Julian Tanner, Global Technology Leader, Cohn & Wolfe, London

I met Julian in 1993 when he was working in Silicon Valley for Cunningham (later sold to Citigate). Between his smarts, professorial air and British accent — still slays American audiences; just check out the ratings for Downton Abbey — I hoped to never encounter him in a new-business pitch.

As fate would have it, Julian returned to London to start his pan-European PR agency AxiCom, we needed a helping hand with the infamous Hyundai Electronics launch in Europe, and voilà, we were partners, not competitors.

Thus started what Julian describes as “parallel trajectories roughly 20 years ago.”

It’s been a good run for both organizations.

– Lou

Twenty years in a changing world

Time has a strange way of playing with truth. The frenetic years of starting a company seemed to pass by in a minute, while a single dreary Sunday afternoon of my childhood is etched in my mind as the tortuous endless countdown of stagnant time until day’s end.

We also judge future time unfairly, making impossible demands on the productivity of insufficient hours. As Bill Gates put it so well, we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.

Lou Hoffman and I commenced parallel trajectories some 20 years ago. He in pioneering a PR network through Asia Pacific from his successful U.S. base. Me in building a pan-European tech PR firm. Our paths crossed metaphorically and then physically when Lou teamed-up with AxiCom for the European launch of Hyundai Digital Media.

Looking back over the intervening 20 years, we can see the monumentality of the change that has occurred. A technology industry that seemed thriving and mature when we started out was in truth just in its infancy. Consider that Amazon, Google and Facebook did not exist as we plotted that fateful Hyundai press tour — text messaging was yet to be revealed to the world, and the World Wide Web was still a well-kept secret of the digerati.

We were in a different place politically too. The Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite countries had only recently emerged from the shadow of the Iron Curtain, while a more open China was both intriguing and exciting. The Far East, as we called it then rather than today’s anodyne “Asia Pac,” promised great rewards, but few were brave enough to venture forth and establish businesses and offices in the region.

Europe too was a very different continent. State borders and individual currencies brought light to the lie that Europe had become one addressable, region and it would take a decade before that would seriously change.

But the first signs of change were there to be seen. And as Lou set off on his Asia Pac adventures and me on my European enterprise, I guess we could both see where the winds of change were blowing and were keen to stay ahead of the breeze.

Our instincts proved right; today we live in a world of 24×7 communication where all global areas are open. It has certainly changed the way we work and the requirement to monitor and engage with influencers no matter where they are in the world.

So looking back 20 years inevitably involves a distorted and unreliable rear-view mirror — but out of that, certain truths are axiomatic: the world is definitively a smaller place, and the requirements of communication have intensified as we take on a global view and global responsibility. But as we found out with Hyundai Digital Media, what really matters in PR has not changed; a great story is still a great story no matter what land or language you tell it in.