988 and hung in there with them even though they didn’t make software for small businesses. We always had to have one PC in the office for some functions.
How did new technology change the flow of work?
The pace at which we got work done just accelerated. Instead of making things more spacious, giving you more breathing room, it made everything more immediate. And clients expected quicker responses. We’ve always been known for being reachable and responsive, which is a really good thing, but that meant something new now because we were available 24/7. We still did a good job of maintaining a work-life balance and rarely worked on weekends.
What were some of the concerns with new technologies and how did you handle those?
We were always very cautious to make sure we were using these new tools correctly and protecting our clients’ confidentiality. When cell phones were new and there were questions about privacy, we would avoid using clients’ names or any other specifics in our conversations via cell. For confidential deal announcement meetings (and there were many) we always used landline phones. Funny to think of now!
With email, once we were able to attach documents, there was a learning curve in making sure you were selecting the right attachment to send. Even with fax machines, there were potential pitfalls if you typed in the wrong number, and we were diligent about checking and rechecking numbers. I remember a story in the PR world when a confidential internal memo was accidentally sent to the Wall Street Journal, which was the preset button next to the home office number. (For the record, that never happened at Lilja.)
As technology continues to evolve, especially with tools like artificial intelligence (AI), what is your advice for the industry?
Be really thoughtful. You can just put in a toe instead of jumping in. Balance confidentiality and security with the need to stay current. And be curious about how something could make your life better, make you more efficient or improve your work.