This year marks several anniversaries for the city of Seattle – the most talked about, of course, being the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. It’s also the 15th anniversary of Weber Shandwick in Seattle, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been here since we opened the doors in the fall of 1996.

Obviously a lot has changed over the past fifteen years. In 1996, the city was smarting over voter rejection of the Seattle Commons. In 2011 – though it’s taken a slightly different form – the vision of the commons is being realized with the rapid transformation of the South Lake Union neighborhood, where some of the world’s most innovative companies, including Weber Shandwick Seattle, are happy to call home.

Of course the communications industry looks nothing like it did in 1996. Fifteen years ago, if clients wanted to get in touch with me, they could send a quick message to my pager. Today, with smartphones, tablets and ubiquitous connectivity, I’m not only reachable anytime – nobody knows (or cares) whether I’m conducting my business in my Seattle office or at 30,000 feet.  In 1996, I used to stand at the fax machine to send press releases to reporters, who would hopefully tell my client’s story via the newspaper articles or TV broadcasts. Today, our teams tweet out links to multimedia stories to communities that then participate in how those stories develop – engaging directly with us and our clients.

Though it can be fun to look back and marvel at what’s changed over the last decade and a half, I’m even more excited by the prospects of the next 15 years – for Seattle, the communications industry and for Weber Shandwick’s clients. I have a few predictions for the next 15:

  • Seattle will establish itself as the global health capital of the world. Just as the city has been known in years past for aviation and software, health will start to define our region, drive economic development and give the Emerald City something to rally behind again. According to a recent study, there are already nearly 60 companies working in the global health arena, employing nearly 3,000 workers in Washington and 17,275 out of state.
  • Changes we’ll see in communications between now and 2026 will make changes of the last 15 years seem trivial.  Innovations in digital media will continue to tear down the walls between social and traditional media as well as between communications disciplines. In fact, within 15 years, I very much doubt there will be distinctions between public relations and advertising agencies; clients will simply hire agencies that come up with the most powerful ideas for engaging the largest population of advocates.
  • Our clients will become media organizations on their own right, creating compelling content and engaging communities as big – or bigger – than the most popular media companies attract today. There will always be a need for third party, objective reporting; it will just come from other, less commercially funded sources, as we’re already seeing happen.

It’ll be interesting to see how these and other changes unfold over our next decade and a half.  Indeed, there are other spaces we’re watching closely: philanthropy, emerging technology, gaming, health care, sustainability, and public policy, to name a few. So, to commemorate Weber Shandwick’s 15th year in Seattle, we’re starting The Next 15 blog series, which will include our leadership team’s thoughts on these topics and more.

I’d like to thank our clients and the city of Seattle for fifteen great years. Please join our discussion about the Next 15 over the course of the next week and enjoy the glimpse below into our own office’s communication trends.

Weber Shandwick Seattle Storytelling by the Numbers

Having been here for 15 years, I have a pretty good sense of how things have changed in my office. For starters, in 1996, 41% of my current staff hadn’t even started high school.  Besides being reminded of my own age, I wanted to poll our staff in Seattle to solidify my understanding of just how differently we’re doing things in 2011.

How We Deliver the Message

Story Fusion

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