The past week has brought my old life back to haunt me. I was an in-house PR at British Home Stores (note the full name and no ‘flying h’) in what might be considered its heyday. At a time when you could wear something that someone else actually coveted from there – “BHS, really?”
But more importantly than the demise of a high street name, it was the demise of the old ways of delivering PR that immediately sprang to mind. PR back then was a long drawn out experience with no instant gratification for the client.
Sending out a press release was a like a military operation. (I won’t go into the pain of typing on stencils and ‘Gestetnering’ press releases.) It generally required a photo session, contact sheets poured over with a magnifying glass and then the selected image sent to the printer. Alongside that, the release was written and sent to a different printer. When the two returned to the office, the release was attached to the photo by small bits of sticky tape and then stuffed into envelopes. Address labels applied, post office called for collection and off it went.
When the company figures needed delivering to the financial press we had two taxis on standby. As soon as the accounts were confirmed we were off around the city delivering them by hand to each editor. The bonus was it kept you fit running up and down the stairs in the many newspaper offices of Fleet Street and beyond.
With no email, internet and faxes the majority of communication with the press was by telephone – and it worked both ways. The world of online information was not at the press’s fingertips and editors frequently called you to see what was coming up.
We developed much closer relationships with the press than we maybe have today. If an editor knew that with one phone call you would come up with the goods, you would be the first person they called. Today there is such a wealth of detail available online that a journalist can do vast quantities of research without ever contacting a PR.
The question is … do I miss the old days? Not really. PR was undertaken at a more leisurely pace but was much more labour intensive. I much prefer being able to send out an email release, with a link to the accompanying image, and know that it will be delivered when and how I want it.
However, with so many journalists preferring not to be called it does seem a little more remote at times. So come on journos – verbal communication can be good for both sides.