Back in the 1990s PR was, arguably, enjoying its heyday – it was very much in vogue, it was a prominent feature of film and TV storylines, and social media hadn’t got going.
In fact, at the start of the decade, the Internet hadn’t properly got going. Remember dial up? “What’s that?” asks anyone under the age of 30.
It took 20 minutes to send a 2 Mb photograph over the Internet and that’s if your line didn’t drop out.
PR executives used to post out press releases, together with a colour photograph, all packaged in a hardbacked envelope with a self-adhesive address label on the front. Imagine that.
To get approval on a press story from a client, you had to type it up (or get it typed), put it in an envelope and trust in the Royal Mail to deliver it, hopefully the following day. Your client would check it over and phone you up with any amends.
It was a slow process.
But the slowness itself had some benefits, which today seem to have been lost in the maelstrom of activity fostered by the Internet and the demands of digital channels that grow by the day.
Time to Think
Because it took time, because it was expensive to order 30 or 40 photographic prints, you thought hard about which stories were worthwhile and what shots you wanted from your photographer - they didn’t shoot a hundred images like today. You would ask for six; film was also expensive. Yes FILM.
Everything had a good reason behind it. You would only go for stories that were strong and said something about your client; that were in keeping with and reinforced their brand.
And you were mindful of where you sent your PR, you didn’t spread it about like confetti (good practice in any case I would argue).
Fast forward to today and look at the media landscape, which is now predominantly digital, with a huge emphasis on social media, certainly in terms of volume.
We are told not to overthink things, just get it posted. Try things quickly and if it doesn’t work change it.
But there’s a danger to this. We can get so hooked up on getting stuff out there that the content we are producing almost takes second place to the need to rush out those daily post(s).
We tend to be less judicious about what we’re sending out. Remember: “Don’t overthink it.”
Maybe not, but, perhaps, taking the time to just ‘think’ would be a sensible idea.
What are we trying to do? Who are we targeting? Is what we’re posting in keeping with and reinforcing our brand position?
Is what we’re sending out any good?
When there was an editor who would decide whether your PR was cutting it, they would soon let you know if it was a bunch of tripe or if a commissioned article included too many client mentions.
It seems, often, that editors today are too busy themselves to provide such helpful feedback, saddled with preparing their next issue, as well and feeding their own social media channels and keeping their associated website fully stocked with new stories.
Because of the incessant demand for content, it’s noticeable that the quality of respected publications and media outlets is not what it once was. Even our beloved BBC falls prey to poor or lazy reporting. (Feel free to counter with nostalgia and rose-tinted spectacle cliches; it’s an opinion).
As an industry we have thrown ourselves headlong in to a hurly burly existence of whacking out streams of copy, content and anything else beginning with ‘c’ to try to grab our share of voice in a cacophony of noise. Worse still, much of that content is very ‘me too’ and generic, created too quickly and often lacking the very authenticity that the marketplace tells us is essential.
So, to answer the question: ‘Is the faster PR of 2023 better?’ the answer, generally, is no. We’ve got a lot more content being generated, but too much of it isn’t delivering the benefits it’s supposed to do.
Having said that, there are still many, many examples of great PR campaigns being delivered today. They are well-planned, well targeted, and well executed. They are thoughtful and thought provoking. They fit in with the organisation’s brand and values. They get the right messages to the right people in the right way. The very essence of good PR.