If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity, or at least this is what Philip Kotler says. It is possible to sell information, technology services, leisure or the design of large transport infrastructures. The key to doing so goes through an apparently simple process: communicating it. In a business ecosystem in which areas such as Strategy, Finance or Innovation play a key role, it is of particular interest to rethink, what is the purpose of the Corporate Communication function? How and why does it arise? In the following lines, I outline the origins and evolution of the Communication, as well as why I consider Communication as a strategic area for organizations.
Let’s talk about Politics
The origin of corporate communication is in the United States
In particular, it is necessary to go back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, following the new industrial society, as reported in the report “Research on the Historical Evolution of Public Relations”. The aim was basically the same as today’s: to contribute to improving the image, positioning and public profile of politicians and organizations, although in this period there was more talk about public relations than communication.
One of the first references about the profession was found in the early years of the twentieth century by the hand of Ivy Ledbetter Lee, considered the “father of public relations”, who created in 1904 the first office of Public Relations in New York.
A graduate of Princeton, he worked for the coal industry and advised the great oil magnate Rockefeller after a strike at one of his companies, the “Colorado Fuel & Iron Company”. Another great pillar of this profession was Edward Bernays, who in the 20s applied the foundations of psychology to the development of public relations, and came to advise personalities such as Eisenhower or Reegan. Bernays, author of the considered first book of public relations “Crystallizing Public Opinion”, and nephew of Sigmund Freud, is considered one of the inventors of propaganda and advertising. A third relevant figure already in the 60s was Theodore Sorensen, who wrote the speeches for John F. Kennedy and coined, among others, the well-known phrase ‘Do not think about what your country can do for you, but what you You can make your country. ‘
These three personalities were largely the pillars that contributed to the birth of public relations and political communication as we understand them today. In this sense, it could be said that the profession was born more as a need for political advice than for business, but soon it would also become a strategic area for large organizations.
Let’s talk about Public relations
Already in the second half of the 20th century, after the Second World War, Communication experienced a great advance in the USA. This is due to the rise of the first international firms after the economic, political and social development of the country. The world of public relations and communication gave rise – as a consequence of economic globalization – a leap from politics to the business world. The large organizations began to observe that – thanks to the office of public relations – they could significantly improve their relationship with their main interest groups: investors, clients, politicians or associations. In particular, the role of advising in the public sphere, the elaboration of speeches – speechwriter – as well as the relationship with the media or the management of business crises were valued. And that is why this area was becoming – with feet of lead – a strategic area for large companies.
For its part, in Europe the first incursions of the profession are carried out in countries such as England, Holland or Germany. In Spain it is the young executive Joaquín Maestre – of the Barcelona advertising agency Danys – who introduces the term “public relations”. He did it after attending an advertising congress in the city of Antwerp. To date, in Spain, there was talk of “prestige campaigns”. In a study carried out by the University of Navarra, it is recorded that, in 1960, it is Joaquín Master who founded the Public Limited Spanish Public Relations Company. These foundations were followed later by other initiatives such as the Spanish Association of Public Relations (Barcelona) or the Spanish Public Relations Center (Madrid).
It would be already in 1974 when public relations enter the public university for the first time within the Advertising branch. And, until that decade, the economy in Spain does not have the necessary competitiveness to drive communication with capital letters. In parallel to the economic takeoff, the most significant milestone is the achievement of press freedom from 75, with the advent of democracy, which promotes the creation of new media, a greater investment in advertising and the first areas of communication in the companies.
Luis Abril, a former communication advisor for large corporations such as Telefónica – one of the first companies to have a communication department in Spain – points out that “communication as a function within an organization began as a protection tool against the first negative news. ” They were the 80s and criticism of large companies were a scandal How could palliate it? Hiring a person so that -as well described April-, “take us out of trouble with the press”. However, as the years go by, the sector becomes more professional and the first consultants begin to appear. The media begins to realize that companies reacted to their criticism, which led to the creation of the first exclusively economic and business information media. Another great impulse to the profession was when companies began to operate internationally and the demand for transparency on the part of the market was greater: it was at this moment that what we know as communication departments began to form.
Let’s also talk about Strategy
Today it is a commodity to affirm that every large company has a solid communication department linked to top management. From the “prestige campaigns” of the 50s we have gone on to the management of the reputation, the intangibles or the digital strategy. From the Spanish Public Relations Center of 1960, we have evolved to organizations such as DIRCOM or the Association of Consulting Firms in Public Relations and Communication. And it is that Communication in Spain has grown by leaps and bounds: today the sector that brings together the largest communication agencies in Spain invoices about 200 million euros, according to the report “PR 2018”.
As in everything, to analyze the present we must look to the past, and after this brief historical journey of the profession, it could be said that Communication and Public Relations are today more and more strategic functions in organizations. According to the report The State of Communication in Spain, “the communication directions are increasingly in charge of the first executive level of the organizations”, reporting to the presidency or CEO.
Likewise, one of the main priorities that we have before us, those of us who dedicate ourselves to this job, is to connect the communication strategies and the organization. In the future, the challenges of communication will not only be strategic, they will also be technological -like the use of big data- or the management of quality content. I’m sure we’ll reach them.