Image building or hiding the ball?

Public Relations has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t always been known by that name. Politicians through the ages have tried to control their image in the media and corporations have tried to hide transgressions using “public relations.” But it’s really more than that. At least that’s what its practitioners would have us believe.

Inside PR

Public relations has been around a long, long time — just not by that name

Public Relations is the planned effort to influence public opinion through socially responsible performance based on mutually satisfactory two-way communication. Public relations practices, tactics and techniques have been used throughout history for both good and bad. The art of public relations, however, was not named until 1904 by Ivy Ledbetter Lee (right) (considered the “Father of PR”).

Notable examples of these practices are listed here:

  1. Archeologists found a farm bulletin in Iraq that told the farmers of 1800 B.C. how to sow their crops, how to irrigate, how to deal with field mice and how to harvest their crops — an effort like today’s distribution of farm bulletins BROCHURES by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  2. Caesar carefully prepared the Romans for his crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C. by sending reports to Rome on his epic achievements as governor of Gaul, and historians believe he wrote his Commentaries as PROPAGANDA for himself.
  3. The word propaganda was born in the 17th century, when the Catholic Church set up its Congregatio do propaganda, “congregation for propagating the faith.”
  4. The necessity of an organization to implement actions made possible by a public relations campaignÐthe Sons of Liberty, organized in Boston in January 1766.
  5. The use of SLOGANS that compress complex issues into easy-to-quote, easy-to-remember stereotypesДTaxation without representation is tyranny.”
  6. Staged EVENTS that catch public attention, provoke discussion and thus crystallize unstructured public opinion – the Boston Tea Party.
  7. The importance of getting your side of the story to the public first, so that your interpretation of EVENTS becomes the accepted one – the Boston Massacre.
  8. Pressure group activities — The Federalist, the letters which urged ratification of the Constitution.
  9. The creation of the legend of Daniel Boone, now woven into to the fabric of our culture, was the creation of a landowner promoting settlement in Kentucky.
  10. Teddy Roosevelt, with his “Walk softly and carry a big stick” Bull Moose philosophy, was a master of public opinion building and lobbying other politicians. He exploited the media as a new and powerful tool for presidential leadership.
  11. 1917-1919 – World War I, which brought dramatic demonstrations of the power of organized PROMOTION to kindle a fervent patriotism to sell war bonds, to enlist soldiers and to raise millions for welfare work.
  12. Ivy Ledbetter Lee was one of the first to practice what he called public relations in 1916.
  13. Muckraking, a key in the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, caused corporations to take the defensive against the public’s exposure to conditions like those in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”

PR Newswire

PR Communications

Open houses, grand openings, other types of special events; Invitations for all sorts of special events; Brochures; Direct mail pieces; Cooperative promotions with charities; Newsletters; Magazines; Media releases; Press releases; Photos with cutline information; Logos; Web sites; Media kits often contain photos, media releases, backgrounders, printed material from other publications, etc.; Personal appearances by celebrities; Pages in a newspaper; Bulletin boards; Exhibits;  Q&A papers – In other words, any type of communication to get out word about your sponsor.

World War II, and the Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor) brought new dimensions to public relations. Franklin’s “Fireside Chats” on the radio were pure PR. Eleanor organized PRESS CONFERENCES for women reporters (“news hens” she called them).

Marching SONGS for wars, patriotism and other causes include “Over There,””When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer.” These songs, along with Cole Porter and George Gershwin songs, lit the fires of patriotism in this country.

World War II produced a strange mixture of users of public opinion media: Adolph Hitler, FDR, Winston Churchill were all extremely articulate crowd-pleasing speakers who used the new medium of radio very well.

Names of POLITICAL MOVEMENTS: The New Deal, The Fair Deal, The Great SocietyÐall designed to impress public opinion by their grandiose sound. Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator.

Perhaps the greatest practitioner of public relations has been Edward Bernays (right), the first to call himself a public relations counsel. Today, few people outside the public relations profession recognize the name of Edward Bernays. However, his name deserves to figure on historians’ lists of the most influential figures of the 20th century. It is impossible to fundamentally grasp the social, political, economic and cultural developments of the past 100 years without some understanding of Bernays and his professional heirs in the public relations industry.

• Some of the tasks Bernays performed boggle the mind

• Procter and Gamble Company, a client, presented him with a problem: a boycott by black people. His fix: eliminate racist advertising, hire blacks in white-collar jobs and invite black people to open house gatherings at the plant. Nothing fancy here; mostly plain old common sense.

• The Beech-Nut Packing Company, another client, wanted to sell more bacon. His fix: promote what all America could respond to, a nutritious breakfast.

• Bernays urged Thomas Masaryk, the founder of modern Czechoslovakia, to delay the announcement of that country’s independence by a day in order to get better press coverage.

• For another client, American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, Bernays promoted smoking to women (considered unlady-like in the early days). His fix: convince designers to use Lucky Strike green in their fashions for women and carry out a special event called “Light Up, America” during which many famous women publicly lit a Lucky at the same time all across America, causing much media exposure.

Public relations is neutral, neither good nor bad.

Experts commonly believe no amount of PR will make something evil turn good: Consider Saddam Hussein’s transparent and failed attempts during the Persian Gulf conflict.  When Richard Nixon was forced from office, he blamed “bad public relations.” Hmm?


Research — Formal, Informal, Targeted to each public

Action plan — Budget? We will assume you have the money, perhaps from a foundation or a corporation wishing to benefit from its connection with a worthy cause; Theme or campaign. This should be catchy, memorable, short; Planning how to reach each public

Communication(s) — List appropriate communications to reach each public

Evaluation — Did the effort work? How will you know?

The Communications Cycle

Click here for Public Relations Society of America. The site provides career information, job openings and references to other public relations information.

Click here for case studies of public relations campaigns that made a difference.

Borrowed from “Effective Public Relations” (Cutlip and Center) and

“This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations” (Newsom, Scott and Turk).

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