Consider this: The public relations industry might have begun in 1800 BC. Back then, the Babylonians used stone tablets to educate farmers on how to sow and harvest crops. In Egypt, scribes documented the deeds of the pharaohs; in Rome, leaders, such as Julius Caesar, wrote biographies to persuade the public to support their political aspirations. There are numerous examples of persuasive speaking, the art of rhetoric, reputation building, and mediating between rulers and subjects. Among the most famous was the use of public relations to promote Roman Catholicism during Europe’s Counter-Reformation. Pope Gregory XV coined the term “propaganda” when he created Congregatio de propaganda fide (Congregation for propagating the faith), which trained missionaries to spread Catholic doctrine in the face of rising Protestantism. The term did not carry negative connotations until it became associated with government publicity around World War I. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations and nephew of Sigmund Freud, worked on the women’s cigarette smoking campaign in the 1920s. He helped the cigarette industry overcome a social taboo: Women smoking in public. His client? Lucky Strike. His campaign? He persuaded fashion designers, charity events, interior designers, and others to make the color green trendy. Because a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes was green, women would be more likely to carry them because the color was fashionable. He is reported to have said, “The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: Informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people.” It’s no wonder the industry has the perception of being full of liars and spin doctors.
What is PR?
The official definition of public relations, as redefined by PRSA in 2012, is: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” But try to explain that to someone not in the industry and it goes above their heads. People understand what is tangible; media relations—when a story runs in print or airs on television or radio about you, your company, or your product or service—is easy to understand. You can see it, touch it, feel it. It’s not something that feels like magic so it’s often what is thought of when explaining public relations. The truth of the matter is, while media relations is an important part of a communications program, there are many other tactics used in a cohesive strategy: content, email marketing, social media, crisis and reputation management, events, social advertising, investor relations, lobbying and regulatory work, and more.
That’s why the blog—and now the book—Spin Sucks exists. To better understand what PR is, how the industry is changing, what to expect from the PR professionals you hire, and what kind of return you’ll have for time and money spent by hiring PR pros, you can learn directly from Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks. She joins us as a keynote speaker in Las Vegas in March at VXMadness. If you run an organization, are on an executive team, or have (or need to have) communications professionals or a firm reporting to you, she will show you how to prepare your business for a marathon instead of a sprint, how to build a communications program that can withstand the constant changes at Google, and how working ethically – while not providing instant ROI – will deliver more valuable long-lasting results, as well as a spotless reputation. You’ll also learn how the lines between marketing, advertising, digital, and PR are blurring, and what to expect should negative criticism happen online. The digital Web has forever changed the way we communicate. It’s changed the way we all do business. Be there to learn more.