Electronic Delivery and Feedback Systems Come of Age
Wiesendanger, Betsy, Public Relations Journal
In the past few years, communications technology has brought many advances in the delivery and monitoring of press releases and other public relations messages. New technological tools are giving practitioners new ways to communicate on-screen, on-line and over the fax.
It may not be the paperless office, but it comes mighty close. Jon Pierce, an account executive for Paul Werth Associates in Columbus, OH, recently hired a market research firm to conduct a 75-question poll of 500 people. When the polling was completed, the firm sent Pierce raw data via CompuServe's electronic mail system. Pierce downloaded the data into his statistical analysis program, with no re-keying necessary, and was able to generate a report on the results within hours.
To hear public relations practitioners tell it, that's the kind of nimble, instantaneous exchange of information that clients, the media and a firm's constituencies are demanding these days. You don't have to be a high-tech hacker to realize that technological advances have forever changed the day-to-day business of public relations. Broadcast facsimile, on-line media lists and interactive networks may be novelties now, but they'll soon be staples in a practitioner's portfolio of communication conduits. Add to that a host of gee-whiz gadgetry coming down the pike--such as the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), which will enable the existing telephone network to transmit much more information over standard lines--and the craft of public relations looks very different than it did 10 years ago.
"Changes inside public relations offices--corporate and counselor alike--will be every bit as great as those in the outside world," predicted E.W. Brody, Ed.D., APR, co-author of "New Technology and Public Relations: On to the Future," published in 1991. "Survival in many cases may depend on a practitioner's ability to apply the new and emerging technologies. Inability to quickly access a database and extract information needed by a client or employer will be a crippling handicap to the practitioners of the 21st century." And let's not forget, he added, that the next century is only seven years away.
Keeping pace with all these changes can seem daunting at first. Yet when you realize that they will ultimately offer new ways to use familiar office equipment--namely, the facsimile machine and the personal computer--new technology becomes simply a user-friendly way to do your job faster, better and more easily. Here's a look at some new developments.
Wide nets and narrow niches
The popularization of the fax machine in the late 1980s was a turning point for public relations. Not only did it curtail the arduous copying, collating and mailing of press releases, it enabled practitioners to fall in sync with the timetables of the broadcast media, for which the news day is measured in hours, not days. The subsequent advent of broadcast fax, which transmits a single document to hundreds of recipients simultaneously, made it even easier to disseminate timely news quickly and efficiently. (For a report on the use of broadcast fax in the recent presidential campaign, see PRJ, November 1992, page 8.)
Now, several vendors, including PR Newswire and Business Wire, both based in New York City, have added a twist to the one document/many recipients formula. Last June, PR Newswire inaugurated PRONTO On-Call, a service that allows callers to dial an 800 number, request information by touch-tone phone, and receive a document within minutes on their fax machine. Designed to cut the time and cost of providing frequently requested information such as earnings reports, news releases, crisis communications documents and merger announcements, the service's big selling point is security. Companies offering the service give the 800 number only to people authorized to receive the information. In addition, different personal identification numbers (PINs) can be assigned to separate groups of callers. …