PR and the Birth of a Nation

Thomas Jefferson is believed to be the first to coin the term “public relations” in 1807, during the seventh annual address to the joint session of the U.S. Congress.  Jefferson faced rising aggressions with the British that would eventually lead to war. As the third President of a fledgling republic Jefferson understood that public perception was critical to success of a mass ideal and managing relations with constituents was a key component to his job.

The core tenets of “public relations” have not changed much in 200 years … except that the Internet has changed everything we know about communication.

Traditional media and traditional media relations are relics of a bygone era.  Internet communications, feedback and engagement have changed the game. 

PR now is about engaging audiences, expanding and focusing your digital footprint, and conducting media relations programs that account for the way reporters, editors, and producers think and work in today’s digital environment. 

Today’s environment requires engaging your audience in a two way conversation that builds trust, goodwill, and positive brand recognition. It is not a short-term fix. It is a lasting dialogue.

Jefferson might also be dubbed “The Father of Obfuscatory PR Babble” as he regaled the assembled newly-minted American dignitaries with the following (talk about waffling!):


This object is doubtless among the first entitled to attention in such a state of our finances, and it is one which, whether we have peace or war, will provide security where it is due. Whether what shall remain of this, with the future surpluses, may be usefully applied to purposes already authorized or more usefully to others requiring new authorities, or how otherwise they shall be disposed of, are questions calling for the notice of Congress, unless, indeed, they shall be superceded by a change in our public relations now awaiting the determination of others. Whatever be that determination, it is a great consolation that it will become known at a moment when the supreme council of the nation is assembled at its post, and ready to give the aids of its wisdom and authority to whatever course the good of our country shall then call us to pursue. – Thomas Jefferson, 7th annual message to Congress, October 27, 1807


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