From snail mail to QR codes: how has PR changed since 2003?

This year A3 Communications celebrates its twentieth anniversary. This is an incredible milestone for any PR agency, and one that has led me to look back at how the PR world has changed since we first opened our doors. Anyone new to PR or journalism would find some of the working practices from the early 2000s almost pre-historic! And yet PR agencies still built great brands and put companies on the map. While writers managed to bag breaking news stories and keep the industry informed in a timely fashion.

I am excited to see what the future holds for the PR and the data storage industries. And excited to continue to build what is already an amazing team I am inspired by every day.

Happy 20th anniversary A3 Communications!

How PR agencies compiled media lists

A clear example of how PR has changed over the past two decades is in the way agencies compile their all-important media lists. When A3 Communications was founded back in 2003 most PR agencies relied on MediaDisk for a digital database. This was updated on a fairly regular basis, but not often enough by today’s standards. And quite a few still turned to books the size of the yellow pages to source names and contact details of relevant journalists.

Pitching, publishing, and the pub

Back in 2003, PR professionals looking to reach journalists usually picked up the phone. They would outline the story, arrange a briefing or agree to send over more information, and afterwards would even have a chit-chat. Things were done at a much more leisurely pace.

Nowadays the number of announcements landing on the media’s desks has reached record levels. And the number of stories writers must produce on a daily basis has increased exponentially. This is mainly because the print media, in B2B tech at least, has all but disappeared. News articles today are published, online, as soon as possible.

As a result, journalists are so busy that they vastly prefer receiving emails to phone calls. And while they will agree to briefings, they tend to prefer a Zoom or Teams call rather than an in-person meeting. Of course there are exceptions, but generally this is how things work today. Also, since Covid, journalists frequently work from home, away from the publishers’ offices downtown, meaning post-work drinks with PRs are rare. I remember pitching many a story over a drink at the pub, or during a quiz night! Nowadays I am more likely to do this via DM on Twitter.

For advice on how to create a killer pitch for tech start-ups, check out this blog post.

The continued role of the press release

One thing that has not changed over the past twenty years however, is that press releases remain a key tool in the PR agency’s kit.

In 2003 PR agencies distributed press releases via a combination of email, fax, and post, depending on the recipient’s preference. Releases were often accompanied by slides, sent – you guessed it – by post, to anyone who required images to go with the story. The postal service was cast aside in favour of a courier when you got an urgent request for photography, because speed was of the essence!

One thing that has not changed over the past twenty years however, is that press releases remain a key tool in the PR agency’s kit.

Today the only thing we still send out by post at A3 Communications, are Christmas cards. And even those will soon be but a memory. Press releases today are issued by email and/or wire. The content is then boiled down to a few words and a link, for promotion on social media. A case of quicker to get there, shorter to read, easier to access.

Check out our top tips for the perfect press release.

Briefings and press packs

Later, when [USB sticks] started becoming more widespread, the hard copy press packs disappeared. The relief of PR agencies and the media was palpable.

In 2023, just like in 2003, briefings often precede or follow announcements. Twenty years ago, these typically took place in person, maybe over lunch. They would include a press folder for the journalist, with hard copies of all the relevant information: one or more press releases, the client’s corporate backgrounder, product datasheets, spokespeople’s biogs, etc. Slides were also included of course. Those folders could be quite thick, and at trade shows you would often see PR people carrying boxes of them to the press room, and members of the press laden with backpacks full of them!

When USB sticks first appeared, they were usually included in the press pack, with soft copies of all the files. Later, when they started becoming more widespread, the hard copy press packs disappeared. The relief of PR agencies and the media was palpable. Reams of headed paper went in the recycling bin and attending a trade show was no longer a weightlifting exercise! Nowadays, of course, a hyperlink or QR code to a shared online folder is all you need.

The resulting coverage

Something I look upon with misplaced nostalgia are clipping books. Coverage monitoring agencies sent your clients’ clips at regular intervals, in hard copy. By post, of course. The most junior person in the PR team would then have the mind-numbing task of organising these clips. And this had to be done according to the agreed order (by product family, by press release, by geography, etc.). They would then make copies, bind each in a book, and send them (guess how?) to the client.

This was repeated every month, unless you had a special project that warranted a separate clipping book. Over time monitoring agencies would send clips as scanned versions of the printed copies. The thick, heavy clipping books, were, fortunately, no more.

Today PR agencies tend to share links to coverage, as stories appear. In continental Europe some publications are still in print form only, but these are very few and far between. Most are online, and the vast majority of those with a print edition, are also available online.

In continental Europe some publications are still in print form only, but these are very few and far between.

The past twenty years

As A3 Communications grew into the agency it is today, I watched junior writers progress to become section editors, editors in chief, publishers, and highly respected figures across the industry.

Over the past twenty-plus years, I have met and worked with hundreds of journalists, analysts and, more ‘recently’, bloggers. I have had the pleasure of meeting extremely talented people, a few of whom I have come to call friends. Both the PR industry and the data storage industry have changed since the start of the millennium. One thing that has stayed the same is the importance of honest and respectful relationships between PR professionals on one side of the fence, and those who watch and write about it, on the other. One wouldn’t exist without the other. And they can both make each other’s lives easier, more successful – and more fun, of course!

As A3 Communications grew into the agency it is today, I watched junior writers progress to become section editors, editors in chief, publishers, and highly respected figures across the industry.

The next twenty years

Looking ahead, the platforms we rely on to communicate news may change. The way vendors, PR agencies, and influencers interact may change. But the need to share announcements around new brands, products, technology breakthroughs, and other subjects of interest, will remain. Competitors will still need to find a way to stay ahead of other players in their spaces. Buyers will still want to learn about solutions to their IT and business challenges. And those who report on the data storage industry will still want to hear about the latest developments, and share their takes with their readers. 

I am excited to see what the future holds for the PR and the data storage industries. And excited to continue to build what is already an amazing team I am inspired by every day.

Happy 20th anniversary A3 Communications!

If you would like to celebrate our anniversary with us, you can leave a message in our virtual card. And watch this space if you would like to join us at other activities we are planning!

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