EDITORIAL: Today’s PR has a solid bloodline

Most people, even those in PR, probably think of public relations as a young industry. But as our feature to mark the last issue of PR Week of the millennium shows, its origins go all the way back to the start of the 20th century.

Most people, even those in PR, probably think of public relations

as a young industry. But as our feature to mark the last issue of PR

Week of the millennium shows, its origins go all the way back to the

start of the 20th century.



The feature is the result of a long dig through British Library,

company, and trade association archives, and tracking down some of those

who have links with the forefathers of the industry in the UK and its

real birthplace, the US.



One of the most forceful impressions it leaves is that during the early

years, the tools and techniques we now group together under the banner

of public relations were a serious matter, with an impact on significant

events.



The fight for votes for women; the first and second world wars; the

nationalisation and then privatisation of industries; the rise and fall

of governments and the Royal family: their successes and failures all

relied at least in part on how publicity was gained, and more

importantly, how messages were managed, and public opinion was

influenced.



There is so much talk these days about PR being taken seriously and

being seen as a strategic function, and getting PR into the boardroom.

It seems we have forgotten that essentially, that’s where it came from

in the first place.



It’s difficult to identify when or why PR, or aspects of it, started

being a derogatory term, or being seen as a peripheral activity, but one

thing is clear. No one in PR who finds themselves battling against

negative and ill-informed perceptions of what the industry is about need

think that it’s to do with the industry not yet being mature.



The industry came of age a long time ago, and the practitioners of today

owe a great deal to those pioneers, mainly from in-house and public

sector backgrounds, who laid the foundations for its success. We all

know that PR has suffered, particularly in recent years, from spending

so much time managing other images and issues that it has failed to do

the same for itself.



But in the cyclical nature of things, it looks like at this fin de

siecle, public relations is again coming out on top.



With the current trends of globalisation, consolidation and evaluation

in PR, the industry is getting better at proving it’s doing a good and

important job. The extent to which PR is brought in at the beginning of

company launches and product development also shows that, once again, PR

is at the heart of corporate and political life.



It looks as if the next 100 years will be as interesting and significant

for public relations as the last.



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