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The History of Public Relations

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

The history of Public Relations seems to go back forever. From the days of Press Releases coming through via Fax to an email to a journalist enticing them to include your company in an article they are writing to praying to anyone sacred that you get the “Oprah Effect” and she mentions you in an Instagram post or TikTok video and your business BOOMS!

It’s used in every company and every brand to either highlight a product or service or to put a “spin” on something not so great. From articles to broadcast segments to the new world of influencers and social media. It is an ever changing industry that some compare to the bottom feeders of the legal profession.

So….we thought it would be fun to take a peek at where our industry started so long ago! Heck - if you even make it onto an episode of Jeopardy you might be grateful to know what the first PR agency was!

Although the term public relations had not yet been coined, James E. Grunig and Scott Cutlip discovered early forms of public persuasion and communication management in ancient society.

Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of PR, stated that the three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society. Those elements were, informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people.

The History of PR in Ancient Iraq

The History of Public Relations

A clay tablet discovered in ancient Iraq that promoted advanced agricultural techniques is often considered to be one of the first known examples of public relations.

The History of PR in Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece there were teachers for hire called "sophists". According to Plato and others, the sophists' tactics were misleading, however the book Public Relations as Communication Management stated they were largely ethical and simply used the principles of persuasive communication.

The History of PR in Ancient Rome

Julius Caesar wrote the first campaign biography that promoted his military successes. He also had newsletters and poems published to support his political stance.

The History of PR in Medieval Europe

PR in Mediaeval Europe

Guilds of craftsmen were formed that managed their reputation collectively.

In England, there were Lord Chancellors. Lord Chancellors are a senior position in the Privy Council of England. One of their roles was to be mediators between rulers and their subjects.

As you can see there were several examples of communication management throughout ancient history that could be seen as early forms of public relations.

The First PR Agency

First Public Relations Agency

A few journalists from Boston got together in the early 1900's and created the first Public Relations agency called The Publicity Bureau. The father of PR, Ivy Lee, was one of those journalists and was instrumental in establishing the agency as a professional practice.

Lee published a Declaration of Principles in 1906, which stated that PR work should be conducted openly, accurately and handle topics of public interest.

Historian Eric Goldman states that the declaration of principles marked the genesis of a focus on informing over misleading the public. The modern press release is also credited to Ivy Lee.

In 1906, Lee invited the press to a train wreck, which helped facilitate the Pennsylvania Railroad's first positive media coverage, despite executives' objections. Prior to this time, secrecy within corporate operations was common practice.

The history of public relations is long and varied, with the field only becoming formalized in the early 20th century.

The field of public relations has evolved rapidly in recent years, thanks in part to the advent of social media. This new platform has given PR professionals a unique way to connect with their audiences and share information. In fact, some might say that social media has completely changed the game when it comes to public relations.

PR has become an essential tool for businesses and organizations, whether they're trying to shape public opinion or manage a crisis.

The early days of public relations: 1920s – 1960s

The early days of public relations were all about building relationships between brands and the media. This was done through things like press releases, interviews, and events.

The birth of social media and the rise of digital PR: late 1990s – present

Public Relations and Social Media

PR has changed a lot since social media came onto the scene. Nowadays, it's all about creating a relationship between brands and consumers. This is done through things like social media posts, influencer marketing, events, media exposure and content marketing.

The future of public relations

As we move further into the digital age, it's clear that public relations is here to stay. With new platforms and technologies emerging all the time, the potential for PR is only growing. Exciting times lie ahead for this ever-changing industry.

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