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What Do You and Ben Franklin Have in Common?

Posted At: October 17, 2012 1:50 P.M.
by Kristin Nelson

“Those who are leaders recognize that public relations is grounded in democracy and the democratic process, where everyone has an opportunity to speak, to be heard and to debate…and to reach some kind of compromise or understanding. That is what fundamentally characterizes public relations.” -Betsy Plank

This perspective of leadership comes from an interview on The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations website, which I watched recently for a class assignment. Betsy Plank reinforced the idea that people have a voice, and as PR professionals, our job is to convey that voice to leaders and facilitate communication between the two.

Plank’s passion for the founding fathers and the history of our country was rooted in their PR potential. Even though it wasn’t referred to as “public relations” in the 1770s, the fathers of this country did much of the same work we do today in the PR profession.

Here are some similarities in the colonialists’ work and ours:

Persuasion and unification

The patriots in the 1770s had quite a task before them: they had to convince 13 distinctly different and divided colonies to agree on one governing body and to become a united nation. In order to do so, information had to be shared between the colonies and relationships had to be nurtured. Much like in a corporation today, it is important that employees at all levels communicate and work together in order to accomplish the goals of the organization. Although current professionals may work on a much smaller scale, their goals are similar to those of the colonialists in that persuasion and unification are necessary in order to motivate a group to accomplish its goals.

Providing a voice

Colonialists were experts at providing forums for communication to take place. Think of the publications that were sent out during the Constitution’s ratification process: The Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist articles, Common Sense, the Silence Dogood letters and all manners of newspapers. Information about a new country and defeating the British was rampant. Individuals in each colony had a way to obtain and distribute information. Newspapers were widely read and people knew how to have their voices heard.

Today, public relations professionals are responsible for providing similar forums for communication. It is arguably more challenging now because of niche-based news dissemination. One newspaper isn’t given to all; the way individuals obtain information is specialized. Still, PR practitioners must find a way to let the minorities be heard and to uphold the intentions of the freedom of the press for which our founding fathers worked hard to ratify.


A list of PR tasks and skills, whether from the 1770s or now, is not complete without mentioning writing. The leaders of the 13 colonies certainly had their writing work cut out for them: composing a Constitution is no easy task.

What type of writing skill is required to create a document that all 13 colonies would not only agree upon, but allow to govern their lives, their families and their future? It would be similar to writing guiding principles for a very large and powerful organization, except the Constitution would affect every individual in the country, not just employees in a corporation. Surely they were very capable and proficient writers, or the Constitution would not have been strong enough to survive the past 200 years.

The founders of this great nation established the United States of America by executing some pretty crafty PR work. As a public relations professional or student today, do you think you would have been up to the task?

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