Evolution of Public Relations - How the Industry Started?

Kinnary Nensee Kinnary Nensee
Oct 25, 2022 6 min read
Evolution of Public Relations - How the Industry Started?

Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of PR said that the three main elements of Public Relations namely informing people, persuading people, and integrating people with people are practically as old as society.

Public Relations is defined as the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organisation such as a business, government agency or a non-profit organisation to the public in an effort to influence their perception. Public relations is also a form of marketing communication. It aims to create media coverage through topics of public interest.

Ancient Origins of Public Relations
Origins of Public Relations as a Profession
The Growth of PR Practice and Firms
The Advent of the Internet in PR
The Role of the Public, Social Media, and Smartphones in the PR Industry

How to Do Public Relations?

Ancient Origins of Public Relations

Academics James E. Grunig and Scott Cutlip identified early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations. This was a time when the term "public relations" did not yet exist. Early Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato recognized the sophisticated rhetoric produced by ancient Greek cities to influence public opinion. In 469 BC, Socrates publicly spoke to engage young thinkers in a debate. This led to the emergence of โ€˜sophistsโ€™ โ€“ essentially philosophers who began teaching the art of persuasive speaking to noblemen who sought public office.

Egyptian leaders created the obelisks, Babylonian leaders created the pyramids and Persian leaders created statues to promote their divine right to lead their people. Claims of magic or religious authority were also used by kings or pharaohs to persuade the public that they had a right to rule. Magna Carta was created in the early 1200s because of Stephen Langton lobbying English barons to insist that King John recognize the authority of the Church.

Origins of Public Relations as a Profession

Many historians identify the early 1900s as the beginning of public relations as a paid profession. This is mentioned in the book "Todayโ€™s Public Relations: An Introduction." Scott Cutlip explained that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of origin of PR as the concept has developed over a period of time and through a series of events. He continued - "we somewhat arbitrarily place the beginnings of the public relations vocation with the establishment of The Publicity Bureau in Boston in mid-1900." The Publicity Bureau (the first PR agency) was founded by three journalists and as a profession, PR was first established in the US by Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. From there on, PR as a profession spread internationally.

Initially, the print media and radio stations made up the PR outlets. PR firms relied on postal mail and some telephone access to get their stories out to the masses. However, this process was slow and limited.

By 1912, post office mail was delivered using aeroplanes. The use of telephones in business and residences was becoming more common and by 1915 coast-to-coast calls were made possible. News travelled faster comparatively due to the available technology of the time.

It was only during the 1920s that public relations gained entry into the private sector. In his book, published in 1923, โ€˜Crystallizing Public Opinionโ€™, Edward Bernays introduced the โ€˜two-way-streetโ€™ idea of communication which defied the popular misconception that Public Relations was deceptive and manipulative. He explained that the idea of public relations was to explain the โ€˜publicโ€™ to the client and vice-versa. This was a two-way approach that allowed the integration of the publicโ€™s experience and opinions with the practice of PR.

As revolutionary an idea as it was at that time, advancing technology has made it an easy reality of the current time.

The Growth of PR Practice and Firms

Forecast for the Global Public Relations Market Value
Forecast for the Global Public Relations Market Value

As public relations grew, expanded, and gained recognition as a profession, trade associations and PR industry publications began emerging as did the guidelines for the functioning of PR. Universities began offering curriculums built around public relations.

Then came televisions in the 1950s, which became common in homes, offices, and various other institutions across the US and UK. It very quickly became the primary medium for influencing public opinion. Unsurprisingly, it increased peopleโ€™s engagement as they were being addressed live by another human being. Televisions created a whole new platform for PR firms. This required a new skill set creating more job opportunities within the sector.

1980 saw the launch of the first television network to broadcast 24 hours a day โ€“ CNN. This was a time when radio and television typically operated between 6 am and 11 pm. This changed the existing perception of the news as people realized that the news could be reported live as and when it developed.


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The Advent of the Internet in PR

The Public Relations sector turned on its head with the advent of the internet. Universal access to anyone at any time became a reality. It built on the CNN 24 hours broadcast platform making it possible to access websites, online magazines or online news channels at any hour of the day or night. This changed the speed at which news travelled on the super information highway creating more outlets for PR activities.

The role of Public Relations and its professionals underwent a change again as they scrambled to learn about websites, online advertising, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

The Role of the Public, Social Media, and Smartphones in the PR Industry

Top PR Strategies That Will Shape the Industryโ€™s Future
Top PR Strategies That Will Shape the Industryโ€™s Future

The internet paved the way for instant, two-way conversations. This shifted the balance of power and changed the role of the audience as well as the role and responsibilities of PR professionals. The role of PR professionals has increased from pitching stories to monitoring stories continuously and being ready with damage control strategies in the event of a negative public reaction to them.

Social media has expanded the number of channels and formats with individuals now able to upload blog posts, and create videos, channels and podcasts. This has further expanded the roles and responsibilities of PR professionals as each platform requires unique management abilities. Advanced smartphone technology allows the easy capture of high-resolution photos and videos which can be broadcast without any delay.

PR firms and PR professionals use these multiple formats to craft and pitch stories and also find ways to invite the public to create their own stories. As technology is evolving so is PR and its tactics.

Conclusion

What has remained constant through time is the need to tell stories and for businesses to manage their images and communications. What continues to evolve is the how, what, and where the stories are shared.

Itโ€™s difficult to predict the advances in technology in the future or what shift they will create for the public relations sector. The future will reveal itself with time.

FAQs

What are Public Relations?

Public Relations is defined as the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organisation to the public in an effort to influence their perception.

What are the main elements of public relations?

According to Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of PR, the three main elements of Public Relations are informing people, persuading people, and integrating people with people.

What is PR in social media?

On social media, public relations simply means making use of different social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. to enhance and promote the image of an individual or a company and get people talking about it.

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