Rebecca Oatley looks back at the beginning of the dot com boom on its 25th Anniversary
12th March 2014
It's the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web and Cherish's MD Rebecca Oatley looks back with fond memories of her days at the beginning of the dot com boom.
I remember it now
7am, wet, cold and standing outside a hotel in Kensington ready to launch some weird and wonderful open operating system called Unix. Not just any old Unix. This was Unix System Five, version 4, now known as the immensely catchy SysV. It was 1989; my first job; a nervous PR graduate who until that time had only been interested in snakebite and listening to the Housemartins, and was now running my first big tech launch. Little did I know then that the World Wide Web, the modern face of the Internet, owes its existence to Unix and that standing there that day, I was part of a global change.
As it turned out the launch was pretty successful
Along came a host of bearded tech journalists (you know who you are), and I still remember the lovely Christine McGourty interviewing my client for the Telegraph. It was my first big win. It’s still in my folder today.
Funny thing is, we got those journalists to our tech event by sending invitation letters, in the post. Yes, the post. Our post room had a team the size of WhatsApp's team. Our huge franking machines in the corner whirred as they churned through envelope after envelope.
And strangely for any PR under the age of 25, the telephone was our primary means of contacting journalists, and on a Friday, with press releases under our arms, we headed to that dark wine bar on Fleet Street for an afternoon of media relations.
But over the years after that launch, the presence of technology in business and life grew and grew. I remember proudly carrying around a brick like mobile and working on the launch of the first TV home shopping channel and being in awe. I remember the day that we began to email press releases rather than spend hours next to the fax machine. Those hours spent collating pieces of paper just disappeared along with the post room.
Then there was the "Dot Bomb"
Then, in the year 2000 Britain caught dot.com fever. As Director at dot.com darling PR agency Gnash, I was there as the web changed the world. My client list included the greats and the long gones. From lastminute.com to clickmango, we were telling stories of companies whose great ideas had earned them millions in investment in just hours. Our regular daily call from the FT asking “have you got any news today” was a PR’s dream, but we were all wrapped up in the possibility and none of us, not the entrepreneurs, the VCs, the media nor the PRs thought about whether Mrs Smith on Acacia Avenue had a modem (yes, it’s the granddaddy of the router), let alone be desperate to buy that case of organic smoothies on the web.
In the space of one year in 2000 the world changed, and then one year later, it changed all over again
Our clients were either floating or more frequently disappearing overnight. Those dot com darlings were heading back into the safe corners of the corporate world.
But the technology march never stops. It’s relentless. Not long after Gnash closed its doors, the management team started up again. In their own agencies this time and just a bit wiser about those offers of share options instead of fees. That’s where Cherish comes in.
I love technology. I love the web. As we simultaneously email, tweet, Facebook, Google, Tinder, tap, Hailo, splott and quap (I made up those last two), we don’t even think about going to the library to research that fact, or filling in our time sheets by hand.
We may all moan about being tech frazzled but the truth is that technology is amazing. However you look at it, the World Wide Web has enabled everyone to learn, grow, develop their ideas, build new businesses, like Cherish, and change the lives of others, by being out there, on the web.
And in another 25 years when I look back on the “Digital Revolution” with my grandkids, I’ll be really proud to say that I was there, at the beginning. On that rainy morning outside a hotel in Kensington just as the World Wide Web was born.
Rebecca Oatley, MD, Cherish