Blog Post One – History of Public Relations

What is the earliest PR campaign you can find? What are the signs that this is to do with PR and not simply advertising? How would this campaign be created today? Why would it be different? Give at least two references to illustrate your post (250-300 words only). 

Edward Bernays established one of the earliest successful public relations campaigns in 1929 (Herman, 2007 p.12).  Bernays’ Torches of Freedom campaign was designed to convince women that smoking cigarettes would be a significant step towards gender equality (St. John, 2011 p. 224).

The Torches of Freedom campaign was not simply advertising.  Prior to this campaign regular advertising had been used to target diverse audiences; however, had only successfully attracted men and lower class women.  Bernays’ campaign was a strategic communication process that built a mutually beneficial relationship between the tobacco company and its public (St. John, 2011 p. 226).  Barneys developed strategies to gain publicity in the media; he didn’t pay to put advertisements in. In 1929, at the peak of the Easter Parade, a young woman stepped out into the crowd and created a scandal by lighting a cigarette.  The incident received extensive coverage because the media had been informed in advance (Herman, 2007 p.12).

This campaign would not be created today; gender equality is a less prominent issue and would not be a powerful enough incentive for women to begin smoking cigarettes.  Furthermore research has shown how detrimental smoking is to people’s health.  However, if it were to be recreated today, social media would play a significant role. In a study conducted by Wright and Hinson (2014) they found that nearly 65 percent of all public relations departments are responsible for the social media presence of their companies.

Furthermore the development of social media gives public relations practitioner’s unprecedented insight into journalists.  According to PR specialist Mia Pearson (2011) social media allows practitioners to build relationships with key journalists and understand how they work.  Such as when they need resources, the way they present stories and how they prefer to work with public relations practitioners.


Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive


Herman, ML 2007, ‘The (R)evolution of Public Relations’, Public Relations Strategist, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 12-15.

Pearson, M 2012, ‘Social media changing how PR and media interact’, The Globe and Mail, 10 December, viewed 18 March 2016,

St. John, B, & Lamme, MO 2011, ‘The evolution of an idea : charting the early public relations ideology of Edward L. Bernays’, Journal of communication management : an international journal, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 223-235.

Wright, DK & Hinson, M 2014, ‘Examining How Social and Other Emerging Media Are Being Used in Public Relations’, Institute for Public Relations, viewed 18 March 2016,


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