25 years in PR

By Katie Stephens

This year sees me clock up 25 years in public relations and there have been some pretty major changes in the past quarter of a century. Some of my original clients, namely Our Price Records and Virgin Megastores, no longer exist, while others such as Vodafone have very different product offerings. Having covered music, fashion, technology and sports PR, I have seen brands and products that I have helped launch reach success and then disappear, trends come and go, and technology advance in ways none of us thought possible.

The digital boom

When I first started in the industry, the internet was just a rumour. There was not the access to the news channels and social media that are the norm today. Print and broadcast media were the only titles we could target, and everything moved at a slower pace.

The digital world has brought huge changes to the industry and how we interact with journalists. Today in PR, as well as our own contacts, we utilise online media databases to put us instantly in touch with journalists and influencers.  Social media has also become a significant platform through which we engage with journalists, both for pitching ideas as well as gaining coverage. This digital age allows us to deliver the tailored information journalists require within minutes.

This is a huge change to the endless hours we used to spend trawling through paper directories – PIMs or Editors – to find the contacts, manually copying their postal addresses,and printing off labels to send them press releases. Issuing a release was generally a time-consuming, team effort – printing, folding, stuffing into envelopes and franking. If something was urgent it could be faxed out – but even that involved time spent entering fax numbers into the machine and feeding the paper through for each contact. Now our time can be spent more effectively building both bespoke lists and tailoring our copy for niche audiences using a wider range of platforms, allowing us to gain greater coverage for our clients.

From film to pixels

If you wanted a press releases to go with a photograph, this slowed the process down even more. From waiting for the photographer to send through a contact sheet (a photographic sheet with all the images on) for us to select the desired image from, to having the required number of prints developed and sent through to the PR who had the wonderful job of manually labelling them before they could be sent out. This process was not only expensive, with printing costs and photographic bags to secure them to the release, but could take a week or more, so the story was then old news!

If the event was ‘big news’, we would use agency photographers or papers would send their own along. Once the images had been snapped, bike couriers would whisk the film back to the picture desk at the paper to allow the images to be developed in time for the morning papers. This process was thankfully eliminated with the introduction of digital images.

I can still remember the first time I saw a picture being sent digitally. It was July 1998 in the Press Box at the Somerset County Cricket Club ground during an international cricket match, and a Getty photographer demonstrated this new process. The whole of the press box gathered round to see him connect his camera to his laptop and witness this magic.

Now we think nothing of a photographer, or even us on our smart phones, taking an image and within seconds it being posted onto Twitter or Instagram for the world to see.

Cut and stick

Press cuttings were also a laborious challenge. Having these delivered digitally now not only allows us instant access to coverage that previously took around a week to come through, but also has removed the onerous and brain numbing process of physically cutting and pasting onto paper with a basic glue stick.

Connection is key

The introduction of digital connectivity has changed the PR industry considerably.  Not only has it allowed us to contact journalists instantly but has also opened up new media channels for us to use. It allows us to reach wider, and yet more targeted, audiences, develop more creative campaigns, and provide information faster. We are now able to dedicate more time to pitching and tailoring the high-quality editorial that is required to secure coverage in an industry where a reduction in available print space and increase in fast paced online news has created fierce competition.

The joy of working in PR is that, in spite of all these changes, the fundamentals of creativity and excellent writing techniques still prevail. In this digital age, we now use these skills to be smarter and more inventive to ensure we maximise the opportunities for our clients that these digital advances provide.

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