The use of public relations always existed in politics, throughout history. In old Greece, public speaking became the staple of political life. In Rome, conquerors used rhetoric inspiring men to win wars. In France, revolutionists used the power of influencing the public to overthrow the monarchy.
Even in England, Kings and Queens hired playwrights to write pieces showcasing them only as they wished the public to see. This more subtle form of PR remains popular in politics. For example, the current President and First Lady spend a lot of time working with popular media outlets to stay in touch with the Millennials who support them.
A more important development in the role of PR in politics, however, is not just the use of PR. It involves the fact that politicians and political parties now hire experts in the field to run their campaigns and manage their reputations.
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Changes in Leadership
Historically, most leaders rose to power by birth or a high level of charisma. Many leaders – good and bad – were known for their charismatic nature, including Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama.
However, charisma and birthright alone no longer give leaders full power to rule. Leaders now have checks and balances in place, forcing decision making into a more bureaucratic process. Also, as democratic countries must consider public opinion, rulers need to work at convincing the public to support their cause. As a result, leaders need additional assistance from experts to help them achieve their goals.
Relating to the Grassroots
While there have been many exceptions, the vast majority of people who make it big in politics are not in sync with the public. Many come from prominent and wealthy families, breezed through law school without debt, and built up an impressive resume right out of college without being hindered by a lack of experience. This is not the typical experience of the public.
This difference in shared experiences between the people who lead, and the people they want to follow them, sometimes makes it difficult to connect. As a result, politicians rely on experts with a better idea of what the grassroots wants to hear, and what will get the best response.
The 24/7 Media Cycle
In the past, often what was well known in one part of the country, did not reach other areas. This allowed officials to contain news before it spread. In today’s media, any message can be distributed to billions of viewers with one click of a button.
This gives government officials more to track as messages reflect on public images, the political party as a whole, and agendas they may be trying to push. As a result, politicians often need experts who can spend the necessary time focusing on this aspect, so leaders can govern the country and win campaigns.
Though the use of rhetoric and other forms of public relations has almost always played a role in politics, it has become more systematically entrenched. Political leaders not only need PR experts now to help manage their reputation, but to help them connect with the common man while they focus on the more important task of running a country.