A week is a long time… never mind 30 years!

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In the early days of March, with Nielsen McAllister approaching its 30th anniversary, I wrote on my To Do list: Musings of an Ageing PR Hack. This was to be a blog looking back on how PR and communications have changed since 1990 when I established the business, and before then during my formative years in PR in the 1980s.

Of course, comparisons with how things were 30 years ago and more are nothing to how life changed less than two weeks after I wrote that note. Never mind 30 years, as I write today, with the vast majority of the world confined to barracks, the ‘every day’ – the morning rush hour, a trip to the shops, a visit to the theatre, a meal out with friends – already seems an eternity ago.

Nevertheless, for many businesses, NMPR included, life has gone on, thanks to today’s technology. And while face-to-face interaction has been severely restricted, the same technology means we are able to keep in touch much more easily with family and friends.

Stay at home

A recent BBC article highlighted how difficult it would have been to cope with the Stay at Home policy 15 years ago. Things that we take for granted today, such as internet shopping and supermarket home deliveries, were in their infancy and many social media channels were not even in existence. In terms of technology, in 2005 the launch of the iPhone was still two years away.

If we go back even further to the early years of NMPR, I am reminded of the many challenges of working away from the office – not least for my poor assistant Linda, who had to decipher and type up many a scribbled press release composed on a train!

First holiday

I also recall finally taking my first holiday in 1992. It was to be a week in May and had taken months in the planning to ensure everything was covered for the five working days I would be away. Then on the day before I was due to fly off, I was summoned to an afternoon meeting with my biggest client, where the CEO informed me that he intended to hold the company’s first management conference in four weeks’ time, and could I organise it.

I arrived home around 6pm and sat down immediately at the kitchen table to plan out the day and write copious notes for Linda about people to contact, facilities to be booked etc. At 10pm I drove to the office, posted an envelope full of instructions through the front door and went home to pack.

Increasing technology

Today much of the technology we use in the office is available at home as well. Amstrad launched its combined phone, fax and answering machine in 1990, but at £700 (around £1600 in today’s money) it was not a common feature in many homes.

Indeed, the fax was still a relatively new office companion in the 1980s. On my first day at the London agency where I started my career, my initial question was not about the strategy behind a particular campaign or advice on how to write a press release, but ‘What’s a fax?’ (a question I imagine today’s latest PR recruits would also ask, so quickly has this technology gone out of fashion).

Without today’s technology, there were many logistical challenges in my early days in PR. No email distribution of news releases, for example – everything was typed, photocopied and posted out. The majority of magazines printed photos in black and white and for their occasional colour pages, we would say that a ‘colour transparency was available on request’. This would be despatched with a sticker requesting that it be returned after use; it seldom was!

Very often such requests were at the last minute – and again there wasn’t the convenience of email to respond to this urgency, so transparencies and artwork had to be sent round by cab or motorcycle courier. If London was the centre for PR at that time, this had more to do with the location of most publications than a skills shortage elsewhere in the country!

The internet 

The media outlook has changed a lot too since the 1980s. The rise in the power of the internet and social media, along with a significant drop in advertising spend, particularly among trade publications, have seen a big reduction in the number of printed titles. Meanwhile the list of ‘influencers’ that communications professionals now have to reach is far more extensive than the leading editors and journalists of old.

That the industry has continued to thrive and grow is largely due to the challenges of this slimmed down and yet at the same time more crowded media landscape. The need for targeted campaigns, well thought out and with distinct messaging, and the ability to present interesting stories, written with clarity and style for their intended audience, have never been more essential.

Effective communication

Even in today’s Coronavirus crisis, many businesses are recognising the importance of maintaining communication channels – to explain how the disruption is affecting them, their customers, employees and other stakeholders, and to provide an element of reassurance that will be invaluable when normal business returns.

And effective communication will be even more important then, if as many experts are predicting, the aftermath of this crisis will be a severe recession. In economically troubled times, there will still be business to be won. Companies who maintain a presence in the marketplace and continue actively to promote their goods and services to customers and prospects will be the ones best placed to navigate their way successfully through any downturn.

Certainly NMPR will be there to help its clients and, like every other business, will be focusing its efforts on supporting the ‘bounce back’ that the global economy will need. And although we have had to put our 30th anniversary celebrations on hold, we intend to find some novel ways to mark 31 years instead.

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