In the course of their careers, public relations pros build a long list of areas they need to study—how various industries operate, differences among markets, cultural traits globally, digital devices, media preferences and processes, not to mention grammar, spelling and writing skills. But the one area that many PR practitioners—especially younger ones—fail to study over the years is the years themselves.

Today’s account teams are intensely focused on the latest trends, emerging social media, pop culture, sometimes politics, but they often haven’t taken the time to understand the historical roots of these phenomena. As in changing lanes in a car, we can’t really appreciate our fast-changing current society without first looking back to see what’s behind us. Can you answer this 12-question quiz?

  1. Why is b-roll called b-roll?
  2. Who was Louise Brooks?
  3. Why, specifically, is a no-one-there phone call termed a hang-up call?
  4. Who was Matt Dillon (not the actor)?
  5. What was a “waxer” in publications terminology?
  6. Who was Cole Porter?
  7. What is a Finder Binder?
  8. Why is leading (pronounced “ledding”) called leading?
  9. Why is a keyboard’s shift key called a shift key?
  10. What is a “splicer” and why was it important to media?
  11. Who was John Cameron Swayze?
  12. Where did the term “hyperlink” originate (long before Apple)?

If you could only answer half of these or fewer, you might benefit by taking a little more time to look back.

When you’re promoting current bands, music and MP3 players, look back and you may discover that the melody or lyrics of a new hit song are an updated version of an old standard or novelty tune of the 1940s.

When you’re having conversations with editors, understanding the methodologies and equipment they and their predecessors used in the 1970s and ’80s may make today’s editorial processes more intelligible. 

When a hot new fashion erupts from a popular movie, you could be surprised to learn that same starlet-inspired fashion caused quite a stir in the 1920s.

The past is vast, so how can you get started grounding yourself more deeply in version 1.0 of the current century? You might begin by researching the answers to the dozen questions above. They’re purposely not linked; their value is in doing the homework. In the process, you’ll discover some great sources to help you acquire a quick overview of past people, places and technology, from Wikipedia and Information Please to sites for bios, quotes and entertainment.

With a thorough grounding in the popular past, you may become as successful and famous as Bob Gaudio! One can only hope.

-Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil, a high tech PR/marcomm agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley. Follow Steve on Twitter @prwritingpro