History of Public Relations with PRSA

Last week I had the honor of participating in a fascinating discussion about the history of public relations in Chicago, moderated by my good friend Ron Culp from DePaul University. More than 50 senior leaders of the Public Relations Society of America gathered at the historic Women’s Athletic Club of Chicago on Michigan Avenue.

When discussing history, there aren’t many better places to be. The club was founded in 1898, and is the oldest athletic club for women in the United States. It’s an absolutely beautiful place.

The trailblazers of PR in Chicago,Our discussion centered on some of the larger-than life Chicago leaders who played a critical role in shaping the PR profession. From industry pioneers like B.J. Mullaney and Larry Selz to titans like Dan Edelman, Al Golin and Phil Lesley, Chicago has long held a storied place in the annals of public relations history. These are some of the original story-tellers, and the legacy of their influence continues today.

Since founding The History Factory nearly 40 years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from many of the world’s leading communicators. One of the commonalities I’ve noticed in all of them is a reverence for history and how it can be used to enhance a story. From that, I’ve developed many of the values that now define The History Factory. My new book, Start with The Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto, explores the role of heritage at institutions like Brooks Brothers, introducing a new generation to their iconic role in influencing style, or with a relatively new company like Discover Financial in documenting its well-known history of industry-leading innovation.

Bridget Coffing, left, and Rich Jernstedt, right.

Bridget Coffing, left, and Rich Jernstedt, right.

I particularly enjoyed getting to share stories about trailblazing women in PR, including Betsy Ann Plank, commonly referred to as the “first lady of public relations,” and Lillian Scott Calhoun, who began her career doing PR for the Chicago Urban League before going on to become the first African-American woman to work in the Sun-Times newsroom.

These trailblazing individuals for many years made Chicago the first stop for organizations seeking world-class public relations representation. Special thanks to Bridget Coffing, recently retired from McDonalds and Rich Jernstedt, consultant to Porter Novelli for organizing this great event.