If you have worked in comms over the past seven years you'll enjoy this reflection on some of the changes we have all seen and experienced...
Back in 2007 we had five press officers. That’s five people who just did media enquiries and press releases.
I know this, because I was one of them. I joined Newcastle City Council as a press officer in September 2007 I'm about to leave it for Core Cities in Manchester with the far fancier title of Strategic Communications Manager.
Now is a good time to reflect on changes to a discipline that's been transformed in less than a decade. Here are the seven biggest things, one for every year I've been at Newcastle.
1. Press officers just did press
Press officers in 2007 were just that - they did media relations and most of their time was spent talking to the local paper. Their work came in peaks and troughs and there was a lot of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Now multi-skilling is the norm. Good press officers turn their words, photos, and videos into everything from internet copy to speeches.
2. Just send it to the desk
Ask a press officer at Newcastle in 2007 where to send a release and there was one overriding destination – the local paper's news desk. They often didn’t stop to think about broadcast or specialist or the internet, despite their potentially bigger reach. That changed as circulation declined and the media landscape became more diverse.
3. Social media changed everything
From 2010 the importance of social media began to accelerate. Press officers (and journalists) who didn't understand this were stuck in the slow lane, unable to keep up with the increasing pace and brevity of events. It gave journalists a new source for stories and gave us a brand new mobile communications channel.
4. There were a lot more 'bodies on the ground'
There are far fewer people than there were - on both sides of the fence. Soon after I joined the council the local paper's long-standing municipal reporter retired. He was replaced with someone who no longer had the time to go through agenda reports with a fine-toothed comb. From September this year, Newcastle will have less than ten communications people across the council for all disciplines.
5. Comms didn't communicate
If you'd asked me in 2007 what our five-strong marketing team were up to I wouldn't have been able to tell you. There was no 'read-across' the work we did. In fact, sometimes we did media relations without mentioning relevant marketing campaigns, missing a vital trick. With multi-skilling came the end of silos – a good thing.
6. Reactive not proactive
Press officers were far more reactive than proactive. I remember that dreadful feeling of being the last to know about a PR disaster - after the press, politicians and officers. Now, thankfully, there’s more strategy and forward planning, necessitated by lower staff numbers.
7. The press release was king
I know there’s been debate about whether the press release is dead, but it did used to be the default communications platform - now it's seen as a 'nice to have'. Seven years ago, it was the thing that managers asked for at the end of a meeting, now they'll ask for social media.
Although I love media relations, I'm not sentimental about 'the good old days'. I think being a press officer in 2014 is a far more challenging, wide-ranging and responsible job than before. Who knows what the next seven years will bring?
Will Mapplebeck is still, for a little while anyway, a senior communications advisor at Newcastle City Council. Follow him on Twitter @wimapp
pic via Wikimedia Commons