Updated Summer 2011 as a supplement to Prof. Smith's textbooks,
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).


Premise: Public relations is a natural, essential, and recurring element of human social interaction


Public relations is both old and young. It is ancient in its foundations, rooted in the earliest interactions of people in societies long gone. It is contemporary in its expression as one of society's emerging professions. Throughout history, public relations has been part of societies separated by miles and centuries and has been practiced within many different cultural and social contexts. Whenever we look at social interaction, we find elements of today's public relations practice: information, persuasion, reconciliation, cooperation.


Public Relations in Colonial America


American colleges have led the way in the use of publicity to promote higher education.


Harvard College in 1641 developed the first fundraising brochure, New England's First Fruits, as part of the first fundraising campaign. Three Harvard preachers on a begging mission to England for support for the college had asked for a pamphlet to explain its financial needs.


King's College (left), now Columbia University, sent out an announcement of its 1758 graduation ceremonies, the first anywhere in the colonies. Several newspapers printed this information, apparently the first instance of a new release. Princeton, meanwhile, was the first to make it a routine practice to supply newspapers with information about activities at the college, particularly information of interest to prospective students.



Public Relations Strategies during the American Revolution


Persuasive communication has been at the heart of much of Western social and political development. It is a fundamental element of democracy that played a major role in the American campaign for independence from Britain, perhaps the best early example of a comprehensive use of public relations techniques.


Samuel Adams (right) is credited as the chief strategist of the movement for independence. His legacy, and that of this revolutionary associates, includes the following public relations strategies and tactics:


- Use of an organizing group, first the Caucus Club and later the Committees of Correspondence in each colony.


- Creation of activist organizations (Sons of Liberty and support groups (Caucus Club).


- Staged events such as the Boston Tea Party (right) and hangings in effigy. The Boston Tea Party was a pseudo event designed to shock and satirize the British tea tax and to symbolize colonial defiance. In fact, many colonists themselves were shocked and outraged by the Boston Tea Party, but this internal dissent was not reported. In essence, the tax was not particulately unfair. It was an attempt by the British government to have the colonials pay for a small part of the cost of protecting the colonies from the French who occupied much of Canada. At the time, since the colonists paid no tax to England, their defense was funded by the taxes of other English citizens.


- The "official" version of the story of the Boston Tea Party was the first to arrive in England, thanks to a sailing skill of a sympathetic ship captain. In London, Benjamin Franklin (left) lost no time in being first to circulate the revolutionary version of the event, especially among the many American sympathizers in the British government.


- A series of communication strategies using persuasive messages, including the use of songs of protest and patriotism, symbols such as the Liberty Tree (right), and slogans such as "Taxation without representation is tyranny."


- Orchestrating the message, with a strategy of "Put your enemy in the wrong and keep him there." One example of this is the promotion and elaboration of events such as the so-called Horrid Boston Massacre (left). A British sentry fired into a riot caused by a drunken mob. Said one historian: "...turned the dead port troughs into martyrs, orating and thundering how they had been shot down in cold blood by hireling troops." Essays, poems, and engravings followed. The story was widely circulated, and the date of 5 Mar 1770 was memorialized throughout the colonies – except in New York, where continuing rivalry between Boston and New York City caused the colonial leaders to suppress the story of the Boston Massacre.


- A campaign theme of "the doctrine of natural rights." This term was more positive and acceptable than a negative theme stressing separation from England. The latter was a concept not endorsed by the majority of colonists, who still considered themselves loyal British subjects of the king.


- A strategy of demonizing the enemy, such as the ridicule of King George (right) and other attempts to misrepresent and malign the British crown and Parliament..


- A similar strategy of ostracizing sympathizers of the enemy, such as plays and poetry by people such as Mercy Otis Warren (left) ridiculing loyalists in the colonies, and the Patriot Committees in each state that kept legal and social harassment of loyalists (and even suspected loyalists), including confiscation of their land and money, as well as torture and murder. Such actions caused most of the loyalist colonists to flee to Canada, hundreds of thousands of them going to what is now Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario. Indeed, the term “lynch mob” comes from Judge Charles Lynch of Virginia, who hanged colonists accused of being loyal to their king.


- A negative strategy of capitalizing on people's fear and bigotry, such as the anti-Catholic prejudice fanned in the colonies after England promulgated the Quebec Act. The law allowed Catholics in the former French colony of Quebec (by then conquered by the British) the right to practice their faith, something not allowed in most of the American colonies. The colonial leaders fueled the revolutionary sentiment against English by playing to the anti-Catholic bigotry in what essentially were Protestant colonies.


- A strategy of building and manipulating alliances with the American Indians. Most tribes sided with the British because England recognized their lands and protected them from encroaching colonists. Patriots who coveted their lands called them “savages,” dehumanized them in words and images, and used the civil war against Britain as a pretext of occupying Indian lands.


- A sustained campaign lasting several years — from the Boston Massacre in 1770 through the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 and the final British recognition of American independence two years later.




Public Relations Tactics during the American Revolution


· Anniversaries of events used as news pegs for publicity

· Letters to opinion leaders from the Committees of Correspondence

· Town and county meetings

· Petitions in colonial and later in state legislatures

· Leaks to the press

· Use of all existing communication tools in what today would be called a multi-media campaign

· Serial publications, such as the 85 Federalist Papers

· Booklets and pamphlets, such as Common Sense by Thomas Paine that presented the argument for independence; more than 1,500 pamphlets were published in the 20 years of the independence movement

· Ghost writing, and a steady flow of articles; Samuel Adams wrote inflammatory articles under 25 different aliases; James Madison wrote 29 essays under the pseudonym "Publius"

· Newspaper essays written to stir the passions of readers

· Speeches and sermons; most of the clergymen preached, many incessantly, against the British and in favor of independence

· Personal correspondence

· Word of mouth planted by personal visits to taverns

· Meetings

· Parades

· Posting of notices


There was some pro-loyalist propaganda, such as Jonathan Sewall who wrote pamphlets against the move toward independence, and John Mein and John Fleming who used publicity and propaganda to campaign against the Non-Importation Agreements. But their side lost, and they ended up exiled from the newly independent United States of America (and excised from American history as well).


Consider the following points:


1. Despite the political rhetoric, the colonists were not an oppressed people. In fact, they paid no taxes. Because of distance from Mother England, they were already autonomous in most practical day-to-day matters.


2. Most of the colonists were not in favor of separation from England. Many families and even entire communities moved through New York and across the Niagara River into Canada or north into Nova Scotia in order to remain part of Britain and avoid continued association with the American rebels. About 100,000 colonists fled to Canada or to England, the Bahamas, and other British territories.


3. The colonies were not united. Indeed, there were serious and deep divisions among them. For example, the Boston Massacre was not reported in New York because of inter-colony rivalry.


4. The colonial experiment had not been about freedom and equality for everyone, and the American Revolution did not seek to change that. After all, slavery had been introduced by the very people who founded the colonies; revolutionary leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves. The Patriots also confiscated Indian lands that had been protected under British rule. Most colonies excluded Jews and Catholics, either by law or by consensus. Voting and other legal privileges were denied to everyone except white male Protestant landowners, a very small percentage of the colonial population.


Conclusion: Public opinion is stronger than legal right or military might



Class Activity: Identify and discuss contemporary parallels to some of these examples of the political and military significance of public relations



Common Public Relations Techniques

Throughout history, there have been examples of successful public relations campaigns. The following strategies and tactics are common to all effective campaigns:


Public Relations Strategies

- News pegs

- Audience interest

- Positive appeals (love, patriotism, virtue, compassion...)

- Negative appeals (fear, guilt, bigotry)

- Personalizing and humanizing issues

- Audience segmentation

- Activist organizations

Organizing group

Orchestration of messages

Single-minded (often extremist) presentation of the central message

Leaks to media

Third-party endorsement & use of opinion leaders

Sustained campaigns






Public Relations Tactics

Planned and staged events

News media

Essays & commentaries

Multimedia saturation

- Current communication technology


Serial publications

Stand-alone publications



Class Activity: Identify a contemporary social movement, and discuss how it uses these examples of typical public relations strategies and tactics.