PR like it's 1981

      10 Comments on PR like it's 1981

Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

For our Week Without the Web, my Public Relations Campaigns classes will look at the work they’ve done and plan to do for their PR clients, and ponder how they might have done the same job three decades ago.

When I began my PR career 28 years ago this month, I didn’t have a computer on my desk.  Using a pencil, I hand-wrote press releases and letters on a pad and handed them to a secretary to be typed.  The secretaries in the office had the latest equipment: a Lanier word processor with a green screen and a sprocket printer.  I had a Rolodex for keeping my address book and a pocket calendar for planning my appointments.  When I needed to create a media contact list, I did research in a nearby library and called every media outlet I wanted to reach…or I could buy the costly Bacon’s Media Directory and get a dictionary-sized resource guide that was out-of-date the minute it was printed.  If I wanted to make direct contact with reporters, I’d take a trip to the local press rooms and try to catch them for a minute if they were there and not too busy to chat.  I wrote lots of letters and would get responses days later.  I used a phone constantly; although I could leave a message on an answering machine, telephone tag was common and often went on for days.

Yes, the World Wide Web has changed PR–and the planet–a lot since I left college.  So imagine yourself as Marty McFly in Doc Brown’s DeLoreon and prepare to go back to the past by 30 years.  You’ll find the world of the public relations practitioner a strange and less immediate place; not better, and certainly different.  Your thoughts?

10 thoughts on “PR like it's 1981

  1. Danielle Pasquariello

    The internet has made PR much more efficient, and saves valuable time as you can now easily go on Cision and pull a media list in less than five minutes. You can easily type of a press release and blast it out to hundreds of media contacts in an instant. The internet has made PR more interactive, with the use of Twitter and Facebook. It has allowed PR people to communicate personally with the audience, and find out straight from them what works and what doesn’t.

  2. Megan Messina

    Like Lisa, our group also “stuck to the basics” when it came to our PR campaign. Our only big changes in turning our camapign back 30 years, was the way we would go about reaching out to the media. I didn’t realize how much leg work it would be to do things I take for granted; Googling phone number and addresses, no client website to refer people to, copy machines and email didn’t exist. Typewriters didn’t have delete buttons and telephones were attached to a cord.

    I remember using my land line in elementary school, and looking up phone numbers in the phone book,etc. But at this point that is something that is so removed from out daily lives that I don’t think any of us even think about using it. Figuring out how to adjust our campaign to 1981 was great, but the thing I would miss the most…is that delete button on my keyboard.

  3. Ben Thompson-Star

    The web and its subsidiaries have definitely taken over the PR profession. However, it is essential to remember that during the evolution of the web the public relations has also greatly evolved and expanded. In my opinion this is no coincidence. Public relations is very much a product/reliant on fast/immediate communication. Another big question to ponder is whether we would even be studying public relations at University if it were not for the Internet…?

  4. Lisa Jablon

    Honestly I think our group kind of “stuck to the basics” when it comes to the work we did for our client, so kicking it back 30 years will really only affect the ways in which we kept in contact with the client, rather than the real work we accomplished. That’s definitely a huge part of the internet though because I really didn’t even know this woman’s phone number to even call her; email is (seemingly) the only way! The internet has kind of made people too lazy to revert back to how things used to be done. WWW will definitely be a true test…. pretty sure I can’t give up Twitter or I will melt away from lack of information!

  5. Michael Tarantino

    To hear what the world was like before the internet is something that I have heard my parents talk about ad nauseam. Anytime I complain about writing a research paper to either my Mother or Father he or she will say, “At least you have the internet. You can just look up what it is you need. I had to go to the library.”

    However, hearing you not only talk about what the world was like prior to the internet, but how you conducted yourself as a pr practitioner, I found that to be very interesting. Hearing you say you wrote press releases on a pad of paper with a pencil, or that you physically had to go out and do research in order to create a media contact list.

    Many adults complain about my generation as being too dependent on the internet and perhaps not as well versed in other avenues of information exchange. There is certainly some truth to that. But the technology we are growing up with is redefining the world right in front of our eyes and I for one, am happy and proud to be a part of it.

  6. Charlsie

    1. LOVE Back to the Future.
    2. Rolodex’s are AWESOME.
    3. I think PR has only become more dynamic with all the changes and “help” from the Internet.

  7. Alex Petrucelli

    I’m of the mind that even though this generation of college students and soon-to-be graduates had the option of the Internet going back to the mid 90’s, I did not start using the Internet so vociferously until my senior year in high school. At a point, what with Dial-Up, checking e-mail and surfing (well, “surfing”) the web was slow and annoying, I preferred using the phone, sending faxes, reading books and doing my research in libraries.

    The incentive for being “dialed-in” and on the computer has come with faster Internet connections, wireless connections, social media, taking the classroom online, etc…I cannot tell you aout how many times I have been e-mailed or Facebook messaged a time-sensitive message about some event or for some favor. As much as we have the luxury of having the Internet, we are not the only ones using it and provoking the people within our generation to use it…when a HR manager requests us to e-mail a resume/cover letter for a job, specifying no phone calls, who are we not to oblige…someone that is not getting hired for sure.

    Week without the Web is a good reason to reflect, but it should not make us feel guilty for taking advantage of the liberties that come with being born in the late 80’s, early 90’s. And think about it…PR practioners in the 90’s had it better then those in the 80’s just as we have it better then the 90’s. The 80’s practitioners > then the 70’s and so on. And think about it…in 10 years, the world of PR will change again, as does technology. Our generation will talk about “oh, we only had Facebook, Twitter and Cision; you guys have items X, Y and Z.

    My interest in technology and society’s evolution got me into PR…Week Without the Web will not make me forget that. When the week is over…I’ll be sipping a green tea while watching some television show on Netflix (If I have free time that is, doubtful :))

  8. Julie Wiener

    Like Melissa, I too remember the good old days of hopscotch prevailing over Facebook and writing letters to my pen pal as opposed to shooting her an email. But I think we were far too young to compare ourselves to older generations who had actually been in the workforce without computers. Sure we had to wait a couple years to play Oregon Trail and use Google, but we really have not had such a drastic change as people even 10 years older than us, let alone 30.

    I for one can’t even imagine going back to that time and having to work in PR, but if I had a DeLoreon I would definitely give it a whirl. For a week…Without the Web.

  9. Caitlin Brown

    I really enjoy Melissa’s comment, and generally agree with it – however, the most important part of our developmental years have taken place with the internet. I must admit, I don’t know how to write in cursive, or use Hofstra’s library, and I feel that I am particularly terrible at keeping in touch with people – and all of this takes place with the presence of the web and social metworking sites.

    I know where Eileen is currently interning lost Internet access a couple of weeks ago for a good portion of the day, and she said they literally couldn’t do much of anything other than make phone calls: no media monitoring, no contacting media via email, no using Cision or Google. The unfortunate thing is that most places probably do not have a back up for such situations – such as the printed version of Bacon’s, or mailed copies of media placements.

    While I tend to agree the web has made the public relations industry a better one, I do think it’s important for practitioners to know their other alternatives so that we are not as reliable on technology if we are presented with a situation similar to the one I presented above.

  10. Melissa DiMercurio

    I was born in 1989, as did most of my peers. My younger years consisted of a world with limited technology. I do have the knowledge of what the world was like before the computer and I had the wonderful opportunity of growing up during the boom of technology.

    I remember hand writing assignments, calling people from my house land line, looking up spelling from a dictonary, looking up telephone numbers in a phone book and even using carbon paper to make double copies. These were all things I learned in grade school and still know how to do without a computer.

    My generation had the best of both worlds and will continue to. I think it is funny that “Week Without the Web” has made the older generation point to us and say “You never had it this hard.” We REMEMBER what it was like- we were young, but we were there! This is our generation’s “We walked 20 miles in the snow” sob story. We get it!


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