The History of Public Relations

The history of public relations dates back to the revolutionary war in the history of the United States. This was a component of great significance to the development of public relations. Another great input to the development of public relations came from the Creel Committee that was in place during the First World War.

Edward L. Barneys who was a committee member and was later considered by many as the father of public relations. He was part of an intensive verbal and written communications in an effort to gain support for the war. This was rather unusual as information was first time used as weapon of war (Litwin, 2000, 2).

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There have been a number of personalities who have contributed to the development of public relations. These persons include Ivy Lee who has also been referred by many as the father of public relations. He is known for promoting the slogan ‘’ The public must be informed always’’. Edward Barney was the first to teach a public relations course at the NYU in 1923. Doris Fleisch, the wife of Edward Barney, made great contributions to the industry by encouraging the entry of women into the industry (Letwin, 2000, 2).

Public relations can be defined as a function of management that helps to establish and maintain mutual lines of communication between an organisation and the public (Watson, 2002, 2). It involves the cultivating of favourable relations for corporate and its products and public perception.

Public relations as an industry is a very complex one involving aspects of detailed research, publicity exercises, aspects of strategic management, development fundraising, management of emerging issues, member or employee relations, organisation of special events and the participation of the public ( Seitel, 2011, 20).

An organisation in today’s business world cannot operate in a vacuum. Maintaining a favourable relationship with the communities in which the organisation works in is crucial. A company that engages in public relations has a lot to gain. For instance, it is a form of promotion that is held in high regard. A company that engages in public relations ensures that the targeted market gets adequate information than would be offered in any other form of promotion (Information centre, 2009, 2).

Tobacco Companies Public Relations

Tobacco companies in the United States seem to have engaged in a series of corporate sponsorship and advertising initiatives. These are aimed direct at the sale of tobacco product. The intention of these drives was to cultivate a favourable image in the eyes of the public and especially to the consumers and to the society in general.

Following the Master Settlement agreement of 1988 corporate public relations has become of an increasing importance to Tobacco companies not just in America but in the world over (cancer control center, 2010, 179).

These companies are interested in influencing public perception to their advantage as well as encourage public interest in the companies’ operations. This helps to increase corporate brand visibility among the targeted consumers and to the market at large. Corporate social responsibility as a strategy by the tobacco companies involve a number of initiatives.

These initiatives include involvement in activities where communities are set to benefit, donating to a worthy cause, as well as supporting causes for the minority. This in today’s world has been referred to as ‘’Corporate Social Conscience’’ (Litwin, 2000, 4).

Websites of these tobacco companies intentionally seek to address a number of issues with regard to corporate social responsibility. In the marketplace today, companies that intend to stay in business and make profits should realize that public relations is a necessity. Corporate advertising for the tobacco industry has been practiced for many years although in the recent past corporate image campaigns have been integrated more extensively (Watson, 2002, 3).

In October of 1999, Philip Morris, a tobacco company in the United States of America, began its first campaign with the slogan ‘’Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris’’. This initiative portrayed the company as one that provides contributions for a big cause to community based organisations and also portrayed the image of a company that puts in an extra measure to stop the sale of cigarettes to the underage (Litwin, 2000, 4).

In 2003 the company directed the public to its website on information about preventing smoking in minors, the effects of smoking and help for those who wanted to drop the habit Corporate advertising has been used increasingly by Philip Morris than another competitor, Marlboro. In the recent past, there has been a call for increased research with more insight with regard to the public image of tobacco companies.

A number of issues have to be addressed that includes:

Improving of public perception of tobacco companies
Effects o corporate social responsibility on the jury perceptions
Effects on the sales of quitting tobacco products based on the public’s perception

Public Perception of Tobacco Companies

In the past, the public has had a negative attitude towards the tobacco industry, although after a close analysis the public opinion of individual Tobacco companies is not a uniform one with all the players in the industry. The four largest cigarette manufacturers in the United States include Philip Morris, R.J Reynolds, the Lonllard company and the famous Liggett Group. Very few Americans can directly link the companies to their products in the market.

Litigation that is continually increasing in the last couple of years this coupled with the general negative attitude by the public towards the tobacco industry players. This is a challenge that the industry players have to deal with. A number of multibillion lawsuits have been filed against these companies that has led to a dent in the effort to change the public’s attitude towards the companies (cancer control center, 2010, 182).

In general, the public tend to develop a negative attitude towards these companies and see the companies as providing the public with wrong information about their products. This has been due to the lack of awareness by the public in general, about the tobacco industry players and linking one company to its products in the market (Cancer control centre, 2010, 183). Jurors have in the past slapped tobacco companies with damages awards that has affected the performance of the companies and also damaged its reputation.

With this background of this, unfavorable aspects of the industry corporate have sought to build a corporate brand image. This is an effort to strengthen as well as to influence the corporate image through the eyes of the public. In order to achieve this a number of tools that have to be used, which includes press releases, events sponsorship, lobbying, public interest activities and media, releases. Using market media to not only promote positive image of the product but to also enhance and seek to improve the corporate image.

Corporate Sponsorship

Sponsoring social causes such as sports events, arts exhibitions and galleries, entertainment events and so on is a communication tool often used by corporate world over. This is often referred to as event marketing used by corporate to build brand equity. Companies invest in this initiatives to increase brand equity.

Sponsorship as a tool for communication is generally perceived by the public favourably especially in relation to the product. In the last couple of years, tobacco companies have spent millions of dollars to sponsor social causes in an effort to build brand equity.

Corporate sponsorship is encouraged as companies believe that:

The public is encouraged to show interest in the company as well as the company’s products
Promote beneficial associations with other companies as well
The public can identify a company and the company’s products in the market, for a tobacco company, the company’s name is popularized amongst among those in attendance
Strengthen the corporate entity as being identified with a particular market
The public perceives the company as being aware of social issues affecting communities
Companies have a forum to provide support for community development.
Corporate sponsorship increase opportunities to promote the companies products

Generate exposure by the events being covered by the media, which indeed leads to an even larger audience beyond only those who attended the sponsored event (Cancer control centre, 2010, 185).

Corporate brand image association are strengthened when corporate openly engage the public by sponsoring social events. In the past decade, tobacco company sponsorship has been in the interest of educational youth programs and community events.

a) Tobacco Companies Sponsorship and Consumers Attitudes

Corporate sponsorship especially tobacco companies, has been an interest of many researchers. It has been discovered that sponsorship in other related industries has had the effect of creating a positive feedback in relation to consumer trends. Social responsibility gives a company a competitive edge because of its good reputation in the eyes of the public (cancer control centre, 2010, 187). This has been used in many markets to set companies apart.

Once the public views the public as a pioneer and a trendsetter in its social responsibility policies and this is integrated in the company’s marketing strategy it works in the company’s favor. Just as corporate social responsibility is viewed as a positive thing for a company, the reverse has the opposite effect.

Tobacco companies face the challenge that some organisations do not wish to be associated with them. Such organisations cite two reasons: one, the companies would not want to be associated with a tobacco company because it is perceived to undermine its objective to improve overall general health. Two, the organisations are concerned about their reputation if it is involved publicly with a tobacco company will damage the organisations reputation.

b) Corporate Advertising

In an effort to improve, the company’s image companies engage in corporate advertising. Unlike corporate sponsorship, corporate advertising aims to enhance the company’s reputation as a great law abiding citizen, influence public opinion of the organisation (Cancer control centre, 2010, 189). This takes the approach of a clear and well directed persuasive deal that intend to show that sponsorship is positively but it affect the public at large.

Indirect advocacy employed in corporate advertising and seeks to characterize the organisation as one that is serving public interest and its activities are aimed at providing solutions. Various campaigns of tobacco companies such as youth smoking advertisement ( Cancer controls centre, 2010, 192).


Public relations as a function of management is an important component of any company that seeks to stay in business in today’s market. Public relation as a discipline is continually evolving and shaping the face of corporate America.


Cancer Control Centre. (2010). Tobacco companies’ Public Relations Efforts: Corporate Sponsorship and Advertising. P. 172_189

Information centre. (2009). History of Public Relations. Available from [Accessed on August 14, 2011]

Litwin, L. (2002). The Practice of Public Relations. Available from [Accessed on August 14, 2011]

Seitel, F. P. (2010). The Practice of Public Relations: New Jersey. Prentice Hall-Pearson

Watson, T. (2002). History of public Relations. Available from


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