A large-scale, corporate-controlled enterprise can be highly intimidating. Many imagine a smoke-filled room where directors and board members sit and attempt to plot their next way to profit. Public Relations, however, helps bridge a mutually beneficial relationship between a business and its customer by informing both parties of the other's intent and desire. Because the public demands authenticity and can usually detect what is real and what is not, Public Relations has become a time-tested profession that has perfected the skill of narration and engagement.
Now that PR practitioners have proven themselves to be skilled in strategic communication, the field of Public Relations is currently in a new transitional mode and is experiencing some growing pains. Some professionals argue that the field of Public Relations is fundamentally different than Social Relations (SR). They say PR practitioners primarily utilize announcements and events for message release, while SR practitioners engage in frequent communications about more routine things.
Although PR personnel have not been predisposed to maintain proficiency in both social and digital media, they should be trained to communicate in these mediums because they will exponentially increase the “reach” of the message.
This isn’t the first time Public Relations has undergone an evolutionary process. By nature, elements of Public Relations have likely been used throughout the history of mankind. We have evidence of early adaptations spotted here and there, but it was not until the 20th century that the practice truly became a recognized field of its own.
The History of Public Relations
In 49 BC, Julius Caesar sent reports of his achievements in a daily publication entitled Acta Diurna. (Endres, 2) Thomas Jefferson was the first to use the term “Public Relations” in an address to the US Congress in 1807. (InfoRefuge, n.p.)
However the first time PR was applied to managing communications between an organization and the public was in 1912 when a man by the name of Ivy L. Lee was hired by the Pennsylvania Railroad. After a train wreck, Lee issued the first official press release—printed by The New York Times—to help the organization manage the adversity both internally and externally. (Zoch, 726)
After Lee’s press release, there was a shift in perspective with Public Relations. Practitioners understood that PR was certainly necessary in times of crisis, but the influence of desire was a territory yet to be explored.
During WWI, the US government began it’s own PR team titled, “The Committee on Public Relations”. Here is where we see the birth of “Uncle Sam” and propaganda techniques to inspirit support for the military. (Clabough, 36)
Edward Bernays, often referred to as “the father of public relations”, was the first to incorporate psychology and other social sciences into Public Relations. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and was skilled in manipulating the public’s motivations and desires. Bernays was hired in 1929 by the tobacco company, Lucky Strike, to boost sales from female consumers, and succeeded tremendously by signaling fashion and the suffrage movement. (Myers, 559)
Harold Burson pioneered the global aspect of PR and opened the first firm in 1953. Today there are several hundreds of firms joined together by the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO). (Burson, 12)
Putting the “Public” Back into Public Relations
Until recently, PR personnel have been accustomed to only delivering one big announcement every so often. Public Relations practitioners write news releases, deliver statements by radio and television, and organize meetings and events. Traditionally, they are accustomed to generating journalistic media coverage and public attention to improve their brand’s sentiment.
Today, as new forms of digital and social media are emerging at an increasing rate, members in the field of PR have had the sharp realization that proficiency is vital in order to become modern-day communicators. The stage of communication channels is diverse, and a PR practitioner must have the foresight to know which platforms are right for each new message. An increasing understanding is that, for a PR representative, the medium is the message.
Rather than creating a new salaried position for Social Relations and keeping the two crafts separate, Public Relations practitioners should develop their skills in conjunction with evolving digital medias, thus consolidating extra workforce.
“PR 2.0” is a shift in communication approach for practitioners. Blending social media with traditional forms of publicity has created a convergence of influence. Social media offers a robust way to talk about a company, product, or service in a way that feels genuine.
Utilizing Communication and Persuasion
Though contrary to the name, the work of Public Relations is largely behind the scenes. There is a great deal of counseling and research within an industry before a report is sent out to an audience. Practitioners work internally within a corporation to make sure employees, investors, and stockholders are in check by maintaining open communication. For internal audiences a PR practitioner will often release company updates through newsletters and special events.
Members of PR hold press releases for journalists. In the community, PR will often help organize or sponsor events to show public support. Practitioners must earn and charm their way into conversations and always maintain a clear narrative and engagement that is relevant to the present and the future.
Public Relations is a never-ending consciousness of kairos. One must be aware of what, how, and where his or her message is. Today, in the age of PR 2.0, every interaction is in real-time and the communication is around the clock. PR practitioners now use dozens of various digital and social media channels on top of their traditional forms of communication. As a PR practitioner, one must be aware of the public’s reaction by measuring clicks, tweets, views, and likes. It’s about doing all you can to influence the public to have conversations about you. Public relations is starting the conversation, joining the conversation, and changing the conversation.
A Global Industry
As a student in the Public Relations program, I recognize the ubiquity of social media. There are more than one billion active users on Facebook while Twitter has 400 million monthly active users and Instagram has 100 million. With the accelerating expansion of global industries, it is clear that the world is getting smaller. It is becoming more and more necessary to recognize and be sensitive to the disparities of the world, and Public Relations practitioners have the tact and skill to navigate through such an environment. With years of international exposure, I understand how to blend and adapt cultures. “More than ever, PR professionals will be called upon to support world wide relations and campaigns, on issues such as prescription drugs, healthcare, and US military initiatives”. (InfoRefuge, n.p.)
Social media is a strong medium that has enhanced our communication in unthinkable ways. With new media and new tools, new audiences will emerge. When the Public Relations field can harness and integrate social media in its fullest potential, its messages will reach every range possible.
- Burson, Harold. "You Live & You Learn." Management Today 10 (2013): 12. Web.
- Clabough, Raven. "Saluting Uncle Sam." The New American 27 (2011): 36. Web.
- Endres, Kathleen L. "Newsletters, Newspapers, Pamphlets." Journalism and Mass Communication 1 (n.d.): 1-2. Web. 2.
- InfoRefuge. "History of Public Relations." InfoRefuge. N.p., 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 2015.
- Myers, Cayce. "Reconsidering Propaganda in U.S. Public Relations History: An Analysis of Propaganda in the Popular Press 1810–1918." Public Relations Review 41.4 (2015): 551-61. Web.
- Zoch, Lynn M., Dustin W. Supa, and Debra R. Vantuyll. "The Portrayal of Public Relations in the Era of Ivy Lee through the Lens of the New York Times." Public Relations Review 40.4 (2014): 723-32. Web.