The history of public relations with Tom Watson, professor emeritus at Bournemouth University

On the PRmoment Podcast this week with me Ben Smith we’re talking to PR academic Tom Watson about the History of PR - when, where and how did the business of public relations begin?

Tom is a professor emeritus at Bournemouth University, he taught on Bournemouth’s PR degree for a number of years. Previously he spent much of his career running his own PR firm and he was the founder of the annual History of PR Conference - the 2022 version of which takes place in Bournemouth on July 6th and 7th.

Before we start just a nudge to remind you all about the final deadline for The Creative Moment Awards on Friday 1st July 2022.

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Here’s a summary of what Tom and I discussed:

1.30 mins How PR goes as far back as Julius Caeser and The Babylons! From the beginning of time Kings and Queens have tried to promote themselves...

3.30 mins Historically is the rise of public relations linked to the rise of journalism?

6 mins When did professional PR as we recognise it today start to appear?

8 mins How there were 3 different, separate beginnings to professional public relations - in the US, in Germany and in the UK in the 19th Century.

“Evangelical Churches, railways and circuses all played an important part in the development of publicity methods in North America.”

11 mins How public relations has tended to start with government promotion, then move onto corporate PR and then consumer brand PR would follow.

12 mins Tom talks about early corporate PR - “the journalist in residence model.”

12.30 mins Why agencies have tended to be the final stage of PR’s evolution. The first PR agency in the UK was called “Editorial Services” which was set up by Sir Basil Clarke in 1924. The Guardian refers to Clarke as “the man who invented PR” in this archived article.

“The first public relations officer was appointed by Southern Railways in 1925”

15 mins When did public relations become a broader discipline beyond just publicity?

“It was (Arthur) Page who was the first to look at public relations in a far bigger context, affecting the whole organisation and not just a communication/publicity activity.”

17 mins Tom talks us through his most important personalities in the evolution of PR

“Bernays is massively overrated in importance”

“Ivy Lee made some mistakes but he was important as he was seen as the epitomisation of this new promotional profession.”

20 mins Why does Germany remain the centre of PR research excellence?

22 mins Tom summarises the timeline of PR academia.

24 mins Tom talks about the internationalisation of PR and the rise and dominance of the large US PR firms - as American companies went around the world, US PR firms followed them.

25.30 mins The rise of women in PR: how we’re barely starting to research why the gender change in public relations took place from the 1980s

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