During her internship with us from the University of Liverpool, one of Beth Ure’s projects was to explore the history and future trajectory of the PR profession. We thought we would share some of her observations here…
Communication is the backbone of history. At Galibier, we are privileged to manage communications for clients in sectors such as finance and education that have real power to bring positive changes to many people. From campaigning for education reform to opening up financial empowerment to new generations of customers, communication is the first step to changing lives for the better. As exciting as the future of communications is, it’s also important to reflect on where it’s been.
Many of today’s communication management strategies and tactics can be traced as far back in history as civilisation itself, for example in 50BC, when Julius Caesar published a biography as part of his campaign to become Head of State. Echoes continue to appear throughout history, for example in the 17th Century, when the Roman Catholic Church had a “Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith”, a campaign created to spread Christian doctrines.
There were several precursors to the accreditation of PR in the early 20th century, including the widespread establishment of the printing press in the 1780s, allowing for information to be spread to much larger audience than was previously possible. Additionally, the era of innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries, when telephones and long-distance radio communication were invented, established a growing need to create and manage a flow of information between companies and the public, and vice versa.
Sources dispute the official establishment of PR as a profession, with many citing Ivy Lee’s “counselling office” in the USA, established in 1904. A year after that Lee issued a “Declaration of Principles” to newspapers, with his main focus being that the press and public should receive accurate and timely information regarding a company’s actions. This declaration has since become his most influential work in terms of the development of public relations.
In 1906 Lee created the press release for his first major client, The Pennsylvania Railroad, following an accident. He distributed the company’s statement to avoid reporters receiving different versions of the news, as well as organising transport for the journalists to see the site of the accident and setting up interviews with company executives to answer questions. This open and honest approach was widely respected by journalists and the public alike.
Public relations consultancy made its way to Britain in 1924, when Basil Clarke established Editorial Services Ltd., the first UK PR agency. By 1930 the agency had numerous significant clients, including the National Union for Teachers, as well as Heinz. In 1929 Clarke handled the publicity for the Prince of Wales (who would go on to be become Edward VIII) for his visits to mining communities in the north of England.
World War II created a need for various PR techniques in order to boost morale in a time of suffering and hardship. Following this there was a surge of public relations firms being established in the late 1940s and 1950s, which in turn led to the Institute for Public Relations, now the Chartered Institution for Public Relations, being established in the UK in 1948. The CIPR offers professional qualifications that helped formalise PR as a profession.
During these years there was also a huge increase in public awareness, and in 1969, the internet was born. By the 1990s sector specific PR firms were being established, and press releases, which had remained more or less unchanged since Ivy Lee’s first release in 1906, now took on a digital element.
With information more readily available than ever and controlling the spread of it near impossible, communications management became increasingly important. As social and online media became part of everyday life, the methods used to communicate with the public, and vice versa, were changing. They still are.
Today, through a complex history, the future of PR seems limitless. Works to professionalise the sector have been ongoing for over a century, yet the profession is still relatively young when compared to other fields. Reflecting on our industry’s past shows how far we’ve come, and that there’s still a long way to go; our community must hold itself to the highest of standards both ethically and in practice to create true, positive change.