Public Relations Review 36 (2010) 1–6
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Public Relations Review
The original bailout of US corporations: The public relations bailout
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Princes Highway, Warrnambool, Victoria 3280, Australia
Received 2 August 2009
Accepted 11 October 2009
More than a trillion of taxpayer dollars are currently being used to bail out the US banking,
mortgage and car industries. This invokes an interesting connection to public relations the
last time drastic US government involvement with corporations was contemplated. This
pre-First World War crisis of the free enterprise system involved a deﬁcit not of money
but of favourable public opinion. The requirement was for vast amounts of public opinion
and public policy work by a reported at least 1200 – what were at that time called – press
agents. This was the period when public relations emerged as a fundamental plank of US
and ultimately of global culture. The thesis of this article is that many aspects of the world
we live in cannot be properly understood without a better analysis of the ﬁrst bailout of US
corporations—the public relations bailout.
© 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This article is premised on the understanding that public relations practice as we know it today originated in the United
States in the early 20th century largely as described by Cutlip (1994), Hiebert (1966) and Bernays (1965, 1952). However it
argues that these and other accounts tend to leave out a whole other dimension of both the birth and the success of public
relations in this era. This dimension is the macro-political dimension. This article will suggest that de-politicisation takes
place in accounts because of the very raison d’etre of public relations at the time of its origin. An allegation can be made
that this de-politicisation obfuscates public relations’ history in a way which restricts proper intellectual and academic
appreciation of the subject. Such a denial of critical insights perpetuates the challenge to the bona ﬁdes of public relations
as a university subject.
2. The emergence of public relations—the conventional story
Public relations textbooks tend to naturalise the emergence of public relations as a logical development to do with
efﬁciency and democracy. The emergence was a common sense progression which no reasonable person would think of
questioning or opposing. Writers explain the emergence of the practice like this: although it was expanding, big business
was not as efﬁcient as it could be because it was not taking account of the views of the wider sweep of the American public.
Some of the effects of brash big business operations were antagonising people and causing a political, labour and commercial
backlash. Public relations poured balm on this inﬂammation to the beneﬁt of everyone. The protesting publics and politi-
cians were given a better insight into the difﬁculties and the value of the corporations. At the same time the corporations
were made more aware of what it was they were doing which was unnecessarily antagonising people. Corporations were
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