PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF PUBLIC RELATION

PR IN THE 21st CENTURY

 

Throughout the history of mankind, people have always been in contact with other people. Ever since man appeared on the Earth, he has communicated and in that process he has often aimed building some kind of consensus. This endeavour could bring about the need for Public Relations as a profession to emerge.

PR is the mean of mutual understanding. PR is the bridge of understanding. The PR practitioner is the interpreter on the bridge. Perhaps, this is the reason why PR could become the art and science of building confidence.

In order to speak about the future of PR, one has to look back a little bit to the past of communications. At the beginning there was the smoke-sign, the drum beat and then the messenger and his more modern form, the postal pigeon - well, all these mark the beginning of the development of communications. And then came the miracle called the Gutenberg age. And when the cinema and radio replaced the reign of printed communications man was surprised. But when TV and not all that long ago the communications age of the computer emerged, we were not even surprised. These are natural elements of our life. Let us recall the way we used to work in the office without computer!

The communications expert forecasts that the next century will be the time of the telephone. As communications will primarily be (carried) mediated via the telephone line. According to prophecies, we shall do interactive shopping from home sitting in our armchair via television and that will also be the way we pay our bills. The time is not far away, the speed of communications will be so quick, due to the development of the telephone, that the though - or the message to use the term of our profession - will appear on the screen of the receiver the moment it is born. The output of the message - that assumes the value of news - is the duty of the people in our profession.

Old trade - from propaganda to PR

 The history of PR is assessed differently in the different countries. In actual fact, there is no uniformity, or agreement between the different countries from where to date PR.

 There is a 'royal' job throughout history. Practically, each king had a Master of Ceremony, which was a rank. Those people were the old masters of the modern persons in charge of protocol, the organisers of events but partly, they can be regarded as the predecessors of the PR specialists. Those people did not only pay attention to the etiquette but also planned and organised the royal events. BY doing, so they set the framework of communications and this way, they also functioned as early PR people.

300 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church created the Propaganda Congregation. Because of the unsuccessful Crusade, Pope Gregory, the 15th felt in 1622 that the power of the church was in danger. He thought he had to strengthen the influence of the church among the believers. In the interest of that he launched what would be called today an action programme which he described as propaganda. Gregory, the 15th was the first to use the word propaganda at that time. In his interpretation, it meant organised activities in order to encourage the believers to return to the church. 1622 is an important year from the point of view of PR because it was the first realisation of organised communications. In this case, it was not yet a two-way communications but simply the influencing of masses of people. Propaganda, mass influence has got to the fore on many occasions in history.

Using PR in the modern sense took place at the end of the last century for the first time. George Westinghouse set up the first PR department in his own company in the United States in 1889. When electricity was introduced in the state of New York in 1888, Westinghouse realised that he needed connections with the clients. He commissioned a famous journalist to organise his Press relations. PR is inseparable from the history of the United States. 

The American business life brought PR in its present form, into being. The development of business life created the conditions of growth. And the continued development of Public Relations can be speeded up by business life.

Independently from whether Pubic Relations are used by governments, or non-profit or profit oriented organisations, PR reflects the methods of business.

Since the early 1990s, the development of the USA has been accelerated by the development of communications. Apart from major failures (economic crises, stock exchange crises), the 20th century has brought major successes for the US. And the majority of those successes can be linked in one way or another to communications. The 20th century history of the US cannot be understood without the sudden and rapid development and spreading of the profession of PR.

The pioneers and later the experts of PR have always been there at every important event. PR in the modern sense is dated from the early 20th century. That was the time when the first Press offices, Press agencies, advertisement agencies, PR advisors and PR agencies first appeared primarily in the United States.

After the 2nd World War the accelerating development brought with it the more rapid development of the PR profession. The causes are to be found in the unbelievable acceleration of communications. We also say that the "world has become smaller", or that "distances are disappearing". Globalisation has created the multinational companies first. These companies can only operate on the basis of rapid communications. The saying that "time is money" has become the driving engine of business life. The fact that time produces money can be strengthened by efficient communications. And this brings with it the creation of systems of relations involving the whole world. This requirement has helped the birth of IPRA and CEPR too. These organisations clearly set the rules of the PR profession. Here, I have in mind ethical rules and rules of conduct.

While PR began to develop in the world at the very end of the last century, in the former socialist countries, among them Hungary, the PR profession was officially born only about 10 years ago, around the change of system. It had existed before but it was nothing else but a tolerated activity. Its methods could be applied with the proviso that it was not named by its genuine name. 

After all, in the socialist countries, there was a mean for shaping public opinion and it was called by the communist ideologues as agitation-propaganda.

This "institution" cared for a one-way communication, but undoubtedly, there was a second channel of feedback: it was the institution of "report of general mood" with which the competent people were following the reactions of the general public. However, one should not call it a "feed back" or "two way communications".

  Is it a young or old profession?

 Without knowing the past, one cannot understand the present. This is why it should be pointed out that the PR profession and its modern form is as old as our century. Maybe it is just theoretical, but from the point of view of the future of our profession it is important to understand that the revolutionary inventions of this century could not have been created without the immense speeding up of communications. 

And vica versa: The rapid advancement of communications would have been impossible without the revolutionary inventions of the 20th century. Let me mention only the four basic examples. Cinema, Radio, Television and the Computer.

And a fifth one that belongs here is space research and the space age. This development highly depended on communications.

The growth of the population of the Earth has also contributed to globalisation. And this has involved the development of the communications professions. Efforts made in the interest of globalisation have become the driving force of the PR profession. Producing more can earn bigger profit. To have more goods sold, more potential buyers have to be informed and convinced to buy.

For this, one needs more PR methods. Probably, this too has played a role in that tendency which one can see in the PR profession. People in the PR profession have mainly come from two field: marketing and journalism. But whichever of these areas the PR specialists have come from, the dominance of the Press was noteworthy. The majority of the marketing specialists tried to shape their PR thinking on the basis of the example of Press advertisements.

Those who have come from the Press were thinking on the basis of the rules of the printed Press and try to create a new form, new methods and a new profession. The end result is the "PR cake" where the first slice is the media.

 "SLICES OF THE PR CAKE":

1. Media: Printed Press, Electronic Media, WEB PR

2. Publications

3. Audio-visual tools

4. Conferences

5. Shows, Exhibitions

6. Aid, Sponsorship, Donation 

7. Personal communications

8. Other PR tools

Many people cannot imagine a PR campaign without media relations, but in fact, there are many PR campaigns where the Press is not used at all. Probably, this will be even more so in the future.

Further slices of the PR cake include the organised events and more importantly, the publications that still play an important role in the PR campaigns. I think the role of these publications, leaflets will decrease in the future.

I think that such mistaken slices of the cake, as support, sponsorship, being a mecenas which are used by many as exclusive advertisement means, or are not used at all - will get to their due place in the PR practice of the next century.

I hope that unethical offshoots like the so-called PR articles, the advertorial or advertisement signs disguised as sponsorship will disappear in the future.

I hope the time is not far away when the fund-raising activity operating as friend raising will also finds its normal place. But to achieve that, a strong middle class and a relatively well to do strata a citoyens is needed. This class is guided by the realisation that charity, support and being a mecenas are necessary. It will be natural for these people to help those who need it without returns.

Development cannot be halted. If one looks at the revolution of the computer technology in the past 10 years, it can be clearly seen that it is promoting a revolution of the PR methods.

There is a change going on in the media; the role of the printed Press is diminishing, while the importance of the electronic media is increasing, and the same way, the use of the computer technology in the PR work is also spreading.

One does not have to be a prophet to forecast that the Internet will propel such a large scale development that the latest means of PR, the WEB PR will surpass the success of all previous PR means. Already now, one can see that those people do not get a job in our profession who are unable to use the Internet and E-mail.

The time is not far away when fax will be a thing of a past just as it happened to the telex a few years ago. Practically, no one uses it. And the WEB PR is just one of the "future" means. It may happen quite soon that on-line newspaper, on-line libraries and on-line universities will be used much more widely than most people think now. Just one example, our profession can also be learnt on-line. It is already a reality that data are distributed by various means of the computer technology.

For example, at Press conferences the Press Releases or photos and illustrations are handed out on floppy or CD. It is a fact that in the film industry, the video Press releases will be handed out on CD or floppy. This is a challenge to be met very soon. For example, in the practice of making PR films, the film makers will have to learn a completely new - old film technology. The spreading on the non-linear editors will turn this into a daily routine. This is an everyday practice in the digital Radio broadcasting.  The computer will rule the PR profession.

A short story of about 30 years ago comes to my mind. When in the early days of the computer an engineers - with a tremendous work and effort - links up the world's computers in order to ask the machines those question that until then had not been answered. The computer immediately gives the answer to the first question. The question was, is there God? The computer's answer immediately was, already there is one.

 There has been an ongoing debate among sociologists whether the future holds impersonification? They argue that the computer will compel us to lose our personality. They also say that people will not chat with each other. I do not share these views. I think and forecast that an unworthily neglected slice of the means of PR is personal communication, which will assume a growing importance.

Let me tell you just one example to illustrate this. Mobile phones have spread very rapidly in the world. I know that telephone conversations through mobile phone is not real, personal communication. Another counter-argument says that on the basis of the current world trend, many people will work at home, in their own house in the next century. This too, will lead to alienation. True, this may happen. But I am sure that the communications specialists will find the means and methods countering this in the future. The buds of such a development can already be seen. Just think about the video-telephones and videoconferences. And I think the mechanization of the most important system of relations in the personal communication -as for example, the intimate partner relations - will ever take place. I think Huxley's Brave New World will remain a thing of the sci-fi writers' fantasy. So that this would indeed be the case, I hope the professionals of PR will do a lot.

As I wrote at the beginning, our century was that of the computer, and the next century will be that of the telephone. The challenge may be especially great if the two are linked. Who knows where is the end of this story?

Because the story goes on...