At the risk of sounding like I live in the Smithsonian, please allow me to reflect on how times have changed. Modern day public relations preceded the Web by decades, and many working in the profession may not realize how archaic—and different—our daily work really was. Mind you, I began working in PR 15 years ago, but the points I mention below also apply to my first 15 years out of the gate—in a broadcast newsroom as a news director and anchor. Sure, Mad Men shows us advertising execs who were smoking cigarettes and drinking hard liquor as part of their daily routines. However, in the real world of PR and news, what was happening before Google, YouTube and satellite media tours? In 1947, the Public Relations Society of America was formed. In the 1950s, PR executive Dan Edelman, founder of the global agency bearing his name, created the first media tour. Fast forward to the 1990s or so, and the work of PR pros had evolved, but was markedly different than how we roll today. Every day, we depended on:
- Rolodexes, not databases. Without Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and other repositories to connect reporters with sources, offices and desks were decorated with tattered overstuffed rolodexes. They were bursting with weathered business cards and scribbled tabs with coveted names, home phone numbers and private extensions of elected officials, civic leaders and community movers and shakers. Oh, to clarify, the word “community” meant neighborhood or geographic area.
- Press releases, not direct message pitches. These documents were often typed on Olivetti or IBM Selectric typewriters. PR budgets included white out, corrector ribbons and paper that wasn’t recycled. Envelopes and postage stamps, too.
- File cabinets, not online archives. These ugly metal storage boxes contained news clips, magazine articles, and other placements you secured with blood, sweat and tears.
- Research, not Google Alerts. This depended on previous projects, microfiche records and speeches recorded on cassettes and videotapes. Trips to the local library were frequent, and lengthy. World Book Encyclopedias were also part of the PR practitioner’s toolbox.
- Telephones, not smartphones. With phones hard-wired to the wall and no voice mail, if you weren’t at your desk when someone returned your call, oh well. Some really important people had electronic pagers. When their “beepers” went off, they found the nearest pay phone and dialed. Callers never had to worry if a live person would pick up. What other options were there?
- Press conferences, not Satellite Media Tours. These events were scheduled. And people actually came to them, especially if there was food.
- Press kits, not infographics. Overpriced and glossy is how I remember them. Documents contained in these folders took weeks to write and edit. The design, off-site printing and subsequent stuffing gives a new meaning to collaboration. The cost of mailing five of these packets was equivalent to a catered office lunch for 12 executives.
You may want to hold onto this post and re-read in five weeks, five months or five years. If you’re a digital native, you’ll likely be able to write your own version.