PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE USA.
There are various factors which are interdependent and complex responsible for the growth of PR and it is very difficult to exactly pinpoint them. Yet, it can be said that power struggles served as catalysts for the growth of PR since every group, with an aim to dominate, wanted to have the public opinion titled in its favor. This is what resulted in the use of PR techniques even earlier in the USA: in the American War of Independence and later on in the Civil War.
When the settlers from Britain and other parts of Europe in the American colonies came into conflict with the British authorities, they used many techniques to win public support for their movement for independence. All those techniques were later on adopted as the tools of public relations. To further their cause, the settlers circulated pamphlets and newspapers and letters were sent to important people within the country and abroad. In the mass and committee meetings, they spoke to communicate, inform and persuade the people. They organized demonstrations, staged plays and composed songs and sung in support of their struggle.
To curb the movement, the British authorities enacted laws censoring the press, imposed taxes on the newspapers and insisted on licenses for publishing. In such a situation, the demand for a free press became a rallying point for the settlers demanding freedom.
The British Parliament imposed duties on various imports into the American colonies in 1767. Some of the duties were withdrawn in the face of opposition, but not the duty on tea. To express their anger and in support of the demand, “no taxation without representation”, the people of the colonies boarded the British ships in the Boston harbor and threw overboard their cargoes of tea. This famous “Boston Tea Party” is a memorable event in the history of the American Revolution. The staging of an “event” to dramatize a popular slogan has since become a standard PR device to attract public attention, and to rally the people in support of a campaign.
Such PR techniques were also used in the American Civil War (1861-65). The North and the South of America were separated by the issue of slavery. The southern states supported the institution, while the northern states pressed for its abolition. Both the North and the South made extensive use of the PR techniques to win public support. They used all available means of communication and appealed to various segments of the public to win them over. These events helped to develop some of the tools of PR and prove their efficacy in gaining the public support. Yet this could not be called the “deliberate, planned and sustained effort” that emerged later and developed into what is called as PR.
Period of Transition: It was surprising that during the closing years of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the dominant attitude of business and industry in the US was exemplified in what has come to be known as “the public-be-damned” attitude. The American businessmen got a feeling that they were on top of the world following the rapid expansion of trade and industry, the emergence of large corporations, controlling financial and physical assets unheard of before. They favored “laissez faire” economic theories. Businesses were not prepared to bear any government interference. The public did not enter into their calculations, except as a market for their goods. Selling was no problem for them.
During that time William Vanderbilt, the head of the New York Central Railway, is reported to have used the expression “public-be damned” in reply to a reporter’s question on why he had withdrawn a railway service between New York and Chicago despite its usefulness to the public. His remark had caused unprecedented furor. At that time, the US was just entering a period when a free press was beginning to have its impact. A number of writers came out with a series of exposures on the ways of big business and their unscrupulous methods of fleecing the public to enhance profits.
The writers Jack London, David Graham Phillips, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Stephens, popularly known as the muck-rakers exposed the excesses and corruption prevailing at that time. The writers also received some support from President Theodore Roosevelt and later from President Wilson. For that time, a new era began. Every action of business and industry came under scrutiny and the public cannot be ignored now. The new era was based on the maxim “the public-must-be-informed”.
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