Three lessons from American history for PR success

Jul 03

Written by Mary Wood

Most organizations know the importance of a solid public relations strategy. A good strategy is long term and looks into the future to predict trends, obstacles, and company happenings. While businesses typically make a practice of looking to the future when developing public relations strategies, there are lessons from the past that are worth taking into consideration.

Throughout American history, individuals and organizations, like the United States Army, were utilizing public relations efforts before the term was even defined. These efforts were used to build trust, credibility, and rally support around issues and movements. Below are three public relations best practices explained through historical events.

Develop your message

During World War II, the government’s main messages included recruitment, financing, and unifying the American people to support the war. This was accomplished through a number of promotional tools such as posters, radio advertisements, and movies. There were even slogans incorporated into these efforts, such as “Loose lips might sink ships,” and “We can do it!” from the notable Rosie the Riveter. Through cohesive messaging, the government was able to unite the American people behind the war effort, making the war more widely supported and funded.

  • Why it matters: Key messages are the core of what businesses want their target audience to remember. When messages are consistent, there’s a greater chance for the audience to absorb the message quicker and more accurately. During WWII, messaging was tailored and utilized across multiple channels to reach the target audience in different ways, but the core message remained the same. This same idea can be applied today when developing messages for different social media channels, marketing materials, press releases, and overall branding efforts.

Gather support

Thomas Paine’s widely published pamphlet Common Sense led eight colonies to support independence by January 1776. Shortly after, the Continental Congress agreed it was time to assemble and act as one. The drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and later the Constitution, was done by all 13 states, and each had interests at stake. Although the first draft of the Constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation, did not hold for long, it clearly represented the interest of all colonies. Most importantly, it highlighted what was essential to them: holding their own local governing bodies, while not under the control of an overbearing federal government.

  • Why it matters: Gathering supporters and coming together on projects with clients is crucial to accomplish any goal and to gain valuable attention. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet was widely circulated and truly launched the idea of independence for the colonies. Once the initial idea of independence spread, it generated discussion, support, and new ideas (e.g. the Constitution and Declaration of Independence). When there are more supporters around an issue, it increases its credibility and the likelihood of ideas and plans being transitioned into actions. Organizations today should ensure they are active members of their communities, working with key stakeholders and consumers to garner support and buy in to their company’s goals, values, and mission.

Be creative

During the Civil War, Union troops used hot air balloons to spy on the Confederate Army. From such a high vantage point, troops in the balloons were able to see Confederate soldiers as far as a day’s march away and prepare accordingly. The first hot air balloon was called the Union, constructed by Thaddeus Lowe, and flew up to 1,000 feet to spy on Confederate troops in Virginia. Union troops were able to accurately fire at Confederate troops without actually seeing them when they had no way of doing so before.

  • Why it matters: Businesses should always be looking for ways to creatively differentiate their communications efforts. Sometimes it takes looking at something through a different vantage point to come up with a new and unique idea. There are a multitude of different ways to be creative in public relations. For instance, writing a pitch from a creative angle is the best way to get your story noticed by a reporter. Or, if you are looking to reach different generations (e.g. Baby Boomers and Generation Z) in your target audience, you could place your message in different mediums that each audience tends to utilize most. Organizations should take advantage of the different perspectives of each of their team members. Scheduling regular brainstorms will give your team the chance to bounce around out-of-the-box ideas.

These are just a few lessons that can be gleamed from American history. Don’t stop there – what lessons has your organization learned from past communications efforts? Did your campaign reach its goals? If so, how? Taking a regular look at your metrics may present a new perspective of an ongoing campaign or ongoing communications efforts.

LS2group has a proven record in public relations and communications strategies for clients in a variety of sectors. Let us help you develop an effective public relations strategy. Learn more at