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The purpose of this article is to sketch the main lines of influence on the development of public relations in Britain in the twentieth century concentrating on the period after the First World War until the formation of the Institute of Public Relations in 1948. The article sets the development of public relations within the context of the British political, social, economic and cultural. scene in a turbulent period of European history. Themes include responses to democracy and totalitarianism, propaganda and professionalisation which shaped the values of the public relations occupation in Britain. The significant contribution of local government officials and civil servants is explored first before reviewing the contributions of the private sector and of central government's various peacetime and wartime propaganda efforts. This is followed by a brief summary of the first steps taken towards professionalization.
Throughout the paper the terms 'propaganda' and 'public relations' are used as they were in the particular historical context. This sometimes means that the terms are used interchangeably which may appear to some either offensive or inaccurate. Nevertheless it seems historically more authentic to employ terms this way and such usage neatly points up the fact that the beginning of the professionalization process and formation of a professional body in 1948 signalled ever greater efforts to distinguish public relations from the increasingly pejorative term, propaganda. The fact that the term 'public relations' itself is falling into disrepute ('just a PR exercise') suggests there is a fundamental problem with the occupation and its standing and reputation in society. The evidence presented in this article shows that an attempt to distinguish contemporary practice or its aims (as stated by professional bodies) from historical origins would be quite misleading: contemporary rhetoric and discourse are clearly traceable to a range of activities early in the twentieth century.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PUBLIC RELATIONS AND BUREAUCRATIC INTELLIGENCE
Local government in Britain contributed to the development of public relations in terms of developing key concepts at an early stage, establishing a corps of public relations officers who formed the nucleus of those responsible for setting up the Institute of Public Relations and who had the administrative capacity to establish and manage such an organization. Finally they contributed in an important way to public relations ideology particularly in relation to concepts of professionalism in the articulation of their own strong public service ethos.
Local government in the UK entails the provision of a wide range of services for citizens including fire, police and health services, town and country planning, state education. While central government determines overall legislation, locally elected bodies implement policy within the constraints of their local budgets (partly raised directly from the local populace in the form of a property tax). The great Reform Act of 1832 and a raft of later social legislation increased the role and responsibilities of local government which had major implications for the recruitment, training and qualifications of officials. Nearly a century after the Reform Act had been passed the main issues facing local government and which were clearly fundamental to its credibility and legitimacy can be summed up as professionalism, ethics, communication and democratic accountability.
At the turn of the century virtually the most valued qualification in local government was that of the solicitor or attorney. Much depended on patronage and the ability to buy preferment and there were few opportunities for the diligent clerk to progress.(1) There were allegations of corruption and criticism of the lack of transparency in advancement and in 1905 the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO) was founded to lobby for local government officials' rights to pensions, salary scales, promotion by merit and appointment by open examination.(2) The debates and negotiations that followed signalled the beginning of professionalization for local government clerical and administrative staff.
In addition to developing a curriculum for a Diploma qualification NALGO took as its major role the responsibility for educating the wider public about local government and its role in society. In particular there was much public hostility to be overcome, a legacy of the nineteenth century form of local government which tried to control the local community rather than serve its welfare needs.(3) The second General Secretary of NALGO (1909-1943) Levi Clement Hill, was quick to appreciate the necessity of public relations and in 1922 suggested that every branch should have a Press correspondent and a publicity committee. Hill's ideas were resisted and only in 1932 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed immediate cuts in local government spending was there agreement to Hill's proposal that there should be a full-scale 'publicity campaign to counteract the propaganda which is seeking to write down the value of public administration'.(4) The publicity campaign which followed included a range of activities leading up to the centenary of local government in 1935 such as a letter-writing campaign to the press, commissioned articles and pamphlets distributed to the press and Members of Parliament, a centenary book and an essay competition, exhibitions, mentions of 'Civic Sunday' in churches, a Times supplement and a series of open lectures on public administration in universities specialising in the field such as Glasgow School of Social Study, Liverpool School of Social Sciences and Administration, London School of Economics, Southampton University College, Aberystwyth University College and Cardiff University College.(5) On the internal communications side there was a centenary cruise for 500 NALGO members around the Baltic to observe how local government operated in other countries.(6)
Such activities and the analysis and discussion that preceded them would not have had much impact were it not for the fact that the public relations concept had already received substantial attention in the journal Public Administration, first published in 1923 by the newly established (1922) Institute of Public Administration. Both the Institute and the journal were of significance in establishing public administration on a more professional footing. While the journal covered a wide range of topics,
Publicity and public relations received much attention both in their own right and as issues cited in articles covering many other diverse topics ... Between 1923 and 1942 seventeen articles were published dealing specifically with publicity and propaganda, and another twenty-three addressed general relations with the public.(7)
Those contributing to the Journal demonstrated self-awareness of the interest in public relations, for example in 1935 Simey noted that from the first issue in 1923 there had been,
... a succession of able articles, concerning Public Relations, a subject hot from the oven, or perhaps still in the mixing bowl.(8)
At the outset the aims of the Institute of Public Administration were identified as the development of local and national public service 'as a recognised profession' and 'promotion of the study of Public Administration'. These aims thus implied the necessity for publicity and lobbying activities. More detailed objectives specified included,
To maintain the high ideals and traditions of the Public Service and promote the professional interests of Public Servants ... To facilitate the exchange of information and thought on administrative and related questions ... the creation of a well-informed public opinion concerning those services, to provide opportunities for the acquisition and dissemination of useful information ... To promote good relations ... To keep members and the public constantly informed ...(9) (Present author's underlining).
These aspirations are of considerable interest as explicitly or implicitly they require planned communications to achieve them. The new Institute was clearly seen as having a major rhetorical function on behalf of its members as well as encouraging networking between members. Thus its most important role was communicative.
The term 'public relations' was seen quite literally as relations with the public and the role of providing information. The concept of 'intelligence' was seen as a complementary. role responsible for information gathering and distribution both between an organization and its publics and within the organisation. As can be seen in the following extract, external and internal intelligence performed a rudimentary function of issues management,
The need for an external intelligence service arises as soon as a department realises that it is not necessarily the receptacle of all knowledge, or the embodiment of all wisdom, about the subject it administers ... an external intelligence service may be a factor in legislation. The nature and sequence of legislative measures are political matters and are for governments to decide, but an effective intelligence service may well result in influencing shape [of policy] ... intelligence officers should be expert at the art of laying their hands on technical and other information and of ensuring ... that those outside the department technically qualified ... are brought to ... the department when required. This function of an intelligence service merges with public relations ... Internal intelligence ... is to secure the ready availability to the department as a whole of all internal information ... maintaining the articulation of all the several parts of the machine by a free flow of information about policy, progress, decisions and procedures....(10)
The evidence in Public Administration suggests that by the 1930s there was, within central and local government, an understanding of the importance of good public relations to facilitate smooth administration. Achieving 'understanding' between the populace and local government began to be seen as of intrinsic importance to the job of administration and to the improvement of democracy 'to build up public understanding and appreciation of the services rendered to them and thus obtain goodwill'.(11) Writing in Public Administration in 1931, academic Herbert Finer defined the relationship between officials and the public as 'the problem of the twentieth century'(12) and argued that political scientists who had previously 'concerned themselves with the relationship of parliamentary bodies to the executive, all in the background of classical democratic theory'(13) had been forced to recognize that 'the extension of state activity [led to] direct contacts between citizens and officials [and that these were] inevitable, necessary and desirable'.(14)
Officials must learn to communicate clearly and to be approachable as well as capable of servicing the organization's information needs to support the development of policy. It was argued that,
Public authorities ... cannot remain the mysterious, impersonal bodies that most of them once were, and many of them still are. The duty of the department is now to lead, to inspire confidence, to advise, to encourage; it should not adopt a purely passive role, forbidding, warning, helping only those who are persistent or courageous enough to extract what they desire from reluctant bureaucrats. Public authorities in the twentieth century must go out to meet the public on its own ground, find out what is wanted, and forestall needs before they are expressed or even felt.(15)
Internal public relations was seen as the 'psychology of administration'(16) responsible for developing 'good human relations'.(17) Thus, even at this early stage the understanding of public relations within public administration was both a strategic and a technical role.
The Second World War presented many challenges for local government especially in London and other centres of population that had to prepare for and react to aerial bombardment. Local authorities had to deal with the effects of bombing on people's lives, the essential public utilities, housing, and hospitals and also to organize the evacuation and reception of children, provision of shelters, identity …