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The Evolution of Public Relations

In the constantly evolving landscape of public relations, it’s essential to chart its growth to fully appreciate its current state and anticipate its future direction. 

The past century has witnessed a dramatic evolution of public relations, morphing from a craft rooted in creating the perfect message for mass media into a sophisticated science that balances creative storytelling, data analytics, and digital technology along with a profound understanding of human psychology.

Today, we stand at the forefront of the next significant shift in this field, one guided by advancements in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the internet which has given rise to a hyper-connected, global society. To succeed in PR, it’s necessary to understand where it all comes from. 

The start of PR

While you may be inclined to believe that PR is all about business suits and microphones, its origins can actually be traced back to prehistoric cave drawings as the earliest forms of communication. 

Even Plato and Aristotle can be credited as forefathers of PR—with Plato criticizing the “Sophists” for leading people away from the truth and Aristotle emphasizing logical reasoning and ethics.

The Sophists, paid teachers who taught rhetoric, were already practicing a form of public relations at the time by encouraging effective public speaking to persuade the audience.

However, the first official PR firm was actually established in the 1900s by a man named Ivy Lee, who was the first-ever public relations counselor.

Lee was tasked to help an industrialist named John Rockefeller with the fallout of the Ludlow Massacre. It was a crisis surrounding Rockefeller’s fuel and iron plant. 

Ruins of the Ludlow miners' camp in Colorado after it was burned by National Guard troops, April 1914.
Photo courtesy of Britannica
Ruins of the Ludlow miners camp in Colorado after it was burned by National Guard troops April 1914<br>Photo courtesy of Britannica

Lee’s help was able to transform Rockefeller’s image, saving him from public distrust and allowing him to safely talk to the media once again.

A revolutionary shift

From there, PR continued to bloom into what we know now. Lee began with a single profession that eventually dominoed into an entire industry. From the 1930s to the 1950s, more and more PR agencies began popping up. 

The biggest, most revolutionary shift occurred in tandem with the dawn of the internet. With this new technology that connected people faster and on a global scale, PR had a whole new realm of opportunity to tap into.

This is how PR got from cave drawings to how we know it today.

While it wasn’t too long ago, digital PR has completely overwhelmed its older counterparts. Many experts in the field are saying that traditional marketing no longer works, while new forms of social media marketing continue to emerge.

The story of PR is a testament to the ingenuity of human communications—a discipline that is constantly evolving to meet societal shifts, technological advancements, and changing expectations. 

It’s clear that the future of PR will continue to be written and rewritten, and those on the cutting edge will need to be agile, imaginative, and data-informed to navigate the wave of changes to come.

M2.0 Communications is a PR agency in the Philippines that has been helping brands tell meaningful and data-driven narratives. Visit our case studies page to learn more about our work.

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