Billionaire founder of Microsoft Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, is purported to have said that if he were down to his last dollar, he would spend it on PR.
PR is generally used to:
- Enhance a company’s reputation
- Create awareness of a new product/service – or may be used to influence behaviour
- Manage the flow of information between an organisation and its public
A PR professional aims to promote their client by achieving positive column inches without paying for advertising space. The aim is often to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about the company.
There is often an assumption that PR is a modern phenomenon though there is evidence of public relations scattered throughout history – for example publicists in America who specialised in promoting circuses, theatrical performances and other public spectacles in the nineteenth century.
Also in the United States PR practices were developed to persuade people to support the railroads.
One of the early practitioners of PR, Robert Bernay, achieved a highly successful campaign to encourage more women to take up smoking!
Recruited by tobacco companies, Bernay paid glamorous models to openly smoke at a May Day parade in New York in the 1920s. At that time women smoking was severely frowned on and they could be arrested if found smoking in public in a non-designated area.
Bernay wrote a press release describing the act as a defiant one claiming the models were using the cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom’ to protest against oppression by men. Photos of the glamorous smokers went worldwide and resulted in many thousands of women taking up smoking as they felt emboldened and associated the practice with glamour and sophistication.
Another example of great PR was a campaign run by Walkers crisps which launched a competition for people to invent a new flavour. The competition, called ‘Do Us a Flavour’ was judged by top chef Heston Blumenthal and attracted more than one million entries.
An example of bad PR was when jewellery baron Gerald Ratner described his cut glass sherry decanter and glasses as ‘total crap’ in a speech in 1991.
He managed to wipe £500m off the value of his company Ratners, which later went out of business – emphasising just how important good PR is!