The Evolution of Public Relations - Then and Now

The Evolution of Public Relations - Then and Now

Posted by | October 03, 2012 | PR Industry, PR tips | 2 Comments

PR may seem like a very modern profession, but people having actually been strategically placing stories in the media for years. As far back as the late 1800s, famous historical figures and occurrences were promoted through smaller scale weekly newspapers. Let’s take a quick trip back in time and follow the evolution of Public Relations:

The Early Years

One of the earliest cases of disaster management through PR was in the 1890s when 80 baseball players left the National League. As you can imagine, fans and owners were in an uproar. With the help of a little media outreach, the National League was able to help straighten out management-labor disputes and secure the relationships amongst the players, fans and owners.


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While this may not be the most modern form of PR (and was certainly not called “Public Relations” at the time), it’s important to be able to relate what happened here to the basics of our job: using  interpersonal communication, literature, public events and art to persuade other individuals to believe in our client’s services and/or programs.

The First Publicist

Historical figures such as Henry Ford and Theodore Roosevelt have been attributed with being the first to utilize the basic PR concepts: “positioning” and “ready accessibility.” In other words, these men were able to position themselves as thought leaders who were easily accessible to the press. But it wasn’t until 1906 that a man came along and changed PR forever: enter Mr. Ivy Lee.

Ivy Lee was the first public relations counselor and was hired by famous industrialist John D. Rockefeller. Our friend Rockefeller was facing some serious issues in Colorado, known as the “Ludlow Massacre,” a strike against his fuel and iron plant. In the wake of his panic, Rockefeller turned to our good friend Lee to get the problem fixed, using some traditional media outreach.

So what did our old PR pro Lee do? He decided to change Rockefeller’s tycoon image into one of a man who was concerned for the livelihood of his workers. With this new image in hand, he was able to talk to the press, workers and stage events. Way to go Lee!

What is PR now?

Through the years, PR eventually evolved from newspaper boys yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” to now, where PR specialists focus a large majority of their time on content creation. With the development of the internet, PR changed drastically. According to Jack Leslie, Chairman at Weber Shandwick, PR has moved from a broadcast model to an engagement model, meaning PR professionals are in a constant two-way conversation with the media.


Now PR specialist are focusing less and less on traditional efforts and are trying to make outreach and engagement with the media more organic. By doing so, the messages that we are offering to editors seem more natural and specific to their interests, rather than a mass email that reads very generic and regulated.

PR is a growing profession, with different forms and techniques to suit the needs of a particular company. Some companies and brands prefer to keep PR in-house, while others turn to the expertise of third-party vendors. The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer, it’s all about your preference and budget.

The real choice that defines your PR goals is not whether you hire someone within your company or the well-known agency down the street. It all comes down to whether your company is a better fit for consumer PR, B2B PR, or both. By going the route of consumer, you are focusing your outreach on the customer so that they can learn about your brand and how it may by applicable to their lives. With B2B you are going the more traditional route, positioning your client as a thought leader within their field. While both forms lead to different expectations the end goal is the same, to use the best of your capabilities to gain your client positive recognition in their target media.

Want to implement modern PR strategies for your company or brand? Contact Ryan Grieves to find out how BLASTmedia can help!


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