The Evolution of PR

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The Evolution of PR

By Samantha Brooks on 14 August, 2016

A Brief History of PR

Public Relations has a long and fascinating history─or maybe that’s just the PR-nerd in me?! While the origin of PR is in question, industry experts would agree that the evolution of PR is full of remarkable examples of individuals, businesses, and governments using public relations to disseminate their message to the people, generally with limited technology and often with shoestring budgets.

PR has several definitions, but one of the simplest is “a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasising mutually beneficial relationships.” In other words, when you’re pushing out your message or selling your products, ensure you’re listening to what the customer is saying and alter your practice where needed. This isn’t about trapping customers with incredible promises, it’s about being authentic, bold in your messaging and then staying true to this message.

Those of us in the industry love the potential power of PR for spreading messages and promoting products, but it doesn’t always have such a sparkling reputation. PR professionals are spurned as ‘spin doctors’, with PR sometimes still labelled as ‘propaganda’, a term dating back to the WWI years, where the reputed father of PR, Ivy Lee, represented clients such as the Pennsylvania Railroad. He invented the “press release” to distribute the company’s “news” about an accident before reporters received other versions of the story—which worked like a charm.

A few years later, Ivy Lee advised Rockefeller to hand out dimes to poor children as a way of showing his philanthropic impulses—a method we see working beautifully today for celebrities like Taylor Swift, whose charitable giving and kind gestures to fans are always captured on camera.

The age of the internet

It’s celebrities like Taylor Swift who are taking full advantage of all that the internet, specifically social media, has to offer. The internet has made it easy to disseminate a message, but along with this boundless opportunity, your message is diluted alongside hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others internationally. This makes credibility, along with impact, the golden egg of PR. Professionals in the industry are keeping on top of trends and breakout opportunities to represent clients, utilising new social media trends and influencer endorsement such as Instagram stars and mainstream celebrities, where budget allows.

I read a great story this month about Australian couple, Craig Ellis and Erin Deering, who launched their neoprene swimwear line Triangl in 2012, and have already hit the rich list with an estimated worth of $36 million. Their product is promoted entirely on social media – predominantly Instagram – where they currently have an audience of 2.9m. They first made a huge impact when Kendall Jenner approached them for a swimsuit, which she tweeted to her massive audience, and sales skyrocketed. Many other celebrities, including Beyoncé, have since worn their bikinis, meaning that Ellis and Deering have achieved the holy grail of PR – celebrity endorsement.

Happily, we don’t all need singers and movie stars promoting our products to make them successful. A powerful campaign with a strong vein of credibility are the key factors to giving your product or service a fighting chance in the marketplace. Integrated campaigns which harness the power of the internet while still benefiting from proven traditional elements such as strategic partnerships, product launches, and broadcast media coverage, are proving to be the most likely roads to success.


Credibility is a key word here. Without the budgets of major corporates (and movie star endorsements) small businesses have to find ways to establish credibility when putting out a message. This can include your own credentials and background, getting third parties to endorse your message, and offering facts and figures to support your PR claims. For new businesses this can seem like a daunting task, but with a great product or service, it’s still possible to establish credibility and at its most basic, you achieve this through being authentic. Consumers are generally quite savvy and quick to spot fakes –  we all saw what happened to Ashy Bines and Belle Gibson. Ashy Bines recovered, Belle Gibson wasn’t so lucky.

If you are honest and transparent about your product or service, and you continue to provide products or services which are in line with the customers’ expectations, you’ll be on the way toward developing credibility and a brand which will be able to stand the test of time. And with effective PR behind you all the way, you can turn a startup or small business into a major player in the marketplace.

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