Is 2024 the year of the ‘old school’ comeback?

Before I get going and just to clarify, when I’m talking about ‘old school’ I’m not talking about early 90’s rave music! But if you’d like to talk about acts like T99, Orbital, KLF and Altern 8, do give me a call!

But back to the point: companies always like to tell you how new technology is revolutionising their service to you. Automated call centres, chatbots, ChatGPT, AI and ‘commonly asked questions’ … all designed to make our lives easier. And it absolutely can, opening new doors and access for all.

However, that isn’t always the case is it? We have all been on the phone because a helpful website Q and A sheet did not have the answer we wanted. Or a chatbot led us in a merry circle back to the same point again. Worse still, clicking a link to a juicy new story that turns out to be computer-generated fluff on a backlinks site presenting itself as news. No knowledge gained for you, but a helpful click stat gained for them.

Context is everything

Don’t get me wrong, technology has made our lives immeasurably better in many ways – cutting down laborious tasks from hours to minutes and improving safety many times over when it comes to transportation, construction and industry in general.

For instance, roughly 1,700 people a year are killed on UK roads each year – the lowest level our country has ever seen. In the 1960’s and 70’s the norm was 8,000 people a year. The dramatic fall can be attributed in part to the increasing standards expected on the driving test, but without doubt most of it can be credited to technological advances in cars themselves to help humans out of the mistakes they make while driving.

So you might say, so far so good. Where technology fails is that it cannot handle the individual unique breakdown or problem you are experiencing in the moment. Technology as the ‘catch-all’ might fix 70% of common problems, but cannot assist where a human being needs to direct the problem in a certain direction, or where the company person’s vast career knowledge can fix the problem in mere minutes … if you can get hold of that person.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how difficult it can be to find a phone number for many big companies. The customer services number is buried deep within their website – seemingly in the hope you’ll never find it, and not add to the already daunting queue stack. Cynical perhaps, but no smoke without fire?

And while you are on hold, the recorded information might say something like: ‘Did you know you might find the answer to your question on our website?’ I know I find that infuriating personally!

Is old the ‘new’ new?

This can be exactly the same in my line of work. When trying to find the right contact at a publication to send a story in on behalf of a client, many will now boast of having a massive ‘reach’ to every media contact you could ever want or need via an online distribution system. But the system is only as good as the commitment of the person who is using it.

I regularly pick up the phone to chase up interest in press releases and the number of times the reporter admits their ‘news’ inbox hasn’t been checked for over a week due to lack of staff, that the patch reporter is off for two weeks, the contact list on the website hasn’t been updated or the person you wanted has left (or any number of other reasons) it is easy to see how simply hitting send and hoping for the best will quickly take your grand plan into the sidings!

While it sounds easy to simply say ‘just get on the phone’ it’s amazing how many people in the media won’t do this. I’ve met many public relations officers and even PR managers who would rather send an email to make an introduction or ask for ‘urgent’ information through an email.

Considering the average media officer has numerous tasks on his or her plate and might not be at his/her desk all the time, surely an urgent enquiry would be better by speaking to them?

It pays dividends in finding out the correct information, making a connection, engaging with the individual you want to get help from, and let’s face it, enjoying the social and human part of the job. It might be seen as the old way of doing things, but if nobody else is willing to do it and it gets you to the top of the line, isn’t that a new tactic that is worth considering?

Digging in the past can reveal treasure

Perhaps this is a generational problem? I once talked to a teenager who said they prefer not to talk to people but communicate with them via text, WhatsApp or other messaging system. Another friend said they did not expect to be phoned during the day by anyone – work-related or otherwise – unless it was an absolute emergency.

In one job where I was managing two much younger people, I asked one of them why a press release had not been finished. He said that he needed more information from another person in the company to complete it, and that individual had not replied to his email. Of course I asked if he’d called that person, and the answer was no. I then had to tell my junior to phone that person to complete the story – something I would expect to be second nature for someone in a media role.

Framing going the extra mile as something we did ‘back in the day’ is unlikely to inspire later generations to now do the same. But seeing as they are more amenable to ‘side-hustles’ and entrepreneurship, perhaps empowering others with these techniques as a new approach, and something to get ahead of the competition will pay more dividends. Don’t pick up the phone because that was the old way of finding success. Do it because you will get the drop on those sleeping around you. 

Connectivity can just be you and me

In a world where quite rightly machines are taking over the most mundane tasks, cutting back on the length of time it takes to do many things and ensuring standards are kept consistent, it’s important that we never lose sight of the human touch – the ability to imagine, create and innovate, and make a personal connection between supplier and customer.

And I’ll make myself an example here! Feel free to pick up the phone to me to chat about anything you’ve read here, or any other work-related topic. And you don’t have to arrange that call in advance. You can reach me on 01908 371177.

And before you ask: my choice of 90’s rave acts were: KLF, DJ Carl Cox and T99 in that order!

By Rodney Kumar, PR Manager, WSA – The Communications Agency

Team WSA
Team WSA
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