In order for us to understand how public relations have evolved through history, we must first understand what public relations are. Public relations as defined by (Wilcox and Cameron 2004) that Professors Long and Hazelton believe it to be, “ a communication function of management through which organizations adapt to alter, or to maintain their environment for the purpose of achieving organizational goals”(p.5). With that said we could now go back through history and discover how it has or has not changed through time. First, we will look at how effective public relations were almost from the beginning of time and how it was relayed to the masses. Second, we will discuss how public relations changed in the 17th to the 20th century and why it changed. Lastly, we will see how the past has defined what public relations is today and see how much it has evolved through time.
Public Relation Beginnings
As long as there has been humans on this earth communication was the key to organization how people lived their everyday lives. There has always been one or more persons leaders of these tribes or groups. Within this groups it would be decided where they would live, when it was time to farm the lands or hunt for food, settle disputes amongst themselves and how to protect themselves from outsiders. These decisions were in turn related to the masses. This practice can be loosely described as public relations in its raw stage a one-way communication form. People had no say in how daily life was lived because decisions were made to keep life for them as organized as possible.
Public Relations in the 17th to early 20th Century
As time passed, the population grew and people moved about more freely, people began to change, as did technology. By the 1700’s printer presses were invented and information became more readily available to the public. Before than information was slow in coming and the public was ill informed. With the invention 0f, the printer press larger volumes of publications, books and newspapers were available. Traditionally, society elite had access to information on trade and politics, and used it amongst themselves to speak and make decisions for the masses. Public relations was still a one-way communication.
Over time, the public was able to gain access to publications and now were able to form their own views and opinions. They became more vocal about government and politics because they were now better informed. This was what Paul Starr (2004) called a “public sphere”, a term used by Jürgen Habermas, there was communication and accessibility to information (p.24). The better-informed people became the more open they were with their views. Public relations change from a one-way communication to a two-way communication because people now realized the power they have in their voices. This changed the way in which public relations campaigns were run. Public Relation firms now had to please the masses whereas years before they made most of the decisions and were not concerned with their opinions.
Public Relations Today
Today, public relations is used in every conceivable form. We use it to sell products, make people aware of social issues, promote others, and raise money and to influence or help people decide on particular issues. With the invention of the World Wide Web, information is available to the public almost instantaneously. This has become a very powerful tool to public relations firms. Firms will use it to create or repair damage to a company or an individual’s image. Kathleen Neil (2001) says it best that public relations is to inform the people about what they have available for them, to establish and maintain a good relationship with the public (ix).
The foundation of public relations has not changed over time it still used to influence, maintain and organize the environment in which we live, but has evolved to include a broader range of topics. Public relation started out as a means to organize and maintain stability in a community, to informing the people about what is going on in the community and giving them a voice.
The latter is the most significant change public relations made during its evolution. It went from a one-way communication to a two-way communication with the people in public relations valuing the opinions of the masses whereas in the past their opinions did not count. Alternatively, do the really value our opinions? Have we become too dependent on them or they too powerful that the can spin any type of web they choose? Is it all about dollars and cents? This led me to a quote by Scott M, Cutlip (1995) “Let Truth and Falsehood Grapple “(xii).
Cutlip, S. (1995). Public relations history: From the 17th to the 20th century. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Neal, K. (2001). A primer on non-profit PR: If charity begins at home… Florida: Pineapple Press. Starr, P. (2004). The creation of the media: Political origins of modern communication. New York: Basic Books. Wilcox, D. & Cameron, G. (8th ed.). (2006). Public relations: Strategies and tactics: Boston. Allyn and Bacon.