If you want to build your brand reputation and create a positive image for your business then you must engage in public relations. This tried and tested process continues to be incredibly important but the process itself has also evolved dramatically in the last 100 years.
The digital age has transformed how we address public relations and it’s interesting to see the state of this profession today. Indeed, it’s also important to understand modern public relations so you don’t waste time and money on methods that are no longer relevant.
Below, I take a look at the history and evolution of public relations and how the digital age has changed what we do.
Understanding the Basics - An Intro to Public Relations
Cambridge Dictionary defines PR as:
“The activity of keeping good relationships between an organization and the general public”
Pretty simple right? It’s the idea that creating a positive image for your brand and forging positive relations with your customers and the public will only benefit your company. People are far more likely to use the services of or buy products from a company they trust and have positive engagements with.
The History of Public Relations - From Newsrooms to Social Media
As you can see, PR is hugely important in gaining a competitive edge, retaining customers, and maintaining a positive brand image. But where did this process start and how has it evolved? We can break the history of public relations into three clear sections:
The Beginning - Traditional PR methods
The art of public persuasion and influencing public opinion has been theorized since ancient history with philosophers like Plato recognizing the importance the practice could have.
This process flourished in the early 1900s and developed into a profession with PR companies specializing in print media like newspapers, radio stations, and postal PR. It was a largely physical process and as a result, was relatively slow compared to modern methods.
As time progressed, public relations made its way to TV, and for a long time, this was one of the main outlets due to the popularity of the goggle box and things like 24/7 news stations. To summarize, the early PR channels included:
- Print media
- Postal mail
This wouldn’t change until the 1980s and the surge of the digital age with the development of the internet.
The Development - A shift to digital PR
When the internet arrived, the history of public relations would take a dramatic change. At first, the technology was limited, and traditional, physical methods still prevailed.
However, as technology improved and accessibility was boosted, we saw the emergence of the first forms of digital PR which included websites, online news websites, online magazines, and online journalism.
The speed at which the public relations information could be relayed and shared was incredible compared to the relatively slow traditional methods. People could access websites 24/7 and have publications, articles, and news stories immediately.
The internet also made public relations a two-way affair. Previously, there wasn’t really any possibility to react or engage with businesses if you saw their PR material.
However, the internet changed that with the advent of blog comments, emails, instant messaging, and more. Customers and the general public had more access to businesses than ever which coincidentally made PR even more important!
The Future - Continued digitalization and social media PR
Digital PR shows no signs of slowing down in today’s digital world and it is easily the most prominent platform for this process. Traditional methods like radio, newspapers, and postal mail are still used but the internet and digitalization have taken over and it’s hard for companies to ignore the scope and reach it has.
Today we are witnessing the next evolution of public relations with the creation of social media. Social media platforms like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Instagram are now some of the prime public relations tools that businesses use and this is something an online PR agency can help with.
Millions of people use social media daily and it has become part of the daily routine for many. What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Many people will open their social media accounts and spend time scrolling through their feeds.
This hyper-connectivity has been tapped into for public relations and businesses have never been as accessible. You can communicate directly with a business on social media and get a response within minutes – it’s fantastic!
This interactivity and huge audience means that social media will become (if not already) the prime public relations outlet in the modern age. There are other digital mediums too, though, that are used for PR including blogs, videos, podcasts, and live streaming. Where this will progress in the future? Who knows, but if the history of public relations is anything to go on, we can expect more evolutions in our lifetime!
PR Remains an Important Process But Continues to Evolve
I found it incredibly interesting learning about the history and evolution of public relations and it’s fascinating to see how this process has changed to its largely digital state today.
Where newsrooms, print media, and radio stations were initially major PR outlets, these have now been supplanted by digital news websites, online journalism, and social media.
These traditional methods do persist, but the effectiveness and scope of digital PR means that they continue to shrink and it is not unrealistic to see an abandonment of traditional methods in the near future as the digital world grows.