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Sep 20, 2017

The History of Public Relations


Since it’s back to school time, we thought we’d go with a little history lesson today on the NRPR Blog — a history of public relations, that is!

Now, before you click away thinking you already know everything there is to know… we promise we’ve got some really fun and cool findings to share! Not only on how the modern day public relations industry came to be as we know it, but also on how PR made its way to Los Angeles and, more specifically, our home of Beverly Hills.

Public relations dates back as early as written language itself.

Although it would be hundred years until the term was coined, many historians believe that the core practices of public relations dates back to ancient civilizations. Think about it: cave drawings, hieroglyphics, sculptures and more were all ways people communicated with one another before more advanced languages came to be.

Things such as clay tablets in ancient Iraq promoting “better” agricultural practices, to the Egyptian leaders creating statues and structures to promote themselves… pretty much anything with the purpose of persuading the public’s opinion one way or the other falls in the realm of PR, right?

Or, if that’s too far of a stretch, think about Julius Caesar’s self-penned campaign biography promoting his military successes. A press release, maybe? He also commissioned newsletters to publish poems supporting his political position. Whether or not that was pay-to-play, that’s definitely PR.

It’s interesting to look as far back as ancient civilizations and empires to see how people were exploring ways to promote themselves, what they stood for, and more. If you’re really interested in this, we’d recommend checking out The Museum of Public Relations at Hofstra University.

The history of PR in the United States dates back to the late 1800s.

The first corporate public relations department was established in 1889 by George Westinghouse, an inventor and industrialist, who hired two men to publicize his alternating current electricity project. Publicity around a new and exciting thing that no one has ever heard of before… sounds pretty familiar, eh?

Shortly after in 1900, the first publicity agency, named Publicity Bureau, was founded in Boston by three former newspapermen: George V. S. Michaelis, Thomas Marvin, and Herbert Small. Hmm… former journalists transitioning over to PR? We’ve heard that before! The trio were on a mission “to do general press agent business,” servicing clients such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the American Telephone Company. Smart!

Two years later, the second public relations agency was founded in response to attacks on big businesses in Washington, D.C. Founded by previous New York Sun reporter, William Smith, the agency was established to help large companies defend themselves against media slander and policy bias. Again… very familiar sounding, yes?

Another two years pass, and the United States sees its third ever PR agency, Parker & Lee, founded by George Parker (President Grover Cleveland’s former press agent). George Parker hired Ivy Lee to help him at the firm (Lee was a great writer… which is why Parker hired him. **PR TIP: Hone those writing skills!!**).

Ivy Lee is sometimes referred to as the father of PR*. He went on to establish the Declaration of Principles, which said PR should be done in the open (not behind closed doors) and be accurate (not spin). He wrote the first ever modern day press release, and also helped his client, the Pennsylvania Railroad, earn its first ever positive media coverage following a crisis. Crisis comms AND proactive PR?! Can we hire this guy?!

*Note: Many regard Edward Bernays as the father of modern day PR, saying he invented the profession in the 1920s. Ivy Lee referred to his work as public counseling, whereas Bernays is known more for exploring the profession usings means such as propaganda and spin. Both clearly had a very prominent role in the industry’s development, but we’d love to know who YOU think is the father of modern PR: Bernays or Lee?

So, when did PR make its way to California, Los Angeles, and Beverly Hills?

While the modern day practice of PR began spreading about the United States in the early 1900s, The Transcontinental Railroad is reported to have launched “sophisticated and systematic corporate public relations” campaigns as early as the 1860s to boost public opinion, impress the California state legislature, and raise money for construction.

Fast forward roughly 70 years to the age of mass media, and you’ll find the first political consulting firm, Campaigns Inc., creating the California gubernatorial campaign video (multimedia, anyone?).

It is unclear when, exactly, the first PR agency was established within Los Angeles city limits, but research and reports estimate it to be around 1915 as Hollywood was coming into it’s own, producing stars, movies and more that all needed a monitor over their public images.

Fast forward to present day, and Los Angeles, as well as NRPR Group’s home of Beverly Hills, is booming with public relations industries left and right. With so many to choose from now a days, how do you pick the best one? Simple: look for an agency that specializes in your industry, has the relationships you can benefit from, is honest and transparent, and who you connect with (read more from NRPR Group founder and CEO, Nicole Rodrigues, on finding the right agency for you, here).

But enough from us… now it’s your turn! Do you have any fun facts or interesting tidbits about the history of public relations in your city? Do tell! Leave us a comment in the section below and stay up-to-date with all of the latest and greatest news from NRPR Group by signing up for our bi-monthly newsletter, HUSTLE WITH A CONSCIENCE!

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