The Washington State University Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter is named after 45-year Northwest public relations leader Jay Rockey. liuyfRockey, a 1950 graduate of the Department of Speech Communication at Washington State University, began his career serving as public relations and advertising director for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. After the success of the World’s Fair, Rockey opened the doors to his own Seattle firm Jay Rockey Public Relations, later named The Rockey Company.
Rockey later expanded his firm into a regional leader, adding offices in Portland, Ore. and Spokane, Wash. Over the years the firm grew, serving local, national and global clients. In 2000, public relations firm Hill and Knowlton acquired Rockey’s regional firm. The Northwest division is now known as Rockey Hill and Knowlton.
In 2002, the Puget Sound Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established the Jay Rockey Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his commitment to the profession. Rockey served as president of the national PRSA chapter in 1976 and continues to serve as a member of the WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication Advisory Board.
Simon Bowers was the editor of the 50-year Puget Sound Chapter of PRSA as well as the history of the public relations profession, both published in 2007. These form the basis for below report. Several chapter members also participated in the history project.)
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the premier public relations professional organization in the U.S. with more than 16,000 members and hundreds of geographic chapters.
The PRSA Puget Sound Chapter ranks among PRSA’s 15 largest, boasting 350 members. The chapter began in Seattle in 1957 and has since expanded to include constituents throughout western Washington, growing with the profession and the region.
Puget Sound PR practitioners have played critical roles in the development of aerospace, computer software, telecommunications, retail, gourmet coffee and recreational gear. And like their national PR counterparts, they play increasingly important roles at corporations, government agencies, non-profits and educational institutions.
But where did all this begin? “Public relations is based on communications,” noted Benjamin Franklin, “which begins with understanding the audience.”
In its most basic form, public relations is simply an attempt at persuasion. Its earliest roots can be traced back to 1800 B.C. when farm bulletins in present-day Iran were used to influence farmers to use certain techniques. In 59 B.C., Julius Caesar made arrangements to publish a daily record of commentaries that were used to sway opinion of the Roman citizens. The Acta diurnal constituted a type of daily gazette and was one of the first regular publications.It lasted about 400 years.
Later use of public relations techniques demonstrated the importance of gaining the support and help of the public, and employing strategic methods to reach an optimum number of people while achieving the maximum results. For example, in the 1640s students from Harvard University developed literature for promoting the school and raising funds while traveling across England. In effect, they conceived what we now call the brochure, an innovation which helped convey their message to an audience with much less of a need for direct persuasive contact.
With the arrival of democratic forms of governance, the use of public relations became necessary; persuasion and influence were viewed as essential tools to affect a desired outcome in a democracy. Public relations efforts were an important catalyst for the American Revolution and helped promote ratification of the U.S. Constitution, as well as being instrumental in the creation of new communities made possible by the railroad expansion around the turn of the century.
Early practitioners also developed public relations techniques to capture the imagination of the public. Phineas T. Barnum, credited as the master of all 19th century press agents, created waves of publicity stunts and massive press coverage. His efforts were so successful that the media today remains skeptical of anything suggesting commercial promotion.
Ivy Ledbetter Lee, one of the founders of modern PR, left a lasting influence on the profession by his belief in open communication with the media. He is generally credited with issuing the first press release for his work with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and is remembered as the man who convinced America that the Rockefellers were not heartless.
Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, is considered by many to be the “father of spin.” He invented techniques that are staples of today’s public relations career field. He is credited with convincing women to smoke by linking female smoking with women’s liberation, and with the making of bacon and eggs as an essential part of American breakfasts by using testimony of medical professionals.
Public relations continued to evolve with a rapidly changing society and growing business needs, thus further proving its necessity. It was only natural that a representative organization would follow.
Progress of public relations influencers did not go unnoticed in the late 1930s. This would eventually lead to formation of PRSA, but it would take the collaboration of several organizations created during those years to provide the foundation for a truly national group. They were the National Association of Public Relations Counsel, American Counsel of Public Relations and the American Public Relations Association. It took until 1947 for consolidation of these groups into one national organization.
Here is what the founders said about that development: “The Public Relations Society of America was born in a room on the second floor of the Lake Shore Club in Chicago. During four days in temperatures ranging from 99 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, six men had sweated out a constitution and bylaws, a set of principles, agreed on a name and had become friends.”
Official formation of PRSA, a national public relations society, was in February 1948 with 500 charter members in six charter chapters: Chicago, New York, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Detroit and San Francisco. The APRA, active in Washington D.C., initially declined to join the PRSA at that time, but did so in 1961, bringing the membership to 825.
But long before the Puget Sound had its own PRSA chapter, and even before PRSA was founded, there was a local group interested in talking about public relations. In 1946, John C. Grover of Foster & Kleiser and Paul G. Weaver, public relations director of the American Legion in Washington state, decided to form an organization of local PR practitioners. It was named the Public Relations Round Table, with an active schedule if meetings and programs.
In 1956, a group from PRRT met with Ned Weiner, PRSA director-at-large, to discuss the possibility of starting a Puget Sound Chapter of PRSA. Leading the way was Erle Hannum, of the PR Round Table, who was general information manager for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph.
The Pacific Northwest chapter of PRSA, with 33 members from Seattle to Portland, was inaugurated on September 24, 1957, during a dinner meeting at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle. Elected officers were Hannum, president; Harold Gowing (Portland), vice president; Byron Christian, treasurer; and Joseph DeLeon, secretary.
In April, 1959, Portland members of the chapter petitioned and were authorized to form a separate chapter under the name Columbia River. It had grown steadily since.
The former Washington chapter, now called the Puget Sound chapter, numbers some 350 members, all in western Washington. The Society’s 16,000 members across the nation are part of a booming population.
To meet the growing regional demands for PR professional development, community and leadership, the Puget Sound chapter hosts a number of long-standing programs and annual events: Non-profit Seminar (18th year), Totem Awards (nearly three decades), PR jumpstart – a bridge to professionalism for graduating PR students, and several mentoring programs for new members. In 2002, the Puget Sound Chapter established the Jay Rockey Lifetime Achievement Award, bestowed at the annual Totem Awards, in honor of his commitment to the profession.
The society rests its case on a host of learning and training programs aimed at improving the practice, and those who practice, in a variety of ways.
Accredited in Public Relations (APR) is the key professional designation of the Society. Current and recent chapter presidents lead the regional PRSA community, now and into the near future. They are:
2007 David Blandford, APR
2008 Janelle Guthrie, APR
2009 Linda Farmer, APR
2010 Neil Neroutsos, APR
(The following are some personal memories of fellow PR practitioners.)
Jim Faber was a Seattle newsman (P-I) hired by the World’s Fair to be an early public relations consultant and deputy director. One assignment was to go to Washington and pin down Congressional interest in funding a space-age exhibit to complement the overall scientific theme. This, of course, was an on-going challenge – to give credibility to the Fair’s main claim as “America’s Space Age World’s Fair.”
There were many roadblocks in the Congress, but we had Senator Magnuson, and he and our Congressional team were working the problem. The scientific community was supportive as well for they had an eye on the USSR and its Sputnik adventure. Our scientists told Faber that if Seattle could develop something along the lines of a scientific world’s fair, “it might benefit both of us.” So the next day Faber went to the American Association for the Advancement of Science [ in Washington D.C.] to see the executive officer. As Murray Morgan reported in his book Century 21, Faber found the executive director, Dael Wolfle, to be a listener with little apparent interest in the Seattle theme presentation.
Finally Faber’s presentation began to run down. As he got up to leave, he said, “Well,Dr. Wolfle, I can see that you just don’t believe in our fair or have any interest in fairs, especially in our part of the country.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Faber,” said the scientist still unsmiling behind his horn-rimmed glasses, “I was born in Bremerton where my father became principal of the high school after he worked for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. I went to school with Ray Olsen (legislator and Century-21 supporter) and played baseball with (Governor) Art Langlie. I’ve been advocating a world’s fair of science for some time and I’ll be happy to cooperate with you.” Suddenly the world of science opened wide for Seattle!
So the top scientists in America agreed to come to Seattle and begin the process to plan for and support the U.S. Science exhibit, which today is, of course, the Pacific Science Center. And a colossal exhibit that ultimately came to the fair to support the space-age theme was the NASA exhibit which attracted Soviet and U.S. astronauts, and the U.S. space capsules, as soon as they all came back to earth during that busy period of space travel.Talk about box office! USA’s John Glenn! USSR’s Titov!
Lola Barden was public relations director of a prominent advertising and PR agency in Seattle, Pacific National, starting in 1940. She worked the western U.S, for her clients and won praise and awards for the results. She won honors from the Los Angeles Advertising Women three times from 1951 to 1957, competing against other publicists in 11 western states, Hawaii, Alaska and western Canada. She was indeed an early champion of public relations, working closely with her advertising and marketing agency collegues, covering an entire region…and winning.
Erle Hannum and Joseph DeLeon were leaders of the effort in the Pacific Northwest that managed to get a professional association up and running. Based in Seattle, they brought together prospective members into the Public Relations Round Table – eventually attracting the national PRSA to develop strong chapters in both Seattle and Portland. These chapters now form the nucleus of an organization that is growing apace among leaders across the U.S.