History of public relations
A Babylonian tablet from 1800 BC that told farmers how to sow and harvest crops is considered the first known example of early forms of public relations. Other early examples include audience segmentation tactics used in gospels, political promotions in Rome, and logos used by ancient craftsman. Public relations tactics were also used in the settlement of the New World, though the term had not been identified yet. Exaggerated and misleading promotions were used to attract settlers and the first fund-raising pamphlet, New England Fresh Fruits, was used to raise funding for Harvard College. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, pamphlets, media outreach and slogans were also used to spread anti-British sentiment.
The first PR agency, The Publicity Bureau, was established in 1900. Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays helped establish the field as a professional practice in the United States. Basil Clarke pioneered the field in the United Kingdom, while Arthur W. Page is considered the father of corporate PR. The field became more established after World War II, in part due to talent from war-time propaganda efforts moving into the private sector. Trade associations, industry publications and academic journals were developed. Some of today's largest PR agencies, such as Hill & Knowlton, Edelman and Burson-Marsteller, were founded in the 1950s and began competing globally in Europe and Asia.
The 1990s were marked by "explosive growth" for the PR industry. Internet technologies and social media changed PR tactics. Agencies consolidated and new specialities were introduced such as investor relations and community management.
Although the term "public relations" was not yet developed, academics like James E. Grunig and Scott Cutlip have identified early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations. According to Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of public relations, “The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people. Academic Scott Cutlip said historic events have been defined as public relations retrospectively, "a decision with which many may quarrel."
A Babylonian tablet found in Iraq and dated from 1800 BC, which educated farmers on how to sow and harvest crops, is considered the first known example of early forms of public relations. In Egypt, scribes documented a pharaoh's deeds and in Rome leaders like Julius Caesar wrote biographies on their military successes to persuade the public to support their political candidacies. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Isocrates, Plato and Aristotle created early theories in rhetoric and persuasion.
Ancient Greece and Rome published books and taught classes on persuasive speaking, as part of the art of rhetoric. The ancient Roman Empire created symbols and propaganda to demonstrate its economic prosperity and stability, so that it could entice unconquered regions to submit willingly. In medieval Europe, craftsmen guilds coveted their reputation. In England, Lord Chancellors acted as mediators between rulers and subjects.
According to academic Ron Smith, public relations was also used to spread Christianity. He considers Pope Urban II's efforts to recruit for the crusades to be an example of public relations. Early gospel writers practiced audience segmentation by creating four different versions of their gospels for different audiences. Pope Gregory XV founded the term "propaganda" when he created Congregatio de Propaganda ("congregation for propagating the faith"), which used trained missionaries to spread Christianity. The term did not carry negative connotations until it was associated with government publicity around World War I. La reputation was the word used for French publicists that promoted absolutism in the 1500s and 1600s.
Antecedents in the U.S.
Most textbooks on public relations say that it was first developed in the United States, before expanding globally. According to Scott Cutlip, "the U.S. talent for promotion" began during the settling of the east coast in the 16th century. Settlers like Magellan, Columbus and Raleigh used exaggerated claims of grandeur to entice settlers to come to the New World. For example, in 1598, a desolate swampy area of Virginia was described by Captain Arthur Barlowe as follows: "The soile is the most plentiful, sweete, fruitful and wholesome of all the worlde." When colonists wrote about the hardships of colonizing Virginia, including the death toll caused by conflicts with Indians, pamphlets with anonymous authors were circulated to reassure settlers and rebuke criticisms. Exaggerated stories of Davy Crocket and the California Gold Rush were used to persuade the public to fight the war against Mexico and to migrate west in the U.S., respectively.
Public relations was also used to promote higher education in the New World. In 1641, Harvard University sent three preachers on a begging mission to England to raise 500 pounds to fund spreading Christianity to Indians. When the preachers said they needed a document to explain their cause, the University created the first fund-raising brochure, New England's First Fruits. An early versions of the press release was used when King's College (now Columbia University), sent out an announcement of its 1758 graduation ceremonies and several newspapers printed the information. Princeton was the first university to make it a routine practice to supply newspapers with information about activities at the college.
The Boston Tea Party has been called "public relations event" in that it was a staged event intended to influence the public. Pamphlets such as Common Sense (1775–76) and The American Crisis (1776 to 1783) were used to spread anti-British propaganda, as well as the slogan “taxation without representation is tyranny.” After the revolution was won, disagreements broke out regarding the United States Constitution. Supporters of the constitution sent letters now called the Federalist Papers to major news outlets, which helped persuade the public to support the constitution.
During the 1820s, President Andrew Jackson appointed the first Federal Press Secretary in the US, Amos Kendall. He became the first person whose paid profession centered on media management for a person or organization. In Europe, Krups was the first corporation to create a public relations department in 1870. Westinghouse Corporation created the first in-house PR department in the U.S. in 1889. Public relations practitioners were also hired in the U.S. to persuade consumers to use the new railroad system. The first known appearance of the term "public relations" in print was in the 1897 Year Book of Railway Literature published by The Association of American Railroads.
During the industrial revolution, many publicists used exploitive means to publicise circuses. P.T. Barnum was particularly well known for successfully publicizing his circus using manipulative techniques. He became known as a "master promoter" for his use of pseudo-events and hype. Barnum used exaggerated or misleading claims about his circus events to attract curious patrons.
Foundation as a profession
According to Barbara Diggs-Brown, an academic with the American University School of Communication, the PR field anchors its work in historical events in order to improve its perceived validity, but it didn't begin as a professional field until around 1900. The book, "Today's Public Relations: An Introduction," argues that, although experts disagree on public relations' origins, many identify the early 1900s as its beginning as a paid profession. According to Scott Cutlip, "we somewhat arbitrarily place the beginnings of the public relations vocation with the establishment of The Publicity Bureau in Boston in mid-1900. He explains that the origins of public relations cannot be pinpointed to an exact date, because it developed over time through a complex series of events.
The Publicity Bureau was the first public relations agency and was founded by former Boston journalists. In 1906, the Publicity Bureau was hired by railroad interests to campaign against regulation. Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted to regulate the railroad industry, was the first President to use the White House as a "bully pulpit" and was said to "rule the country from the newspapers' front pages." The passage of the Hepburn Act, which added government controls over railroads, was seen as a victory for Roosevelt and a testament to his publicity skills. According to Scott Cutlip, this "mastery of public relations profoundly shifted the power from the Congress to the Presidency." Roosevelt also spurred the growth of the public relations field by using the media to promote The New Deal and to blame corporations for the country's economic problems, which led companies to recruit their own publicists to defend themselves.
In 1929, Edward Bernays helped the Lucky Strike cigarette brand increase its sales among the female demographic. Research showed that women were reluctant to carry a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, because the brand's green color scheme clashed with popular fashion choices. Bernays persuaded fashion designers, charity events, interior designers and others to popularize the color green. He also positioned cigarettes as Torches of Freedom that represent rebellion against the norms of a male-dominated society.
In 1938, among concerns regarding dropping diamond prices and sales volume, De Beers engaged advertising agency N.W. Ayers. Ayers recommended a strategy to "strengthen the association in the public's mind of diamonds with romance," whereas "the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love." This became known as one of America's "lexicon of great campaigns" for successfully persuading the public to purchase expensive luxury items during a time of financial stress through psychological manipulation of the item's perceived rarity and value. It also led to the development of the slogan "A diamond is forever" in 1947 and was influential in how diamonds were marketed thereafter.
"Fathers" of the profession
Ivy Lee, a former Wall Street reporter, is sometimes called the father of public relations and was influential in establishing it as a professional practice. In 1906, Lee published a Declaration of Principles, which said that public relations work should be done in the open, should be accurate and cover topics of public interest. Ivy Lee is also credited with developing the modern press release and the "two-way-street" philosophy of both listening to and communicating with respective publics.
In practice Lee's work was often identified as spin or propaganda. In 1913 and 1914 the mining union was blaming the Ludlow Massacre, where on-strike miners and their families were killed by state militia, on the Rockefeller family and their coal mining operation, The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. On the Rockefeller family's behalf, Lee published bulletins called "Facts Concerning the Struggle in Colorado for Industrial Freedom," which contained false and misleading information. The press said Lee "twisted the facts" and called him a "paid liar," a "hired slanderer," and a "poisoner of public opinion."
Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, is also sometimes referred to as the father of public relations and the profession's first theorist for his work in the 1920s. He took the approach that audiences had to be carefully understood and persuaded to see things from the client's perspective. He wrote the first text-book on public relations and taught the first college course at New York University in 1923. Bernays also first introduced the practice of using front groups in order to protect tobacco interests. In the 1930s he started the first vocational course in public relations.
Bernays was influenced by Freud's theories about the subconscious. He authored several books, including Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), Propaganda (1928), and The Engineering of Consent (1947). He saw public relations as an "applied social science" that uses insights from psychology, sociology, and other disciplines to scientifically manage and manipulate the thinking and behavior of an irrational and "herdlike" public. "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society," he wrote in Propaganda, "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."
According to Ruth Edgett from Syracuse University, Lee and Bernays both had "initial and spectacular successes in raising public relations from the art of the snake oil salesman to the calling for a true communicator." However, "late in their careers, both Lee and Bernays took on clients with clearly reprehensible values, thus exposing themselves and their work to public criticism." Walter Lippmann was also a contributor to early public relations theory, for his work on the books Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925). He coined the term "manufacture of consent," which is based on the idea that the public's consent must be coaxed by experts to support a democratic society.
Former journalist Basil Clarke is considered the founder of public relations in the UK. He founded the UK's first PR agency, Editorial Services, in 1924. He also authored the world's first code of ethics for the field in 1929. Through his publicity efforts, Clarke was able to get imported skimmed milk marked as "unfit for babies" on behalf of pasteurized milk producers and fought to allow food colorants in preserved food for Heinz.
Arthur W. Page is sometimes considered to be the father of "corporate public relations" for his work with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company from 1927 to 1946. The company's newly attained monopoly had led to public distrust due to its control over the communications network. In the early 1900s, AT&T had assessed that 90 percent of its press coverage was negative, which was reduced to 60 percent by changing its business practices and disseminating information to the press. Page positioned the company as a public utility and increased the public's appreciation for the company's contributions to society.
World War II
During World War II (1941–45), American propaganda was used to increase support for the war and commitment to an Allied victory. Using a vast array of media, propagandists fomented hatred for the enemy and support for America's allies, urged greater public effort for war production and victory gardens, persuaded people to save some of their material so that more material could be used for the war effort, and sold war bonds. Patriotism became the central theme of advertising throughout the war, as large scale campaigns were launched to sell war bonds, promote efficiency in factories, reduce ugly rumors, and maintain civilian morale. The war consolidated the advertising industry's role in American society, deflecting earlier criticism.
During the war Coca Cola promised that "every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company." The company received volumes of letters from soldiers saying that there was "no greater calamity" than running out of coke. Coca Cola successfully persuaded politicians that they were crucial to the war-effort. As a result Coke was exempted from sugar rationing, ultimately leading to the once primarily US-based product developing into a dominant international brand.
According to one textbook, the period after World War II was a boon for the public relations field and "the 40 years from 1960 to 2000 are perhaps best characterized as the professional-development-building era in public relations." This was caused by an increase in the number of media outlets and the talent previously used for government and military publicity that entered the private sector.
Public relations activities began in France in the 16th century and in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, but wasn't established as a professional activity until the 1920s. Mussolini's use of propaganda during World War II led to more public relations activities in Italy. The Empire Marketing Board and the Ministry of Information were created in the UK during the war. Public relations became established as a profession in Europe under the influence of the European Recovery Program. The post-war era is also when public relations became more established in Nigeria, though it had been practiced to some extent since the first newspaper in the country, "Iwe Irohin," was created in 1859.
Trade associations were formed first in the U.S. in 1947 with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), followed by the Institute of Public Relations (now the Chartered Institute of Public Relations) in London in 1948. Similar trade associations were created in Australia, Europe, South Africa, Italy and Singapore. The International Association of Public Relations was founded in 1955. The Institute for public relations held its first conference in 1949 and that same year the first British book on public relations, "Public Relations and publicity" was published by J.H. Brebner. The International Association of Business Communicators was founded in 1970. Betsy Ann Plank is called "the first lady of public relations" for becoming the first female president of the PRSA in 1973.
Two of today's largest PR firms, Edelman and Burson-Marsteller, were founded in 1952 and 1953 respectively. Daniel Edelman created the first media tour in the 1950s by touring the country with "the Toni Twins," where one had used a professional salon and the other had used Toni's home-care products. It was also during this period that trade magazines like PR Week, Ragans and PRNews were founded.
John Hill, founder of Hill & Knowlton, is known as the first international public relations pioneer. Hill & Knowlton was the first major U.S. firm to create a strong international network in the 1960s and 1970s. Both Edelman and Burson-Marsteller followed Hill & Knowlton by establishing operations in London in the 1960s and all three began competing internationally in Asia, Europe and other regions. Jacques Coup de Frejac was influential in persuading U.S. and UK companies to also extend their public relations efforts into the French market and for convincing French businesses to engage in public relations activities. In the early 2000s, public relations in Latin America began developing at a pace "on par with industrialized nations."
According to The Global Public Relations Handbook, public relations evolved from a series of "press agents or publicists" to a manner of theory and practice in the 1980s. Research was published in academic journals like Public Relations Review and the Journal of Public Relations Research, leading to consensus to categorize public relations work into a four-step process: research, planning, communication and action.
According to one textbook, the public relations field experienced growth and consolidation during the 1990s. New internet technology and social media websites changed social media tactics. It was also during this period that specialties for communicating to certain audiences and within certain market segments emerged. The textbook said, "The 1990s were a time of explosive growth for public relations and corporate communications."
In 1991, Dr. Robert L. Heath from the University of Houston said there was "steady progress" towards public relations achieving "true professional status," while academic J. A. R. Pimlott said it had achieved "quasi-professionalism." Heath said despite the field's newfound professionalism and ethics, its reputation was still plagued by a history of exploitive behavior.
In April 1999, four managers from IBM, Sun Microsystems, National Public Radio and Linux Journal created "The Cluetrain Manifesto." The Manifesto established 95 theses about the way social media and internet technologies were going to change business. It concluded that markets had become "smarter and faster than most companies," because stakeholders were getting information from each other. The manifesto was considered ahead of its time.
Press releases, which were mostly unchanged for more than a century, began to integrate digital features. BusinessWire introduced the "Smart News Release," which incorporated audio, video and images, in 1997. This was followed by the MultiVu multimedia release from PRNewswire in 2001. The Social Media Release was created by Todd Defren from Shift Communications in 2006 in response to a blog written by journalist and blogger Tom Foremski titled "Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!" In his blog, Foremski said "Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists." Incorporating digital and social features became a norm among wire services, as well as making company announcements on corporate blogs.
Social media sites like blogs, Facebook and Twitter changed public relations from a one-way broadcast-oriented field to conversational, two-way communications. Many of the large PR agencies transitioned into integrated marketing firms. According to The New York Times, new media also made it "easier for consumers to learn about the mix-ups and blunders" of public relations. For example, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP tried to deflect blame to other parties, claim the spill was not as significant as it was and focused on the science, while human interest stories related to the damage were emerging. In 2011, Facebook tried to covertly spread privacy concerns about competitor Google's Social Circles. Chapstick created a communications crisis after allegedly, repeatedly deleting negative comments on its Facebook page.
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