Dinosaur or storyteller?

The founder of Alan Taylor Communications (now Taylor) and author of A Perfect Pair: PR and Event Promotions, believes the storytelling skills that defined his career are as relevant now as they've always been.

Sometimes dinosaurs convey universal truths to modern practitioners (Image copyright: Getty).
Sometimes dinosaurs convey universal truths to modern practitioners (Image copyright: Getty).

By today’s definition of public relations, I am considered a dinosaur. Maybe even prehistoric! Or, am I?

Draw your own conclusions after you consider my journey from sports writing to sports/leisure public relations and 50-plus years in journalism and PR.

The typical PR person of the dinosaur era came out of journalism programs and from newspapers. PR curriculums did not exist at universities in my generation. We were called flacks, publicists, press agents, and more. Being described as a PR practitioner was not in the lexicon of my time.

My career was somewhat preordained as I was a sports writer even before entering and graduating from the University of Miami. Most of my journalism professors were working writers for the Miami Herald, where I worked.

Newspapers and magazines were plentiful; television was in its infancy as a PR tool. No internet; no social media; no digital platforms. Just good old-fashioned print and broadcast.

If you were handling financial/corporate PR you had to follow timely disclosure rules of the SEC. Write a press release and send it out to media that was approved for meeting the timely disclosure test. This included the multiple newswire services, major media outlets, and even use of PR wire services. If it were just a corporate news release about appointments, promotions, new executives, you had a receptive audience with newspapers and trade magazines.

If you were doing product public relations you would write the traditional press release and send it to media covering that subject; food to the food editors; sports to the sports editors; financial to business media; and so on. You would beg, borrow, and hope for the best as far as a bona fide placement was concerned.

Media tours were a popular item, especially if you had a credentialed and well-trained spokesperson. Most major markets had TV talk shows in the morning or afternoon. These were perfect if the product was food-related or represented a major breakthrough.

Syndicated features, in which you would prepare the client material and use a service to send it to every daily and weekly in the country. This was the traditional mat feature. Many PR people thrived on this type of service, impressing the most naïve clients about this type of placement.

Event sponsorships generated their own press materials, but the media didn’t give a hoot about the sponsor or product names being including in the coverage, not until I helped lead the fight to change this.

But, regardless of the generation, the PR person is still a storyteller. Someone who can paint a picture with words about the client’s company, product, or event is still the PR artist that will be successful.

My generation had to prove to the media our client’s story was worth reporting about in a context that positioned the product or corporation properly. A simple press release did not get the job done, unless, of course, it was about something revolutionary, representative of a major breakthrough, or earnings reports.

Today, you can virtually post anything you want about your client on a variety of social media platforms, but will the consumer respond to a Facebook post as much as they would a story in the local newspaper or TV morning talk show? You can tweet, Snapchat, or post on Instagram, but are those posts impactful? Certainly, the numbers of eyeballs reached for the client are huge.

With that said, the key, whether it is during my prehistoric days or today’s digital/social media landscape, is still how the PR person helps engage the client’s customer, consumer, or even trade.

Engagement or experiential marketing still works well for consumer products and, of course, sports sponsorships, whether the landscape was print/broadcast in my generation or Facebook, Instagram, Twitter in the current marketplace.

How do you gain eyeballs and motivate your clients’ constituents in the way we did back in the day for MasterCard, Gillette, Yukon Jack Whiskey, or Jose Cuervo?

The answer during my generation is no different than today - create events that will engage the customer. That works whether you are able to get a newspaper or TV station to cover it or whether you post the event on social media.

When we created events to manage client sponsorships around the United States Olympic team, a TV placement on Oprah (which we did for AT&T’s family program) was a homerun. The same activity today would appear not only on Oprah, but also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat… and maybe a couple of other platforms that this dinosaur missed.

Alan Taylor’s A Perfect Pair: PR and Event Promotions covers autobiographical material and numerous examples of how the dinosaurs of industry worked. It outlines how creativity, event marketing, and experiential marketing should still be the bellwether for today’s PR practitioners in the world of digital/social media.

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