«SPEAKING OF FAITH: PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE AMONG RELIGION COMMUNICATORS IN THE UNITED STATES Committee: Dominic L. Lasorsa, Co-Supervisor Ronald ...»
Later press agents turned other personalities into national celebrities. Those included Buffalo Bill Cody, Will Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Calamity Jane and George Armstrong Custer. After the Civil War circus executive P.T. Barnum used promotion and press agentry to attract crowds. He staged special events to get his circus’s name indiscriminately into the news. Those events were more opportunistic than systematic. They were developed more from creative imaginations than research and judged more on how much attention they got in newspapers than on how they affected people. The assumption was that if a special event could get enough attention or attract a big enough crowd, the sponsor had a good chance of selling whatever he or she was promoting. (Cutlip, 1994; Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000; Grunig, 1992; Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007; Twitchell, 2000; Wilcox & Cameron, 2005).
In 1888 the Mutual Life Insurance Company hired a newspaperman as a consultant to write articles about the firm for placement in various publications. The goal was to boost Mutual’s public image. The next year the Westinghouse Corporation established the first in-house publicity department. The Association of American Railroads’ Yearbook of Railway Literature first used “public relations” in the modern sense in 1897. In 1899 Yale University established a public relations and alumni office.
The following year Harvard University hired the nation’s first public relations firm to represent it. That firm, called the Publicity Bureau, was formed in Boston in 1900 (Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007).
Ivy Ledbetter Lee and George F. Parker, who opened the nation’s third publicity bureau in 1904, tied public relations work closely to journalism (Cutlip, 1994; Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007). A former newspaperman, Lee worked as a journalist in residence for his clients. He distributed information about them to the press and public (Cutlip, 1994; Ewen, 1998; Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007; Hutton, 1999).
The Parker and Lee firm pioneered use of the “press handout” (now called a news release). These handouts observed the conventions of the news business and packaged information about a client in ready-to-use news story form (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000; Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007). Lee issued a Declaration of Principles in 1906 that explained his approach to publicity. In it he publicly pledged to “present only topics of real interest, phrased so as to attract the attention of both editors and readers— never sensational, never libelous, always accurate, always trustworthy, always readable” (Ewen, 1998, p. 76). Editors could verify the facts he reported if they wished. In fact, Lee would help with that verification. He was adept at using factual statements to fashion positive public impressions of his clients (Cutlip, 1994; Ewen, 1998; Newsom, Turk & Krunkeberg, 2007; Olasky, 1987).
Lee believed he promoted business success for clients by delivering their messages with credibility to the public through newspapers and magazines. His professed goal was to inform, not manipulate (Cutlip & Center, 1952). Lee’s public information approach to communication was one-way: publicist to newspaper to reading public. He distributed stories that his clients wanted to tell, not necessarily ones that editors or readers were yearning to know (Cutlip, 1994; Ewen, 1998; Olasky, 1987).
Crystallizing Public Opinion. That book presents a different approach to public relations from Lee’s and Barnum’s. Lee usually called himself an information provider or publicist (Cutlip, 1994, Hutton, 1999). Barnum was a showman, promoter or humbugger (Twitchell, 2000). Bernays (1923), who opened a public relations firm in 1919 (Cutlip, 1994), described himself as a “counsel on public relations” (Bernays, 1923).
He acts in this capacity as a consultant both in interpreting the public to his client and in helping to interpret his client to the public. He helps to mould the action of his client as well as to mould public opinion.
(Bernays, 1923, p. 57).
Public relations counsels contributed to business success by using knowledge of sociology, psychology, social psychology and economics to understand human motivation, influence public opinion and manipulate mass human behavior. Their work required planned actions as well as communication. Bernays said his job was not to create positive images for his clients. His job was to fashion and project a credible rendition of reality (Ewen, 1998). Influencing public opinion was usually done through mass communication. Bernays believed that mass media messages delivered to the right publics had the power to influence human behavior (Bernays, 1923, 1928, 1955).
Written in response to Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922), Crystallizing Public Opinion presented the counsel on public relations as a “special pleader” (pp. 50,
56) in the court of public opinion. Bernays (1923) said information bombarded individuals in 1920s society on all sides. They lacked knowledge or experience to judge much of that information. Consequently, people often formed opinions “without a rational basis” (Bernays, 1923, p. 64). As part of Lippmann’s “specialized class” of leaders (Lippmann, 1923, p. 195), the public relations counsel helped analyze information for the masses, determine truth and organize the information people received so they could process it more easily. “It is his capacity for crystallizing the obscure tendencies of the public mind before they have reached definite expression, which makes him so valuable,” said Bernays (1923, p. 173).
Countering Lippmann’s more pessimistic view of press agents (pp. 217-218), Bernays (1923) argued “that the popular impression of the counsel on public relations must be radically revised if an accurate picture of the profession is to be looked for” (pp.
55-56). Public relations counsels advised clients on actions to accomplish their objectives, warned clients about things that might harm their firms or society, and communicated those good actions to the public. Bernays (1955) termed this process of directing public attention to specific topics in the marketplace of ideas engineering public support and consent.
That work demanded the highest integrity, Bernays (1923) said. Therefore, he devoted the last two chapters of Crystallizing Public Opinion to setting forth ethical standards that public relations counselors should follow in guiding public behavior. Like Lee, Bernays emphasized that public relations counselors must always be credible, trustworthy sources for journalists and the public.
It is because he acts as a purveyor of truthful, accurate and verifiable news to the press that the conscientious and successful counsel on public relations is looked upon with favor by journalists. And in the Code of Ethics recently adopted in Washington by a national editors’ conference, his function is given acknowledgment. … Since news is the newspaper’s backbone, it is obvious that an understanding of what news actually is must be an integral part of the equipment of the public relations counsel.
For the public relations counsel must not only supply news—he must create it. (Bernays, 1923, pp. 182, 183) Truthful and accurate must be the material which the public relations counsel furnishes to the press and other mediums. In addition, it must have the elements of timeliness and interest which are required of all news— and it must not only have these elements in general, but it must suit the particular needs of each particular newspaper and, even more than that, it must suit the particular needs of the particular editor in whose department it is hoped that it will be published. … In brief, the material must come to the editorial desk as carefully prepared and as accurately verified as if the editor himself had assigned a special reporter to secure and write the facts.
Only by presenting his news in such a form and in such a manner can the counsel on public relations hope to retain, in the case of the newspaper, the most valuable thing he possesses—the editor’s faith and trust. But it must be borne in mind that only in certain cases is the public relations counsel the intermediary between the news and the press. The event he has counseled upon, the action he has created finds its own level of expression in mediums which reach the public. (Bernays, 1923, pp. 198, 199) Bernays’ 1923 conceptualization of public relations still describes the way many practitioners do their work eight decades later.
Public Opinion (1923) or Propaganda (1928). In the meantime, others began trying to fill the void. Harlow (1977) found 472 different definitions or metaphors for public relations in various sources that appeared from the 1920s through the 1960s. He also gathered definitions from 65 practitioners. Harlow noted that definitions in the 1920s and 1930s tended to focus on publicity and propaganda. During the 1940s and 1950s the definitions talked about guiding social conduct, engineering consent, motivating behavior and shaping public opinion. As public relations developed, the practice embraced more functions beyond publicity: influence on organization policy, advice to management on strategic actions, audience research, audience segmentation, systematic planning of actions and messages, ongoing activities (rather than disconnected one-time events), twoway interaction with target groups and evaluation of effects.
Based on his analysis of definitions, Harlow (1976) developed a composite
description of public relations:
Public relations is a distinctive management function that helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools. (Harlow, 1976, p.
34) The evolution of public definitions continued through the end of the 20th century.
In the 1980s the emphasis shifted again—from communication to relationships. In 1988 the Public Relations Society of America annual assembly defined public relations as
helping an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other (Public Relations:
An Overview, 1991). Hutton (1999) cited “managing strategic relationships” as the central organizing principle of modern public relations. Grunig (2006b) described public relations as a strategic management function regulating interdependency between organizations and constituencies, not just a collection of technical operations such as messaging, publicity and media relations.
For nearly 50 years public relations practitioners and educators concentrated on the functional. In the academic world public relations was seen as an applied technical area. Educators taught public relations techniques as means to organizational ends. The discipline’s first academic journal, Public Relations Review, did not appear until 1975. A second, Journal of Public Relations Research, began publication in 1989 (Botan & Taylor, 2004).
Ferguson (1984) offered the first survey of public relations theory in a paper presented to the Association of Education in Journalism annual meeting in Gainsville, Florida. He analyzed Public Relations Review content from 1975 to 1984. He found only 4% of articles directly related to theory development (Sallot et al., 2003). Ferguson called for a shift in scholarship from a focus on functional topics to an examination of relationships as the primary unit of analysis (Botan & Taylor, 2004; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002).
Over the next two decades, public relations theory development expanded rapidly (Botan & Hazelton, 2006). Botan and Hazelton (1989) compiled the first book on public relations theory. They posited that the social sciences provided an effective approach for public relations theory development. Scholarship from established social sciences, particularly sociology and psychology, could help advance public relations theorybuilding and practice.
Other scholars took different paths. Heath (2006a, 2006b), for instance, advocated a rhetorical approach to public relations, particularly issues management. Hazelton (2006) advanced a theory of public relations competence. It used components of technical and managerial knowledge, skill and motivations to predict how practitioners approached their work.
When Sallot et al. (2003) replicated and extended Ferguson’s 1984 content analysis of public relations literature, they found that 20% of articles addressed theory development.
When Botan and Taylor (2004) assessed the state of the field, they noted a significant shift—starting in the 1980s—from the functional approach. Recent scholarship had adopted what they called a co-creational perspective. It concentrated on the relationship between organizations and publics and how communication changed those relationships. The emphasis was not on how communication achieved organizational goals. The focus was on how organizations and publics were partners in creating meaning.
Based on expanding co-creational scholarship, Botan and Hazelton (2006) changed their minds about relying strictly on social science techniques for building public relations theory. They acknowledged valuable theoretical perspectives from a broader range of disciplines, including rhetoric, business and the humanities.