I first entered the madcap world of PR back in 1999 where I remained for five years before taking a career break in 2004. As it turned out, the break was far from permanent and in 2011 I was drawn back into the fold.
Like Rip Van Winkle, I awoke from my seven year sleep slightly bewildered and anxious to see what changes had been made in the communications field. I was immediately struck by two things: nothing had changed and everything had changed. That is, the actual objectives of public relations and the fundamental strategies used to implement those objectives, remained the same. However, the actual tools used for the job had changed drastically. Let’s look at how technology has changed PR.
Now, for those of you who weren’t working at the turn of the century, I don’t want you to think we used to work hunched over small desks, writing our news releases longhand with quill pens by candlelight. No, we had computers (though laptops were rare) and Internet connections and e-mail. But it was still common to fax in releases for distribution and the coverage sent to us by media monitoring agencies were physical newspaper clippings, which had to be sorted, paper clipped and filed away in mammoth cabinets. I also remember working late into the night preparing media kits for an event taking place the following day: printing endless copies of news releases, bios and fact sheets, stapling and struggling to slot everything into flimsy company branded folders (and heaven forbid you find a typo after the fact because then you had to go through the whole process again).
Needless to say, new technologies have greatly simplified many of these tasks. Cumbersome and time consuming media kits have been replaced with quick and convenient USB flash drives. Media monitoring is now done almost exclusively electronically which not only saves time but greatly reduces the risk of paper cuts. And news releases can now be set up and sent straight from your desk.
But it’s not just the fact these technological marvels have made our work lives easier that struck me. I was also surprised to see how much attitudes towards technology have changed. Back in the day it was customary to approach and pitch media over the phone – it was common to make contact via email, but most of them preferred to correspond by phone. Nowadays, most journalists much prefer to be reached through email, especially for initial contact.
Similarly, though the Internet was a great resource for finding or posting information, very few of my clients back then saw it as a means of effectively delivering their message. Print coverage far exceeded online mentions in terms of value and importance. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a major shift in attitude in this area. While print coverage, especially in major daily papers, continues to be coveted, online coverage is treated as just as important. A good visual representation of how technology has changed PR is displayed in this infographic picked up in a blog post by Ragan’s PR Daily.
What I find especially interesting, however, is how that attitude continues to change, especially with regards to social media. In the almost two years I’ve been back in the game I’ve seen a huge increase in Twitter and Facebook activities as companies begin to realize the opportunities that these new outlets offer. Some remain a bit hesitant to jump in but if there’s one thing my sabbatical and subsequent return have taught me is that things do change and sometimes, they’re for the better.