Recently on my drive to work I listened to my favorite radio personality, Bobby Bones, and his morning show team talk about the hashtag symbol (#), and about how there was once a time we all knew it as the pound sign. “For English, press one, followed the pound sign.” Will kids today ever know it as such? Probably not. It got me to thinking about how, even within our tight knit group of 13 superstars at Hollywood Public Relations, there are huge differences in how our careers in public relations started out.
Here are some things anyone under 30-something will never quite understand about what it was like to be a publicist at the turn of the century.
Death by Media List
There was no such thing as a media database in which you could plug in your search criteria. When your supervisor asked you to create a media list, it meant trolling the office for a mammoth-sized Bacon’s directory. There were different volumes, depending on your needs, but typically one for consumer long-lead media, one for newspapers and one for broadcast. You’d then flip through tissue paper-like pages with what seemed like size 8-point font and manually type contacts into an Excel spreadsheet. This could take a full day – maybe more. (Bacon’s is now a part of Cision so we know how that story ends.)
Alexander Graham Who?
Lest you forget, these directories were only issued once a year, which meant some of the contacts could be out-of-date by the time the books were published. If you were unsure whether or not a contact was still on staff at a specific outlet, you picked up the phone to call and verify. God forbid your supervisor sent an email that was returned, or called someone only to get a nonworking number message on the other end. That’s right. People used their phones for more than asking a coworker where to get lunch. “Smile and dial,” it was called. Pitch, pitch, pitch. I remember some supervisors saying you should spend as much as 50-75 percent of your day on the phone if you were in the midst of a big campaign.
Embrace the Messenger
Let’s say you were lucky enough to get media to attend a client event. And let’s say they wanted pictures. You’d have to stay after the event was over and cleaned up, and sit with the event photographer to comb through countless images that he or she could burn to a disc that you would then either hand-deliver or have couriered to the waiting press. Same thing for b-roll tapes. There was no Dropbox, no WeTransfer. I vaguely remember when YouSendIt (now Hightail) launched and changed our world, but it certainly wasn’t as functional as today’s programs. Trust me, you had messenger, courier and car services on speed dial… at the office. Smartphones didn’t exist.
Scissors, Tape and Copy Machines
Your media list was superb, you busted your tail pitching to get media there, and they covered your event. Score! Now you had to clip your results. Fancy scanners and online clipping services didn’t exist. It was time to revisit your elementary school art class and bust out scissors and tape to literally cut the clip from the magazine or newspaper, tape it onto sheet of paper and copy it. Make it look pretty; after all, your earned media clips will be bound in a hard copy clip book to be delivered to the client at the end of the campaign or contract year. Nowadays, we send digital clip reports, and I really miss the thud factor.
9-5 Was Just a Movie
We didn’t all have laptops. They were reserved for the most senior employees. That meant you stayed at your desk until your work was done. Interested in that six o’clock class at the gym? Too bad. You had a media list to work on. I remember having dinner at the office more nights than not. It wasn’t uncommon to have a decent-sized group of employees at the office well past 8 p.m. And for the days your work was done by happy hour, there was a saying: never leave before your boss. Facetime mattered.
I think there are some old PR tools that could use a little renaissance. Showing your commitment to the job with a little extra facetime? Yes. Bacon’s? No. The phone? Sometimes. Just don’t stalk them – remember everyone has caller ID now.
Will today’s young publicists ever know what it’s like to stay at the office waiting for a beta tape until 10 o’clock? Probably not. But we (slightly) older PR vets will most certainly rely on them to keep us abreast of the ever-changing social media landscape. The world in which we work is constantly changing, and agencies can successfully grow by having a team made up of individuals who have been a part of the evolution of the industry and those who are new, who bring fresh ideas and new perspectives. As my main man Bobby always says: time marches on.
– Monica Higgins