“If you could work in an era of PR history (from a time before you were born), which one would it be? What interests you most about this era and why?”
History has always been one of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) subjects to learn in school. Maybe because I love to read and write stories…
Every event, every person, every significant word and action– it all builds up to create this marvelous story filled with joy and tragedy, love and war, passion and apathy, dreams and dashed hopes, dark pasts and bright futures… It creates something beautiful to listen to and learn from for the rest of time.
With my love of the subject, I have always tried to be in a History class of some sort. I especially enjoy and appreciate US History! Even more specifically, I have been fascinated by the early American 1800’s through to the early 1900’s for as long as I can remember.
Maybe its the romanticism of the whole thing: the dresses and formals; the mansions and manners; the horse-drawn carriages and the gentlemen; the slow and quiet living (I’m implying a comparison to today). But for whatever my reasons, this 100 years of 1800-1900, has had me dreaming and imaging countless times.
In my research of the different eras, I came across this PR History Slide Show that shows 6 general times periods of PR:
- Pre-Seedbed Era: 1865-1900
- Seedbed Era: 1900-1917
- WWI: 1917-1919
- The Booming 20’s: 1919-1929
- The FDR Era: 1930-1945
- The Global Information Society: 1965-today
Using the titles and measurement of time from the powerpoint, and taking into consideration my favorite time periods, I have sometimes wished I could experience the “Pre-Seedbed” and “Seedbed” Eras…and even more so, the Pre-“Pre-Seedbed” era (which they obviously failed to include…not enough PR then, I guess.)
I would want to be around when it all first began and before the considered father of PR, E. Bernays, and the actual “founder of modern PR,” Ivy Ledbetter Lee, came to the scene starting in the late 1910’s.
According to the “PR History Slide Show,” the Pre-Seedbed Era was a time of rapid growth in the area of public relations. Wealthy robber barons and massive developing corporations were forming monopolies in many of our nation’s important industries.
Because of the power of these influential big-name companies and men, who also had connections and ties to news and publication sources, stories and reports about scandals, shocking unethical behaviors, and secret affairs were kept hush-hush and any known information kept guarded in order to protect the names of certain benefactors and organizations.
The leaders needed to be viewed as squeaky clean and perfect- whether it was all a deliberate attempt to keep up public morale in the business market & its leaders and keep the people from revolting or just the way things had been in the past. People in the high circles worked to keep it that way.
Calculated information leaks were somehow kept controlled and limited. The whole mindset of this period was to do anything to protect the image and reputation of the companies, without the slightest thought of what that goal did to all the little guys.
It was a time where it was employers against employees- and the employers somehow where in the right no matter what they did, and the poor workers, at the mercy of the bosses, had to pay for it.
During this time period, the US had Presidents Jackson and VanBuren, separately and consecutively of course, leading the country.
Under both of them served Amos Kendall, US Postmaster General. With his reputation as a pollster and publicist, his job kinda’ turned into the first PR guy for the government. In other words, he became the first unofficial Press Secretary. He shared only what they thought the public needed to know and hid what information they believed the people could really go without. If they were lacking in positive news, his job was to fabricate and invent fictional events and situations in order to “mold” public opinion.
Then came the turn of the century. The 1900’s had arrived.
And reform was in the air.
Everything–including the “protect-the-leaders-at-all-costs” mindset–was up for change. Suddenly “the people’s right to know” became the new mantra. According to E. Bernays, the “public must be informed.”
Muckraking*, journalism that sought to uncover the dirt and air out the dirty laundry, rapidly became a very popular trend, taking the newspapers and other worthy publications by storm. Authors and books began voicing the voice of the “little guy”: the people now had a champion against the big bosses.
To the workers and common public, journalists were no longer just writers of irrelevant news and stories of the rich and famous. These writers became connectors and interpreters. They now had the job of explaining actions and events to the commoners in a language they could understand.
With this new emphasis on exposing the lies and getting to the truth, the idea of reform came almost automatically with the start of this era. Unions, amendments, movements, riots– an attack on things as they had been– had now been set in motion.
The arm of power had begun to shift. From master to steward, from baron to labor man, from boss to boy.
The people wanted change. And they wanted it now.
Companies and their (primitive) “PR” departments went on the defense. They wanted to take advantage of this new journalism movement, so they started hiring journalists to write their stories and get their news out that would bring them positive publicity. Some may have heard Ivey Lee’s idea that “publicity needs to be supported by good works” or Theodore Vail’s notion that improving relations between corporations and the public were necessary to gaining their business and loyalty.
I would have loved to be around this period of such change and upheaval of the way things had been. Journalists were suddenly in the spotlight with a new job to do: bring light and truth.
That I would have had to count as an honor.
(*Note*: *Now the White House was mostly exempt from this “reveal and release” movement in news and PR. At this point, the presidency was still seen/treated as part royalty almost. People, especially the journalists, were still willing to turn a blind-eye in order to respect and even protect the right of necessary privacy that everyone felt that the position of the nation’s leader deserved.
Through the years, that would slowly change; but for now it remained.)