When was the last time you or your staff sent out a press release by regular mail? What about folding and stuffing a time-sensitive document into an envelope? Or, cutting and pasting a clip report together with paper and a glue stick?
With all the corporate posturing these days about "going green," it's easy to forget just how environmentally responsible the PR business truly is. While corporations of all sizes are searching every crack and crevice to demonstrate their newfound love of the environment, the PR business has been quietly evolving into an environmentally sound industry.
Twenty years ago, it was hard to distinguish a busy PR agency from a bustling newsroom. Clips were piled high on every conceivable surface. Typewriters were the tools of the trade. Messengers were the fastest way to move press kits, photos, and promotional materials up and down Manhattan streets.
Countless filing cabinets bursting with newspapers, magazines, and memos contained the spoils of a job well done, while contacts were preserved in huge desktop Rolodexes, standing tall as a status symbol of one's import. Entry-level AEs could look forward to spending innumerable days in front of a copy machine, preparing reams of news clips to be sent to clients while breaking news was transmitted by fax machines spitting out roll after roll of thermal paper.
Envisioning the PR world of just 20 years ago makes it easy to recognize how far the business has come in a relatively short time. Today, a PR pro has limited need for a postage scale, fax machine, letter-folding equipment, even a copier. A computer and phone do the trick just fine, and there are probably some practitioners who don't even need that to get the job done.
Let me be clear: I have no longing for those ancient times. But viewing them from a safe distance instills a great sense of pride when one considers the true environmental impact of a day's work.
According to figures published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the average American office worker uses and discards 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. While it's understandable that some businesses are incapable of reducing their dependence on paper, it's difficult to imagine an effective PR person using or consuming that amount of hard copy.
Sophisticated information management technologies have redesigned the workplace to such a degree that days can pass without ever printing a document. Frequently, a story idea can be generated, pitched, and printed for the first time when it rolls off the press of a daily newspaper. Today, one of the core "products" of PR, the news story, can be created and produced in its entirety without a single tree being destroyed.
The rare time a document gets printed these days is when it needs a signature. And even that is rapidly moving to a digital platform.
The utopian idea of a paperless office is still a few years away. But modern PR pros, like their media counterparts, are unceremoniously making a very significant contribution to the earth's future by operating primarily in a digital environment. Indeed, as information management becomes more efficient, the days of filing cabinets and copy machines are sure to remain a distant memory.
Bennett Kleinberg is a VP at Goodman Media International.