Conducting Public Relations Research: Methodologies and Resources.
Various concepts of public relations offer a glimpse at the evolution of this communications function in organizations and as a part of society. It has been a difficult task for members of a burgeoning profession seeking a separate identity to pin down a catchall definition for its practice. In the early 1900s big business interests hired public relations practitioners to defend their interests against muckraking journalism and government regulation (Scott Cutlip, Allen Center & Glen Broom 2). The emphasis in public relations was to tell the company's side of the story and counter the negative publicity the press was generating. These campaigns were designed to influence public opinion and to prevent policy changes that would require more regulation of business.
America's entry into World War I created a need for one-way persuasive communication and so the Committee on Public Information was formed. Headed by George Creel, the goal was to unite public opinion in support of the war through the implementation of a worldwide propaganda campaign. This was public relations as a form of publicity used to influence others.
Some may still consider public relations as mainly persuasive publicity or provoking the public to have understanding for and goodwill towards a particular organization. Indeed, many practitioners believe that is the major goal of the concept. A powerful leader in the field of public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote concurring with this concept in his book titled, The Engineering of Consent. Because Bernays was such a forerunner in the profession, even today many practitioners find that they will deal with managers and clients who perceive this concept as the end all of public relations practice. However, there are those in the profession who disagree.
One such organization is the British Institute of Public Relations, which defines the function as an effort to establish and maintain "mutual understanding between an organization and its publics" (James Grunig and Todd Hunt 6).