Brief History of Public Relations

Edward Bernays, whom many have considered the founder of modern public relations, wrote, "The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people and integrating people with people. Of course, the means and methods of accomplishing these ends have changed as society has changed."

History of PR

For Bernays and other historians of the practice, professional public relations has always gone hand in hand with civilization. In their eyes, much of recorded history can be interpreted as the practice of public relations. Whereas primitive societies ruled mainly through fear and intimidation, more advanced cultures depended on discussion and debate. As rulers sought to build consensus, persuasion became less and less grounded in force and more and more grounded in words, although force or the threat of force too often still drives the deliberations. With the invention of writing, public relations in the formal sense took shape.

Whether they were promoting their image as warriors or kings, leaders of ancient civilizations such as Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia used poems and other writings to promote their prowess in battle and politics. In Egypt, much of the art and architecture (statues, temples, tombs) were used to impress on the public the greatness of priests, nobles, and scribes. In ancient Israel, the Bible and other religious texts became a powerful means for molding the public mind. With the growth of the Hellenic world, the word, both written and spoken, exploded as a force for social integration. And the Athens marketplace became a center of public discussion concerning the conduct of business and public life. Oratory flourished, and the public interest became a central concern of philosophical speculation.