Musings of a PR Professional


History of PR

PR has grown throughout history as a result of trial and error. For example, in the early 1900’s, the first agencies dealing with publicity (public relations’ forefather at the time) began to open up. These agencies were a response to the growing power of organizations and the increasingly diverse public. Although the intention to regulate communication between organizations and the public was there, these agencies did not have very good success rates. According to our text, credibility, “resistance from newspaper publishers”, and the fact that “the concept of formalized publicity was relatively new” (pg. 65 Public Relations A Values-Driven Approach) all contributed to their downfalls. At the time, people simply did not know what to expect or what was expected of them in their PR positions so it was difficult to produce effective messages that would facilitate two-way communication.

Two other noteworthy trail and error situations that helped develop PR as we know it today are the lives of Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward L. Bernays. Lee “established ethical standards” (pg. 67) but did not live up to them himself. Bernays gave the first definition of PR as we know it today, “…giving professional advice to our clients on their public relationships, regardless of whether such an activity resulted in publicity” (pg. 73) and was the first to acknowledge the necessity of two-way communication. However, Bernays was not exactly a great PR role model as he was mistrusted and considered extremely egotistical and undercutting. Despite the fact that these two men contributed so much to the development of modern PR, they were certainly not beacons of good PR practitioners. We can learn from them though!

Karen Russel, a professor at UGA, touches on the idea that PR history is valuable because we can learn from it. We can see what others did well and what they did not do so well and apply these successes and failures to our own time and situation. She says, in a post on Dr. V’s blog that providing a correspondence between the two professors, we have the “added benefit that we can examine short- and long-term effects.” And I think PR has always relied on this type of growth. The nature of the PR profession itself leaves room (even though we may with it did not at times) room for mistakes. So, a good PR person should be brave, take risks and learn from them.