Greetings From Our Office of the Future in 1994

October 2019
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We’re now weeks away from the PRSA 2019 International Conference in San Diego on Oct. 20-22.

You can find our coverage later this month on our blog, PRsay, during the Conference, and afterward in the December issue. We’ll also be tweeting throughout the Conference via @PRSAtactics if you’d like to follow along.

The office of the future

The way we report from the field has certainly evolved. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of my first PRSA conference, held Nov. 13-16, 1994 in Baltimore. The theme: “Organizational Survival: Connecting With the New American Values.”

And PRSA had a variety of keynote speakers to address that weighty topic, including Lynn Martin, the Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush, Murray Weidenbaum, an economic adviser to President Reagan, and Rosabeth Moss Kantor, a professor of business at Harvard Business School.

Aside from an array of professional development workshops, networking mixers and new product demonstrations, we unveiled what we informally called “the office of the future.”

Our Electronic Public Relations Office booth in the exhibit hall was an effort to showcase how communicators could use new technology “in the day-to-day practice of public relations,” according to the program description. 

Here’s how it worked. My editor, Adam Shell, and I covered several Conference events, and returned to the exhibit hall to write our recaps. We had file-sharing software — the specifics escape me now — that allowed Ernie Blitzer, our art director back in New York, to design pages in real-time while we could simultaneously make copyedits. 

We emailed copy and photos to Ernie via our CompuServe accounts. He then designed several pages of our next issue while attendees in the exhibit hall could watch pages come to life on our PC monitors. (At the time, it seemed pretty cool. Today, it feels like we did all this with the pizzazz of an Etch A Sketch.)

All the while, PRSA member Jim Horton, who helped us set up the workstations, served as an MC. He worked the floor and told the crowd with the zeal of a carnival barker: All the work is being done in New York!

The problem with technology

With this still-new technology, there were problems — modems went silent, computers crashed. And there was the challenge of condensing notes from a 45-minute speech into a coherent, 500-word summary on the fly under the watchful gaze of spectators. All the work is being done right before your eyes!

In addition to creating newspaper pages live, we delivered coverage from several sessions to CompuServe’s Public Relations and Marketing Forum, a milestone event that merited front-page coverage of our Conference issue in December 2014!

I remember experiencing moments of anxiety in this Electronic Public Relations Office, mostly because I was always a Mac person and I suddenly had to master a PC in front of an audience. How do I copy and paste?

On the second day of the Conference, I took a quick break. I was sitting outside near the hotel on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Right then, our CEO, Ray Gaulke, walked by with PRSA Board Chair Joe Vecchione, APR, Fellow PRSA. Being my first Conference, I worried that our leaders would believe I was slacking off. They said hello. Ray asked me what I was doing. I paused and blurted out: “Thinking about the office of the future!” (He told me later that he enjoyed my response.)

From Baltimore to San Diego, our goal remains the same: to provide tips and takeaways from the many Conference speakers. Perhaps you will join us next time!

Return to Current Issue Corporate Communications | October 2019
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