While it’s likely you are familiar with the famous act by the American colonists in 1773 known as the Boston Tea Party, here’s a quick refresher:
The American colonists believed Britain was unfairly taxing them to pay for expenses incurred during the French and Indian War. They also believed Parliament did not have the right to tax them because the American colonies were not represented in Parliament. As a result, they boarded the ships with the tea shipment one morning and dumped all the tea into the bay in non-violent protest. (1)
The tax on the tea was apparently marginal, but it was the idea of being taxed for something that they didn’t have a say in, among other previous taxes, that set the American people over the edge.
How were they set over the edge? How did the person working at the mill take off an important day of work to take part in a protest that would spark a revolution for freedom?
Some might say that Sam Adams, a man who understood what we would today call public relations, had a big part to play.
It’s no surprise that PR has been in practice since ancient times and evolved over its use in the world so therefore, the PR abilities Sam Adams used to spark a revolution is noteworthy.
A key-component of public relations is strategic communication and that is something that Sam Adams was a master at. His skill with writing led him to writing op-eds (denoting or printed on the page opposite the editorial page in a newspaper, devoted to commentary, feature articles, etc. ~1940s: shortening of op(posite the) ed(itorial page) that convinced people to fight for their freedom from England. Something that is “easy” for Americans to think with now in hindsight, but back then, these colonists were putting literally everything on the line to fight back against their oppressors. It would have taken some powerful words to achieve this type of reaction (2).
Sam Adams was even the man behind the branding, naming and logo design for the Sons of Liberty. He was putting a voice, communication and visual identity to the frustrations American colonists were having. He was noted to have an ability to inspire and had a keen eye for preparation and organization. These are all PR professional traits (3).
Additionally, Adams started up the first grass-roots committee, The Committee of Correspondents, to be represented as the intercolonial standing (permanent) provincial government if they were to overthrow British occupancy, as Adams knew that communication between the colonists and the government would be vital.
(By the way, in January 1748 Adams launched a newspaper, the Independent Advertiser, which he would publish until British authorities shut it down in 1775.) He also knew the power of the news.
While PR gained popularity as a profession in the 20th century, I continue to find moments in history that show that public relations has been in play since the dawn of civilization.