What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Old-School Public Relations — Part One

Old school PR

Over the years, the relationship between PRs and journalists has been a mainstay within the communications industry. It’s also a story that is frequently written about. We decided to put our own twist on this classic tale by interviewing the PR practitioner and journalist together, getting both perspectives at the same time.

We sat down with The Agency’s own Arleigh Vasconcellos and her journalist friend Shelley Arnusch, writer and associate editor at Avenue Magazine, for a chat about how public relations and journalism have evolved over the course of their careers. The result: an in-depth look at traditional versus modern communication, and the crucial relationship between PRs and journalists.

Read part two of the interview and part three.

Tell us a little bit about how you two know each other and how you met.

S: Back in 2002 I arrived in Whistler, BC – I had secured a job as the entertainment and arts editor for the local newspaper The Peak and Arleigh was working for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. We ended up working together due to the various events that I was covering for the paper.

A: I first got an email from Shelley introducing herself as the new arts and entertainment editor at the paper. She needed to get her media accreditation for the festival, which I was in charge of providing. It was my first ‘big’ PR job. I was tasked with running the entire media accreditation program…which meant getting up at 7 a.m. to open the media centre every morning! You’d think after the late-night parties that journalists would want to sleep in…

S: After meeting professionally, we started seeing each other at the same events, so the professional introduction bled into a social thing. Next thing we knew, we were friends.

What were the early days in your careers like?

S: I’ve been a working journalist since about 2002 — The Peak was my first ‘real’ job. I haven’t had the experience of working in journalism before the internet or anything like that. So in terms of being able to contact people in PR and vice-versa, it’s always been very email-focused.

A: Did things change once social media came in?

S: This is probably to the detriment of my career, but I’ve kept my social media channels somewhat private because I like to maintain a divide between my personal social profile and work. If I ever have something work related, I’ll employ professional accounts of the publication I’m working for. I haven’t really been around the age of social media as a freelancer, but if I did go back to being a freelancer I would have to step up that side of my own self-promotion. But in my current job, if there’s any kind of social promotion I want to do, I can use the Avenue social channels to do so.

A: Do you have any friends in the freelance space who have talked about change in the age of social media?

S: I recently went on a trip with some other journalists, including three freelancers, and we had a discussion about the importance of social media. One of the journalists — a very accomplished professional — pointed out that busy editors don’t usually have the time to read your clips, so they’ll visit your Twitter page to make their decision about you and your writing. If your account is not maintained, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You can really get a sense of someone’s personality via Twitter.

A: They can see if you’re all about clickbait or real content.

S: Exactly.

A: For me, it goes back to an ongoing joke in our office, and the inspiration for this post. A few years ago, we were working with a client that had a very old-school client base…and they gave us a fax list. We couldn’t believe it — but they told us that most of their audience still liked to receive information by fax. I hadn’t sent a press release out via fax since 1998 during one of my first PR internships! Back then email was in its infancy, so while we did send releases over email, we faxed them as well. Then I’d have a huge phone list to make my follow up phone calls asking, “Did you receive my email or did you receive my fax?” So glamorous….

To be continued… 

Do you have any insights on how the PR and journalism industries have changed? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter at @PRTheAgency!