Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Discipline of History and PR: Star-Crossed Lovers

After graduating from a history program at university, many of my peers questioned why I had not started looking at teacher's colleges yet. Although slightly insulting to the many history majors that never had teaching in mind, I did want to 'teach' in a sense. Teach through my writing.

Public Relations is about creating and maintaining relationships. You can do this through speaking, writing, or any other form of communication. History is about informing the present about the past to better prepare for the future. Again, you are doing this through speaking, writing, or any other form of communication (i.e. oral stories passed down through generations). In Public Relations you are influencing opinion. This can be done through the media; be it social, print, or broadcast. In the study of history you are doing the same, except you are looking at how others accomplished this and what the result was.

For example, in 1776, Thomas Paine wrote “The American Crisis,” a pamphlet that helped convince the soldiers of Washington’s army to stay and fight at a time when so many were prepared to desert. And look where that got them!

I have read countless government documents or newspaper stories from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, throughout my studies. All of this got me interested in how words can persuade or influence others. In the example above, that pamphlet was written so the common people could understand it. A skill the modern PR professional must have.

In the discipline of history we are taught to write, and write well. It is drilled into our heads to use language that captivates the mind of varying audiences. This may include writing mock speeches to parliament, or for an assignment write a short article for a local 19th century newspaper ( I found this particular exercise really fun!) In PR, writing is your most valuable and marketable skill.

Research is a vital part of Public Relations. You must know your audience, their dispositions, and what they need/desire from you. Besides hard science, I can't think of any other discipline that produces the best researchers than a history program. We know how to gather information from online databases, archives, books, pamphlets, scripts, government documents etc. etc. We know how to only pick out the important information, while also knowing the context. History majors are made to be objective. We know how to detect bias, and can look at situations through the eyes of others. All of these skills are needed to be a successful PR professional.

History is not about memorizing dates and numbers, as a sad majority of people think. Yes, I do know when the French Revolution was - 1789-1799. But I also know why, and how it happened. The reasons and motives by all parties through intense research of the media, propaganda and general sentiment of the time. I know more than just dates. I have the skills to interpret events from all angles. And I can put these into arguments and defend them. Through this, I have developed marketable skills that the PR industry requires of its pledges, without even setting foot in a business program.

In closing, I want to teach, yes, but not in that way. I want to inform the public. I want to inform my audiences. I want to inform the government. I want to inform companies. I want to communicate truth and reliability to anyone who is willing to listen.

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