Old School PR – Is it Dead?

I started working in PR back “in the day.”  I make interns giggle when I tell them about editing press releases by crossing out letters and words, using White-out and actually taping pieces of paper together to add additional information.  We usually sent press release drafts to clients via courier or the mail. 

Big innovations in the 80’s were the introduction of FedEx (woo-hoo “instant feedback” overnight) and the fax machine.  I remember hearing the fax machine bell and galloping down the hallway to the copy room to put the phone handset in the fax machine cradle so a continuous roll of paper would issue forth.  (This special paper eventually turned all black; I had problems once when I left a fax with my directions to an editorial office in the sun on the dash of my car and returned to a useless sheet of black paper.)  You had to cut up the faxes into sheets or run around the office with a “scroll.”  But for all its issues, the fax was a huge boon to us — (woo-hoo “instant feedback” could be same day.)  We urged all our clients to get faxes and the poor courier service hardly ever heard from us again.

We had envelope stuffing parties, and carefully charted the expected delivery dates of paper press releases to more distant reporters.   We consulted big fat books with reporters’ names and phoned beleaguered editorial assistants to get copies of the magazines.  I could do Lexis-Nexis searches using codes I still remember today.

Most people had never heard of the Internet and email was found rarely and only in the military or universities. Prodigy and Compuserve were introduced but you couldn’t send mail to anyone outside the service you were on.   (Compuserve eventually opened up but Prodigy never did, to my recollection.) Then I got a client who was one of the early Internet giants and my world changed.  The team arrived at my office, waved their arms around a lot, installed wires and such, and showed me how to use email to send the text of my press releases and other documents directly to my client.  (All together now, woo-hoo “instant feedback.”) I had a fabulous email address, bobbi@ftp.com, (probably one of the shortest addresses I’ve ever had.)

Then I discovered that some of the tech reporters I worked with had their own email addresses. I have been told I was among the first PR people to communicate with reporters on email.  I could actually send them press releases electronically.  I still had press kit parties and envelope stuffing afternoons but more and more reporters had ceased getting their information delivered to them in a bucket.  (I visited ComputerWorld once when one of the reporters there got his mail. It came in a post office crate.)

Today I tweet 140 character pitches to reporters who are probably getting a majority of their information off blogs, podcast, Twitter and the like.  The technology of communication keeps moving on and we need to move with it.  If you are in PR, are you keeping up with the technology? Are you trying new tools, new methods, new processes?

But wait, there’s more to it than that. It isn’t just technology.  It is a willingness to try new things and extend what you know into uncharted territory.  When is the last time you tried something new?

I probably sound like I am a hundred years old but I’m not. I’m just your average mid-career flack who has been fortunate enough to hang around some of the leading technology lights in the industry.  I’m curious about all kinds of things and I love learning.  I’ve also realized that PR itself is changing radically.  It’s one reason I chose to focus more on integrated marketing methods of communicating over the last several years.  The best PR person is not going to get far if they don’t have a good background in everything from SEO and SEM to direct mail, and lead generation.  I feel that PR as a separate function is heading for a dead end and PR people everywhere need to be extending their skill sets to embrace integrated marketing strategies and tactics.

Now it’s your turn for woo-hoo “instant feedback.”  Is PR dead as a stand-alone function?

2 thoughts on “Old School PR – Is it Dead?

  1. I was a reporter in the late 80s, early 90s and I remember the mail pouring in with pretty pictures and pricey folders all vying for attention. I remember those fax paper scrolls, they drove me nuts and didn’t copy well!

    It is amazing how much we’ve change the way we pitch isn’t? Now as a small biz owner I’m trying to get peeps attention with a well placed tweet or a pithy email heading. I know if the heading isn’t good the editor will never bother to open it.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Appreciate it.

  2. What a great post with an important message! It’s not just the public relations professionals that need to be willing to embrace new things, it’s our clients too. The challenge is sometimes convincing our clients to take risks in exchange for the potential of bigger gains.

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