Jan 2020 | The Perspective

Public Relations: From Its Dawn to the Digital Age

A colleague asked me the other day where the term Public Relations came from. Even more, this person began to ask me even more questions about it: how long the industry existed in the history of mankind to the different stages of development it endured up to the present day. When I asked her what compelled her to search for these answers, she replied that a client wishes to know the in-depth story of public relations in general, public relations Jakarta and how the story of both affected his business.

As a writer with a long history of work for various creative agencies in Jakarta, not least NAVA+, I felt intrigued. I spent the subsequent few hours completing comprehensive research on public relations Jakarta. Upon compiling the different answers she required, I was inspired to write a concise history of Public Relations for the Nava+ website, knowing that the company is deeply intertwined with the Public Relations Jakarta industry. So to paraphrase my colleague’s questions: what are its story and history? How did it transform into what we know it as today?

While many will pinpoint its history to the modern term of the industry (roughly a century or so ago), a quick google search will show that its actual story is indeed very complex and can be traced back to the dawn of man.

The Beginning: 37.000 BCE - 220 CE

One could correctly argue that cave paintings are among the earliest forms of communication and form the earliest examples of humans trying to communicate with their public. As the millennia progressed and the age of scholars followed, early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations were found everywhere. "The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people.” professed Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of the Public Relations industry.

The Age of Faith: 220 CE - 1227 CE

The age of faith is naturally intertwined with the spread of religious ideas, either through Christianity or Islam, the two faiths that formed the main protagonists of this age. It was this spread of celestial proverbs that proved to be the ultimate catalyst for engaging with the public. One small example would be Pope Gregory XV’s that founded the term "propaganda" when he created Congregatio de Propaganda ("congregation for propagating the faith"), which used trained missionaries to spread Christianity. Under Pope Gregory XV, the commission became formally known as the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1622) and in 1627, a collegium de propaganda was formed by Pope Urban VIII to train missionaries.

The Age of Print: 1440 CE - 1831 CE

In Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionised printing production when he created the printing press. Using a wine press and movable cast metal type, his device could make documents at a lower cost and higher volume, resulting in a dramatic increase to accessing knowledge and information.

American colonist and Founding Father Samuel Adams was considered by some a “master of propaganda” who promoted political messages to oppose the British monarchy. Using the written word to motivate change, he famously inspired the Boston Tea Party, a tax protest he publicised to great advantage. Adams continued to lobby colonial leaders and helped convince the masses to declare independence from Great Britain.

Newspaper owner Amos Kendell (left) was considered one of the most important shapers of journalism of the 19th century. He became the most influential member of President Andrew Jackson’s cabinet, drafting many of Jackson’s policy messages re-casting the president’s image from a southern-born war hero to a polished intellectual.

The Age of Mass Media I: 19th Century CE

The world of public relations truly started to take shape in the mid to late Victorian area, where many communication inventions emerged during the 1800s and 1900s: the telegraph (Samuel Morse, 1830s); the daguerreotype (Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, 1839); the telephone (Alexan-der Graham Bell, 1876); the phonograph (Thomas Edison, 1877); the gramophone (Emile Berliner, 1887), the motion picture camera and wireless telegraphy (Thomas Edison, 1892 and 1896); Tesla coils (Nikola Tesla, 1897); and long distance radio communication (Guglielmo Marconi, c. 1900).

The Age of Public Relations: 1901 - 1961 CE

The origins of PR cannot be pinpointed to an exact date, because it developed over time through a series of events. Most textbooks on public relations say that it was first developed in the United States, before expanding globally; however, Jacquie L'Etang, an academic from the United King-dom, said it was developed in the UK and the US simultaneously.

The Publicity Bureau was the first PR agency and was founded by former Boston journalists, including Ivy Lee, who proudly announced that “The Public Shall Be Informed!”. Issued by Ivy Lee to editors at city newspapers, the “Declaration of Principles” stated that the press and public should receive accurate and timely information regarding a company’s actions. Lee positioned himself as a mediator, believing rational people would make good decisions when presented with correct infor-mation. He was famously hired by the richest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller, and helped change Rockefeller’s public image from a vilified oil baron to a well-loved philanthropist.

Edward L. Bernays presented the concept of a “two-way street” between a company and the public in his groundbreaking 1923 book, Crystallizing Public Opinion. Within this dynamic, the public relations counselor was expected to explain the public to the client and vice versa. Contrary to the misconception of public relations as deceptive manipulation, this two-way approach integrated the public’s experience with the practice of PR while the world’s largest companies relied on internal public relations counsellors, including them among their senior-most advisors.

After the second world war, there was a burst in public relations agencies. The field was developing into a business. Notable agencies including Carl Byoir & Associates (1930), Edelman (1952) and Burson-Marsteller (1953) would continue to flourish and become multinational firms.

The Digital Age: 1969 CE - Present Day

On Oct. 29, 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) connected a computer at Stanford to a computer in UCLA using satellite communication, giving rise to the internet. During the 1990s specialties for communicating to certain audiences and within certain market segments emerged, such as investor relations or technology PR. New internet technology and social media websites affected PR strategies and tactics.

While at the dawn of the 21st century, social media’s unprecedented growth brought profound changes in human connections. The public relations profession took a leadership role in social media's use and development as a two-way communication tool.