The Evolution of Public Relations
While the tactics and methods of reaching an audience have changed over the last century in public relations, the essence remains the same - to inform the public and create or change opinions or perceptions regarding an organization.
At its core, public relations is about the art of relationships, whether they be between the government and citizens, businesses and an intended audience or, most importantly, with the media.
In PR, strong relationships with the media are vital as these connections help PR professionals to properly place their clients and ensure they earn proper/relevant coverage.
In a world where word travels quickly and companies are constantly trying to find ways to stay relevant, public relations is needed now more than ever.
In the last century the rise of public relations has been rapid. A practice which began as a strictly government initiative has now become utilized in every sector imaginable.
The Beginning Stages: Public Relations in the Government Sector
In 1896, before public relations became an established industry, Wilfred Laurier showcased the importance of PR and communications with an immigration campaign that has been heralded as one of the greatest and most successful PR efforts in Canadian history.
When Laurier was elected, he faced a difficult predicament: He was the prime minister of a country which had trouble attracting immigrants due to its reputation of being cold and barren. Desperate to change this perception, Laurier created a campaign which was headed by Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton.
Sifton flooded Europe and the US with thousands of pamphlets and placed advertisements in American newspapers that described the benefits of Canada. He also gave US editors and British MPs free trips to Canada in attempt to win them over. The campaign was a massive success, and played a significant role in the 2 million new immigrants who entered Canada from 1896 to 1911.
Moreover, it showed the effectiveness that public relations could have on changing public perception.
Transitioning into an established industry
The first ever Canadian public relations firm was opened in 1930 by James Cowen. Since then, the number of firms has not stopped climbing.
In today’s world, practically any company can benefit greatly from using public relations as it is essential for organizations to communicate to their audiences. So much so, that the public relations/communications industry is now divided into several sectors. Some of these include financial communications, charity/not-for-profit communications, fashion communications, entertainment communications, government communications and health/wellness communications – which goes to show how fluid the world of public relations really is.
Technology: The Game Changer
While the change from being a strictly government initiative to one that is now practiced in many industries is highly noteworthy, technology was the real game changer in the field of PR.
Sharing information in an efficient and productive manner is an extremely important aspect in public relations. Information can now be shared at a more rapid pace than ever seen before. This allows technology to act as a great avenue to reach your target audience, however it is important to ensure that you are communicating the correct message to the correct people – hence the use of public relations.
Arguably, the biggest impact of all has been the invention of social media, which has allowed every company the opportunity to communicate directly with their audience due to the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social media conversations can essentially act as a built-in focus group of sorts to give real-time feedback on how your business and its products or services are doing.
Also, depending on how it is used, social media can have a huge positive impact on a corporation’s image by making information on the corporation and any new initiatives more accessible to the public – and by giving the audience an avenue to interact with and/or comment on the corporation and its initiatives.
At this time, not all companies perceive social media as a positive, but it really is an essential element - especially if you’re trying to grow your business. Almost all public relations firms offer social media training and/or will completely handle your social accounts for you if you are unable to do so or if you are uncomfortable with the world of social media.
This further demonstrates how public relations is – and will continue to be - one of the most fluid industries in the world. In just over a century the public relations industry has grown from a prime minister handing out pamphlets to a multi-sector industry that can build and manage virtually any company’s image.