Swearingen Communications Insights

Fresh ideas, seasoned perspectives, and solid marketing strategies to keep you grounded and growing.


From the American Revolution to Presidential Races, PR Abides

The presidential primaries are unfolding.  What better time to explore a bit of the history of Public Relations in America, dating back to the Colonial period?

Did you know that the “Federalist letters,” written to the newspapers in 1787-88 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, have been described as one of history’s most effective public relations campaigns? (Source: The Accreditation Sourcebook, 1995, Public Relations Society of America.)  This “propaganda” urged the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

The American Revolution is a fine example of a 13-year effort which incorporated many elements of a successful PR campaign. According to Scott Cutlip, Ph.D., leading revolutionary, Samuel Adams, rallied a fervent band of followers to revolt against the British oppressors.  He deployed many classic PR tactics toward this end.

Cutlip points out Adams’ use of:

  • Symbols, such as the Liberty Tree
  • Slogans, such as “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny”
  • Staged events to capture public opinion, such as the Boston Tea Party
  • Creating special organizations to plan and carry out actions, such as The Sons of Liberty
  • The importance of getting ahead of a story, e.g., the quickly circulated pamphlet telling of “The Horrid Boston Massacre”
  • The necessity of a sustained campaign, incorporating all of these techniques. It took the revolutionaries 13 years to prevail against Britain

So now, the presidential primary campaigns are locked and loaded.  Most of us are steeling ourselves for the onslaught. Perhaps a more lighthearted response is to study and spot the classic PR moves among the various candidates.  While the players will change, smart PR tactics are timeless.

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