Public Relations is viewed as a relatively new discipline in the world. This is wrong but understandable. Public Relations is experiencing a hey-day right now with governments, corporations and many other entities using Public Relations for vast amounts of services. The truth is that Public Relations has been a developing field since the ancient era. After Caesar, had defeated the Gauls in modern day France who was it that handled the huge propaganda campaign that celebrated his victories across Rome. When Alexander the Great conquered all the way to India he had people that created propaganda for his success. While the work these ‘rhetoricians’ did for these great leaders isn’t the exact same work we find ourselves doing today, it is still the same principles at work.
In ancient Greece Plato refers to a certain ‘rhetorician’ by the name of Gorgias of Leontinium in Sicily practiced persuasive skills for a living and used those skills in many ways. Many ancient historians in ancient Greece noted that public opinion was one of the most important factors in society and politics. It determined matters both large and small. Considering Greece was partially democratic with its oligarchic government form there many reasons to keep the public happy. If someone was searching for a public office he needs to be voted in, this requires promotion of the self and ideals. Public relations were developing based off of pure necessity within ancient Greece.
Consider the crusades during the High Medieval period. Pope Urban II has just called for all Christians to march on the Holy Land and take back Jerusalem. This was a massive social event and required the word to be spread out all across Europe. The tactics they used to spread awareness included having messengers reach all the churches in Europe and have local priests recruit for the crusade. This hits the targeted audience, devout Christians, right at home and ensures they are made aware of this call to action. Crusaders had their own attire and their own symbols which further spread awareness for the crusade. The Catholic Church in the middle ages was a power house of information and education. Catholic monks wrote most of the text during this time.
Fast forward roughly 700 years to the late 18th century in England. An anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum. People were calling for the freedom of all slaves. An English Poet wrote, “We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud (Rhodes, William Cowper: Selected Poems. p.84). This poem made it onto leaflets and posters all over England. This movement was very similar to modern day movements. Written text was used in abundance, spokespersons spoke out against slavery, slogans were chanted repeatedly and awareness of this was spread over all the English colonies. In the end the goal was achieved, slavery was abolished in England in 1833.
Fast forward a little farther to the 20th century where the world wars shaped the way we view public relations. Propaganda was used en masse to keep war time morale high and people to encourage people to support the effort and join the armed forces. Posters were seen all over Canada, recruiting officers attended events organized by the government to promote the war effort. Disney even took the opportunity to create a series of cartoons that demonized the enemy and made heroes out of allied soldiers. These tactics were used again in America during the Vietnam war as well.
It would be a crime to create a history, even a brief history, about public relations without talking about "the father of public relations," Edward Bernays. With the sudden spike in urbanization and population abilities to influence the public were necessary as Bernays referred to humanity as irrational due to the "herd instinct." watch the video below for more on the father of public relations.
Public Relations takes many forms and these early forms starting developing as far back as ancient Greece. As the population of the world grew so to did the need for ways to communicate with the ever-growing populace.