History matters to Public Relations

What is the story of PR in 2006?  Take part in the History Matters  project on Tuesday 17 October and ensure that the profession of public relations is recorded as part of this magnificent diary of real life on one day. 

Perhaps the debate about whether PR is a management or technical function, engaged in the online world or busy organising parties, ethical public service or manipulative misinformation could be addressed if we all recorded our actions and thoughts within this project. 

Looking back at the history of PR is fascinating – I always include video of Edward Bernays from the BBC “Century of the Self” series in the sessions I lead for anyone studying the CIPR qualifications.  I have seen the film almost 100 times – and will watch it 6 times in the next 2 weeks as I use it in seminars for 1st year undergraduates at Bournemouth University.  It never fails to amaze, horrify and interest modern PR students to see how so many of the things we do today were developed a century ago. 

But it is difficult to tell whether this brilliant television programme is reflective of PR’s influence in reality – as it is edited with a clear narrative around the Freud family.  And, much of the history of PR is US-centric, which ignores how mass communications developed in the UK, Europe and elsewhere.  Jacquie L’Etang has recorded an excellent history of professional PR practice in the UK – but there is still too little record of the lives and function of the thousands of PR practitioners; publicists, propagandists, craftsmen, corporate champions and pioneering women. 

I have a record of one such man, Bob Sicot, who created the modern car launch for Renault in the 1950s; which I would like to publish with his permission.  A few years ago I began a project to document the history of motor industry PR – and discovered some fascinating people from the early 1900s.  It was a delight to see the professional skills evident in the 1000 Mile Trial and the work of Claude Johnson.  I hope to find time to continue this project as the role of automotive PR in the last century has not been recorded, despite the many books written on motoring, cars and the impact on society. 

But how marvellous it would be for those who follow in our footsteps to get a glimpse of how we spend our days – so please take a few minutes on Tuesday and record your life in PR for history’s sake.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

One thought on “History matters to Public Relations”

  1. Heather, did you sign up for History Matters? I have to admit that although I wrote about it too, I didin’t get round to it because events of the day were so hectic, issuing two press releases at 7am so I could attend a seminar and then a quick dash home to feed the family before returning to Cambridge for Toastmasters? If only it had been the day after…

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