From the editor-in-chief: Half a century on, the UK's PR industry is taking a lead

As we look back on 50 years of PR and communications, the industry still feels young and very well-placed for the future.

In the late 1960s and early '70s the global PR network names of today - Edelman, Burson, Shandwick - set up their UK offices. Public relations was becoming a big, international business. It was the reason why the Public Relations Consultants Association (now the PRCA) was set up in September 1969, the same year Hill+Knowlton opened in London.

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So this month, 50 years on, PRWeek has had a look at half a century of the modern PR industry. We identify the best PR campaigns of the past five decades – from the Sex Pistols on the Thames in the 70s to Iceland’s ‘Rang-tan’ last Christmas – and hear from the people who shaped the industry over that time. Our interviews span such iconic agencies as Shandwick, Lynne Franks, Freuds and Fishburn Hedges.

Back in the early '70s PR was almost exclusively political and financial work, not least because of the prime focus of the media. In those days the glamorous world of advertising was king when it came to brand marketing. But things opened up over that decade, not least with new-found energy in entertainment and sport, and the birth of a new wave of agencies such as Countrywide and Biss Lancaster.

The '80s saw another cultural revolution in Britain with the Thatcher government’s privatisation of state-controlled industries. Communicating change brought a flood of new investment into marketing communications and we saw seminal collaborations between NGOs, politicians and entertainment, culminating in 1985’s Live Aid. Many famous consultancies were established in this decade, from Paragon (est. 1981, later merged into what is now Golin), to Citigate Dewe Rogerson (1987).

Consumer PR’s boom came in the '90s, with a flourishing economy, fast-changing media and the emergence of a new British establishment. Consumer PR powerhouses such as Red Consultancy emerged. Creative shops Freuds, Borkowski and Jackie Cooper PR thrived.

But I’d say it was after the Millennium that public relations came of age, with game-changing integrated campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ and a new type of sophisticated consultancy. Blue Rubicon (est. 1999) was arguably the defining agency of the 2000s. And the past decade has seen the ability to create even more powerful digital ‘movements’, often purpose-driven in nature.

Today, public relations – if defined as work that is multi-stakeholder, powerful storytelling that does not rely on expensive paid media – has become the dominant form of communications. PR still feels young, and very well-placed to enjoy its fifties.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, PRWeek

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