Some members of the Clearbox team have worked in PR for a fairly long time. In fact, it feels like we’ve been in this game since before some of our newest recruits were born. That’s not actually true, but it’s getting worryingly close.
We often chat about PR in days gone by. We weren’t chiselling press releases on to giant slabs of stone but we have worked through the era of spray mount and fax machines. While we love looking back and getting a sense of nostalgia, there are some things that were happily just a phase.
How has PR changed since some of us wrote our first press release? Well…
Where were you while we were getting high?
Today, you’ll show off a great campaign to a client using a jazzy coverage book, a beautifully-crafted PDF or a snazzy presentation. Back in the day, we cut clippings out of newspapers and glued them onto boards. But it wasn’t any old glue.
We’re talking spray mount, my friends. Part adhesive, part legal high. The process was simple - cut your clippings out of the paper or magazine, align them semi-neatly and then spray them on to the board. The only issue was the smell of the spray mount, and the weird stuff it did to your head by the time you reached board number three. Or was it four. Can’t remember. Hazy memories.
A key element in securing the coverage to glue on to your board was a good photograph. The process for getting said photograph was not as easy as it is now. Following a photo shoot, the photographer would print a contact sheet and stick it in the post. Once you’d received it, you marked on the sheet, with a pen, which pictures you’d like and then post it back.
A few days later, your pictures arrived and then it was time to post them to the picture desks at the papers. None of this getting your phone out and taking a quick pic malarkey.
Those nice press packs we have now on Dropbox or USB sticks were once printed, bound and posted to media who couldn’t attend a launch event, or given out in person to those who could make it. It could be a week’s work getting them ready, and that’s if you knew how to use a ring binder without wanting to launch it through a window.
There’s a theme developing here. Royal Mail must be down a fortune since PR went digital.
Your chances of getting press coverage in years gone by hinged on having either a good photo or a good relationship with the picture editors at the papers.
If you annoyed a picture editor, your career in PR was essentially over. Belfast is littered with the bodies of PR people who made picture editors angry. Not literally, of course. It’s a joke, before anyone calls da police.
There’s a piece of plastic that sits on your desk. It has buttons on it, makes a noise sometimes and was once the public relations professional’s most devastating weapon of choice.
PR agencies and press offices used to be noisy old places to work. People all over the place, on the phone, pitching stories, responding to media enquiries, chasing up coverage. You could hardly hear yourself think but it gave you such a buzz. We still maintain that picking up the phone is the best, most effective way to communicate. We’re probably a dying breed in that sense. Don’t believe us? Try calling a journalist before emailing them a story and thank us later.
Friday night pints
We’ve heard many stories about the wild socialising days of PR in the 80s and 90s, but the noughties were pretty boozy too.
Before the economy crashed in 2008, PR and media people had breakfast or lunch together once a week, went to festivals, played football, enjoyed corporate hospitality and drank until about three o’clock in the morning on a worryingly regular basis. If you’ve never thrown up with a news editor in a karaoke bar on a Tuesday night or woke up on the sofa of a picture editor’s house party while it’s still in full swing, YOU HAVEN’T LIVED.
The final countdown
A final, more practical note, is something that was actually better 15 years ago than it is now - the deadline. Getting press coverage was simpler back then - pitch your story to the news desk at 8.30, follow up again at lunch time, find out if it’s going in the paper by 5pm.
Deadlines don’t really exist today because of the advent of digital media and 24 hour news, which makes planning a big launch or story a bit more tricky.
In ye olden days, we used to be able to take pictures of top secret products in public without the story leaking and it was possible to have a hush hush launch without the news slipping out before you wanted to. That’s not the case anymore. The best example of this lack of control on the timing of the story from a PR perspective is any time a football club signs a new player. Impossible to keep it under wraps. Having said that, as a fan, there’s nothing better than getting the heads-up that your team has signed a new superstar because a builder inside the stadium has taken a picture of him on his phone and tweeted it to the world.