The PR industry is constantly evolving and as experts in public perception, it’s our job as PR practitioners to be equipped to take advantage of all the new tools and technologies to produce meaningful results for our clients.

However, as we head into the holiday season, we thought it worthwhile to take a few moments for reflection – away from the flurry of our coffee drinking, Twitter posting, and reporter pitching – to think about what made the founding fathers of PR so great and what principles they instilled that continue to hold true for our industry today.

Ivy Lee – Crisis Communications

Lee was the first to articulate the concept that PR practitioners have a public responsibility to reveal truth that extends beyond an agency’s obligations to its clients. An early example of this was when Lee issued a press release after the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck openly disclosing information to journalists before they could hear information about the accident elsewhere. This proactive approach to delivering factual information in a potentially damaging situation makes Lee the founder of crisis communications.

Why is this still relevant today? Proactively sharing a truthful and supportive message in the midst of negative events gives you and the client more control over what is being portrayed by the media. Sitting back and taking a reactionary stance could be misinterpreted.

Edward Bernays – News vs. Advertising

Following the success of Lee’s communication tactics after the Atlantic City train crash, Bernays recognized the power of proactive communications and how it could help shape the news. Testing his hypothesis, Bernays undertook one of the most controversial PR campaigns of his time (the 1920s), hosting an event that showcased women smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes in public. Calling the cigarettes “torches of freedom” in a press release, Bernays was able to persuade the media that women smoking in public marked a positive shift in women’s rights.

Why is this still relevant today? With his Lucky Strike campaign, Bernays proved that the media could be influenced by channels other than advertising, and thus the term “free press” was born. Formal press releases live on today, and remain a staple of most PR campaigns.

Arthur Page – Strategic Communications

Arthur Page emerged as a master in successfully positioning companies in a positive light despite the public’s general feelings of distrust. Page is most noted for his work with AT&T, where he became the first person to hold the title of vice president of public relations in 1927, and combatted the public’s negative sentiment toward the company having a monopoly over the communications network. Through a strategic corporate communications plan that incorporated frequent bylines, Page reduced negative press coverage of AT&T by 30 per cent, while increasing the public’s appreciation for the company’s contributions to society.

Why is this still relevant today? Page’s strategy is a prime example of the powerful impact bylined articles can have on the industry and the public’s perception of a company. Bylines offer mutual benefits for publications looking to generate relevant content and for companies who want to increase their visibility.

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