It doesn’t seem a minute since I was sitting in my back bedroom with my Macintosh SE/30, a laser printer, a landline and a fax machine, trying to avoid the temptation that was Tetris and focusing instead on the layout of a four-page A3 newsletter – which was tricky enough anyway, given the size of the SE/30’s mono screen.
A quarter of a century has passed since I founded the PR business that is now Quiet Storm Consultants. I can’t quite believe where the intervening time has gone.
Although the technologies existed already and would engulf all of us soon enough, emails, web sites and mobile phones weren’t even on my radar at that time.
Searching for forthcoming editorial features meant thumbing through a printed version of Advance every quarter. Obtaining sign-off on a news release required a copy to be printed out and faxed across to the client with a covering note requesting a signed copy to be faxed back.
Distributing a release with a picture meant ordering copies of prints, attaching a label to the back with the relevant details and mailing with the release to a carefully selected circulation list.
Those were the days when colour separation fees were actually used for creating colour separations.
Adopting, adapting and upsetting
Mobile phones came out at just the right time. A colleague and I decided to try my first – a nifty little number attached by a cable to a huge battery with a handle – by calling a client in London from my car to say we’d be slightly late for our pre-arranged meeting, only to discover he had left for Glasgow earlier in the day.
That very first call saved me fifty miles or so of a wasted journey. Mind you, we had already travelled sixty miles down the M1 before we made the call and still had to make the same trip back.
Email technology took a lot of the pain out of issuing news releases and contacting journalists. This in turn fired up the journalists’ animosity to PR people.
Issuing a news release suddenly became much easier and a lot cheaper. Adding other media to the circulation list effectively cost nothing and could potentially boost coverage results. The problem was that the extra journalists who were targeted hadn’t been on the earlier lists for a reason – they weren’t really relevant.
Being inundated with bumf that was of no use to them soured an entire industry’s view of the PR profession and still lingers in some areas today.
Developing smarter solutions
Happily, experience and more recent technological developments have alleviated that issue for the more considerate and circumspect within the PR industry, who build relationships by being responsive, helpfully proactive and by generating interesting, original and newsworthy material, which is targeted with surgical precision.
Web sites and social media have made it much easier to reach the end user directly, rather than risking key messages falling victim to the editor’s delete button, or the entire story being (the modern equivalent of) spiked.
Bloggers, fan sites and social networking channels provide a whole range of new opportunities and challenges. Reams of virtual paper on LinkedIn and other sites are used to share (or sell) ideas on how to make the most of these media, or - increasingly frequently - simply duplicate or paraphrase the thoughts of others on the same subject.
Looking at my LinkedIn home page, I empathise with the journalists of that recent bygone era who were plagued with material of little or no relevance – only this time, I feel as if I’m being given the same information time and time again.
Fortunately, with a few clicks in Pulse, I can enjoy a respite from the influencers, channels and publishers for as long as I like. Of course, given the relentless march of development, I’ll have to re-engage at some stage in order to ensure that I don’t feel like a Luddite in this age of e-enlightenment.
It’s an interesting and exciting time for the PR industry, but then, ‘twas ever thus.
Despite the great channel leaps forward over the last 25 years, the ability to identify and to generate interesting material that engages the right audience and delivers the right results for clients has remained a constant.
It’s a challenge my own business has enjoyed meeting for two and a half decades, and will continue to do so for some time to come.