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Thinking About a Career in Public Relations?

An industry that was once like a lost episode from "Mad Men" has since been redefined...


I’ve thought about starting a blog for years but never really had enough drive, determination or inspiration to do so. I don’t know if I necessarily have it now, but yet, here I am. Blogging.

I guess a good place to start is writing about something that I have seen, heard, experienced and really LIVED in order to construct a story that is interesting, entertaining, authentic and with a little luck, something people will want to read and engage with.(read: share with everyone on the planet that you know so I get more followers!).

I’ll begin at, well, the beginning of my interest and subsequent career in the highly-esteemed Public Relations Profession (now more commonly referred to as Marketing Communications).

I was attending college in New York City at an institution that mainly consisted of a curriculum geared toward the fashion industry, but had one major titled “Advertising & Communications” which I elected to focus on. I fully intended on securing a career in advertising until I took an elective publicity course. I was immediately drawn to it as I thought to myself: “Anybody can produce an ad and it will be seen by millions of people because the client will be paying huge sums of money to advertise it.” But PR? Now doing that takes some real gall. In my mind, writing a press release or having an event and getting reporters to cover it was like “getting over on someone.” After all, way before Trump said it, PR was sometimes referred to as “manufactured or fake news.”

I was overjoyed at the idea of pulling the wool over people’s eyes with my clever insights and my ability to turn a brand’s messages into a print or newscast worthy story thus gaining increased brand awareness and influencing consumers’ purchasing choices. I must say that I soon realized that we (as an industry) were not creating “fake or manufactured news” we were helping to develop and disseminate helpful and relevant material to reporters who, in turn, would communicate it to their audiences. In fact, many of the campaigns I worked on with others actually helped to save thousands of lives and reduce thousands (if not millions) of hospitalizations. These were campaigns that raised awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated against influenza, meningitis and “whooping” cough, all potentially-deadly diseases.

So, along I went headfirst into this career at a time (the late 1980’s) when the industry was much like the TV show “Mad Men.” I had a distilled spirits client so, of course, I had a makeshift bar in my office. I also had a basketball and other toys and an ashtray so I could smoke incessantly in my office without any interference at all while ordering margaritas from a tiki-bar on Lexington Avenue called “Okona’s.” (I wonder if it’s still there?)

Yes, times were a lot different from what they are now. Back then we had IBM and Wang brand computers with a word processing software system called “Word Perfect” and if I remember correctly, another called “Q&A.” We did not email draft press releases to clients because there was no such thing as the Internet. We FedEx-ed them and didn’t see a response or have to make revisions for several days! A few years later, we sent them via facsimile machine that used “thermal paper” that you dared not put a hot coffee mug on for fear of burning the mug’s image onto the document.

We did not have our own printers — everyone’s computer was connected to a central printer the size of a large washing machine that you would send your document to, then wait on a queue until such time as it decided to print yours. Or worse. One agency I worked at required you to save your documents to a “floppy disk” (look it up) which you then had to bring to a central printer-dedicated computer, insert your floppy disk and print your material, often far distances from your office and your makeshift bar and your ashtray and your toys.

In the “old days” we did not “feed” our Video News Releases or B-roll packages via satellite or have them hosted on a downloadable Multimedia News Release micro-site, we had videotape dubs made on an ancient format called 3/4 inch “U-Matic” tape stock (google it!).

The men wore suits and ties to work every day and the women wore pantsuits or other appropriate “business attire.” That is until the early 90’s when “casual Fridays” came into vogue and Khakis, Chinos and tie-less collared shirts and polos were permitted. Only later, after starting my own company, RCM Marketing Communications, did I start wearing jeans, cowboy boots and Harley-Davidson and other logo-ed tee-shirts to work and sometimes to off-site client meetings.

We had our own buzzwords back then too. Words like Zeitgeist, Yuppies, Buppies, Integrated Orchestration, Interactive Innovation (fancy way of saying brainstorm) and Ideation, etc. We also used phrases like, “Let’s run it up the pole and see if it fly’s,” or “Let’s push the envelope on this one guys.” We talked about the “story”, not the “narrative.” We used blurbs not “memes” and we said “more clear” not “clearer.” New companies or technologies were, well, new and innovative, not “disruptive.” Oh, and we never said “awesome” though I’m not sure what we said instead.

At any rate, I believe in the power of PR/MarCom agencies and the people who’ve made this career choice, especially since we are now faced with competing in the increasingly crowded arena of “social media” which everyone (PR firms, Ad agencies, Social Media Marketing specialty shops, etc.) are now offering in an effort to get a bigger slice of the client’s marketing budget pie.

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