Wednesday, June 01, 2016

PR’s Come a Long Way Since WWI

Wisconsin Veteran Museum logo
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is opening a new exhibit about the PR campaign run as the U.S. prepared to enter World War I. The new exhibit opened on May 27 and will run until March 1, 2017, called “The Art of Persuasion: Mobilizing the Masses in World War I.” On display will be 34 posters used for this purpose and distributed across Wisconsin and the nation, encouraging support for the war effort. Some of the posters encourage troop enlistments, some selling war bonds, and still others reflect a need to eat more of some items and less of others that would be in short supply.
At the time, many Americans were hesitant to enter a war on foreign soil, so the posters were used to shift that perspective. We may think that doing a PR campaign on mainly posters would not have a lot of effect, but it was a different time, long before television, the wild west was still pretty wild in some areas, and our nation was still highly agrarian. Posters could be mass produced and sent to be placed in the locations most likely visited by everyone … at the front of the general store, feed and supply stores, cafes, post offices, and the like. And because communities were often smaller and more social, every poster was bound to cause some conversation.

Today, when government wants to get the word out, it probably won’t be with a poster. Now there could be press conferences and some, or all, of one of those might be seen on various television stations, YouTube posts, shared on social media, and even notices about the talking points going out to constituents in the mail. Alternatively, if the concept or agency is well-funded, it might have ads created and run a full media blitz.

News reports with pertinent information can be used, such as public health or safety warnings if something hazardous, such as the Flint water crisis, happens. Conversations are less likely to be while standing around a new poster – instead, comments may flow freely on social media.

Many may remember not long after the 9/11 bombings, President Bush held a special press conference shown on all the television channels. That happened before social media became much of an issue, so people were talking about it in emails, in person, at any social gathering such as church, or an evening out. He told us something would happen, but that they would not rush headlong into battle. Rather, they would work to root out terrorism wherever it might be found.

In both eras, it’s about getting the word out quickly and effectively moving public opinion to match what the leaders feel will be best for the nation. The means have changed over the years, but the idea remains the same.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

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