Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the 20th Century

Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the 20th Century

Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the 20th Century

Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the 20th Century

Synopsis

In this book the author asks a big question: how did public relations develop in Britain and why? The question is answered through a broad ranging narrative which links the evolution of British public relations in the early twentieth century to key political, economic, social, and technological developments. Drawing on oral history interviews and extensive archival research the book highlights some of the sociological issues relevant to a study of public relations and foregrounds the professionalisation of the occupation in the second part of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

This book presents a first account of the development of British public relations in the 20th century. The focus is on whether British public relations has managed to professionalise. To a large degree, the story is one of failure, despite the exponential growth of the field. The history of this puzzling contradiction is explored in detail, drawing on previously untapped archives and extensive oral history interviews. My argument is that this apparent paradox is explained by the inability of the would-be professional body to establish control over public relations practice. Thus, one of the key features of this book is its presentation of a counter-history of the Institute of Public Relations to that body's own self-understanding.

Turning to the overall development and growth of the occupation, I argue that one of the most significant features of British developments, especially in the first half of the 20th century, was the large role played by local and central governments and the relatively small contribution of the private sector. Key aspects of British government propaganda in both wartime and peacetime are highlighted, including economic propaganda.

The contribution of the British Film Documentary Movement and the collaboration between its leader, John Grierson, and the Secretary of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), Sir Stephen Tallents, is presented as considerably significant, particularly in terms of the development of public relations ideology. The discourse and actions of key figures within the public relations industry are also foregrounded in the overall analysis. Themes include relationships between the public relations industry, the media and politics, ethics, and the ultimately vain attempts of the industry to establish the widespread legitimacy necessary for professional status.

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