The History of Public Relations

What happens when an organization goes through a publicity crisis or needs to communicate important company news to its audience? Who handles the communications with the media and the public? The public relations practitioner does it, among other tasks that involves an organizations’ need of communicating with its publics.

Public relations are practices and procedures done by organizations, institutions, and businesses with the goal to improve their relationships with their publics and audience. Public relations have gradually become a relevant field. As the two-way communications technologies develop between companies and their people, public relations have turned into an indispensable department with high responsibility in the communications between organizations and society. Nowadays, companies view their public relations strategy as part of their overall marketing plan.

The Public Relations Practitioners

Public relations have not yet been recognized as a profession, but this practice is growing at a fast pace, and the need for it to be regularized is necessary. According to Doug Newson (2013), many events in the society and the business world have drawn attention to the importance of public relations on a global scale. He also explains that PR practitioners need to be aware of its responsibilities and the skills that are necessary to perform the tasks.

The responsibilities of the modern PR practitioner include but are not limited to:

  • Predicting, analyzing, and influencing the public opinion and attitude towards the organization.
  • Preventing undesired situations by counseling the management on decisions and actions.
  • Mediating the communications between the organization and its stakeholders.
  • Strategically creating effective communication between organizations and its public through events, marketing, and news releases.

Therefore, the professional PR practitioner is expected to excel in the skills needed in the public relations field. A practitioner’s skills to perform in the public relations fields include:

  • The ability to write effectively and persuasively.
  • The ability to perform different technological tasks.
  • The ability to speak in public.
  • The ability to work in an organized manner.

The Work Process in Public Relations

Public relations practitioners must understand the process for their work. According to Dan Lattimore (2012), effective public relations do not only resume in creating messages but to follow the process for the creation and implementation of the message. This process is formed of four stages:

  • Research: This stage is where facts are collected, and the public is targeted.
  • Planning: This stage includes measuring the facts against goals to create a strategy.
  • Implementation: This stage includes the execution of the message delivering
  • Evaluation: This stage consists of the assessment of the results of the message delivered.

The History of Public Relations

Public relations have been part of the human race’s history since the ancient times. Even when no writing system existed in society, public relations was part of many emperors’ tactics in the old world, and it has been part of every event in the world since then. The history of public relations shows a practice that has evolved with society from The Ancient Era till the present times.

I. Public Relations in The Ancient Era

In the old times, monarchs and rulers explored public relations in their favor to manipulate their empires. However, there was an early recognition of the importance in the public opinion for a nation to prosper. Ancient pharaohs and kings in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon, Greek, and Rome adopted at some point under their ruling the power of persuasion and public approval (Jose Santa Cruz, 2013).

Main Events in Ancient Public Relations (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • Egypt Pharaoh’s advisors issued bulletins to help their people be successful with their harvest.
  • Greece allowed their people to argue their point of view with public speaking.
  • Philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle taught their generations how to speak and persuade.

II. Public Relations in The Religious Era

Even though ancient rulers used priests and religious representatives to persuade their people, the Christian era intensified more the power of public opinion. After the crucifixion of Jesus Crist of Nazareth followed by the rise of the Catholic Church, this religious era brought the courage of the people to speak and to express their views against oppression (Ron Smith, 2013).

Main Events in The Religious Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • The apostles preaching throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.
  • Martin Luther posted his ideas about the Catholic Church on a church’s door.
  • Pope Gregory XV used the word “Propaganda” for the first time to spread the church’s word on non-Christian places.

III. Public Relations in The Colonization Era

During the colonization of the American Continent by European explorers, exaggerated reports from colonizers were sent to the motherlands to persuade the interest of kings in expanding and exploring the lands in the American Continent including the United States (Ron Smith, 2013).

Main Events in The Colonization Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • Spanish “Conquistadores” sent reports back to Spain about a “Fountain of Youth” in central and South America.
  • In 1641, Harvard College developed the first fund-raising brochure.
  • The American Revolution massively adopted PR techniques with letters, committees, and campaigns.

IV. Public Relations in the 1800s: The Publicity Era

The United States used public relations techniques early in history, and it became the first country to recognize public relations as a practice. During the 1800s, in the search for public attention, there was an increase in the dissemination of manipulative information, including killing. In this era, public relations were called public agentry (Dan Lattimore, 2012).

Main Events in The Publicity Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • In 1820, the first American editor openly supported Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign with polls, speeches, news releases, and pamphlets.
  • The American West expansion exaggerated propaganda to incentive people to move to the new area.
  • Abolition of slavery and social reform also relied on publications, public speaking, rallies, and other methods of publications.

V. Public Relations in the Early 1900s: The Informational Era

By the early 1900s, the economic crisis for businesses made companies recognize there was a problem and the term “Public Relations” was created. World events and The Great Depression caused the creation of agencies with the goal to give the public the correct and honest information about the organizations they represented (Dan Lattimore, 2012).

Main Events in The Informational Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • World War I & II inspire companies to start their marketing campaigns.
  • Ivy Ledbetter Lee was the first PR practitioner and published the “Declaration of Principles.”
  • Other companies and organizations started their publicity campaigns due to strikes from workers.

VI. Public Relations in the mid-1900s: The Advocacy Era

Companies used public relations to change the public’s attitude and influence the public’s behavior. After the World War I and II, many researchers and PR practitioners continue to explore the power of persuasive communications; however, many companies started to practice the principles of modern public relations. Public relations helped solved many social issues like child labor, workers’ comp, prostitution, regulation of businesses, food safety and other consumer’s concerns (Dan Lattimore, 2012).

Main Events in The Advocacy Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • The PRSA — Public Relations Society of America — was created in 1947.
  • Edward Bernays gave public relations the foundation of psychology by making a connection between the people and the message.
  • The Voice of America radio was created.

VII. Public Relations in the late-1900s to Present: The Relationship Era

In the late 1900s, there was a growing concern from the public about companies misusing primary resources. The Advocacy Era caused a surge in mutual understanding and two-way communication for conflict resolution between companies and society. The reinforcement of The First Amendment received attention. The rise of global communications created a need for public relations to re-adapt. Companies had to adjust their public relations to listen to their stakeholders and act on social responsibility. (Dan Lattimore, 2012).

Main Events in The Relationship Era (Ron Smith, 2013):

  • President Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine Act.
  • The surge of talk-shows in radio and TV.
  • The internet and social media networks started the two-way communication.

Modern Public Relations

With its history in mind, the evolution of public relations into the modern public relations field of today, proves that public relations have changed immensely through history, especially from the 20th into the 21st century. Many events through history created the need to make the public relations an effective field and caused it to evolve to become the field that it is today. Professor Ron Smith (2013) explains that public relations went from manipulative to adaptive, from external to internal, from repairing to preventing, from isolation to integration, and from secretive to transparent. These positive changes happened because of the implementation of ethics and best practices in the field.

Ethics in Public Relations

When it comes to ethics, the Public Relations Society of America has a specifically created and enforce the codes of ethics in the public relations practice. These codes of ethics lay the foundation and values for PR practitioners to follow for the integrity of the profession (P.R.S.A., n.d.). The codes of ethics are as follow:

  • Expertise: Keep credibility as an expert in the field.
  • Advocacy: Work as an advocate for the public.
  • Honesty: Giving truthful and correct information.
  • Independence: Keep unbiased conduct.
  • Loyalty: Keep loyalty to the company.
  • Fairness: Respect different views.

Best Practices Guidelines in Public Relations

In addition, the P.R.S.A also enforces the implementation of best practices for members PR practitioners, to keep high industry standards and the individual knowledge and high skills in the field of public relations. Best practices are guidelines that can help practitioners to know what course of action to take should they find themselves in certain situations. The best practices in PR are as follow:

  • Respect the laws of publications.
  • Self-correction skills when needed.
  • Fair competition among professionals.
  • The consideration that PR is a two-way communication.
  • The supporting of sponsors when needed.
  • Avoiding deceptive practices at all costs.
  • The implementing of writing best practices.
  • The respecting of privacy and confidentiality in all information.
  • To master the practice of record keeping.
  • To avoid situations with conflict of interest.
  • Maintain education and training.

In conclusion, the future of public relations and its success as a practice relays on the ability to change and adapt to society and its needs. Even though history has showed the ability of the field to evolve, public relations must continue to prove its necessity for organizations and society. Therefore, the application of ethics and best practices in public relations, as well as continuing education, are the only ways that public relations can make a difference for consumers, communities, society, and the future to finally become a respectable and necessary field.


Lattimore, Dan. (2012). Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, 4th Edition. MBS Direct.

Newsom, D. (2013). This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations, 11th Edition. Cengage Advantage Books. MBS Direct.

P.R.S.A. (n.d.). Code of Ethics – Public Relations Society of America. Public Relations Society of America.

Santa Cruz, Jose. (Nov. 14, 2013.). Public Relations: An Ancient Profession. PRCrossing.

Smith, Ron. (27 Mar. 2013.). Public Relations. Faculty. Buffalo State University.

Have a question? Please leave your comment below.