Although Edward Bernays is often characterized (largely through self-promotion) as the “father of public relations,” most serious PR practitioners consider Arthur W. Page to be the first and most influential apostle of modern-day public relations and corporate communications.
From 1927 to 1946, Page served as a vice president and director at AT&T, and his many contributions to the profession are recognized today as namesake of The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication – a research center at Penn State’s College of Communications – as well as the Arthur W. Page Society, whose members are corporate chief communications officers or senior officials at public relations agencies.
Page’s most lasting legacy, however, may be the seven rules of PR management, known as the Page Principles, that he espoused:
- Tell the truth. Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of the company’s character, ideals and practices.
- Prove it with action. Public perception of an organization is determined 90 percent by what it does and 10 percent by what it says.
- Listen to the customer. To serve the company well, understand what the public wants and needs. Keep top decision makers and other employees informed about public reaction to company products, policies and practices.
- Manage for tomorrow. Anticipate public reaction and eliminate practices that create difficulties. Generate goodwill.
- Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it. Corporate relations is a management function. No corporate strategy should be implemented without considering its impact on the public. The public relations professional is a policymaker capable of handling a wide range of corporate communications activities.
- Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions — good or bad — about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee — active or retired — is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials.
- Remain calm, patient and good-humored. Lay the groundwork for public relations miracles with consistent and reasoned attention to information and contacts. This may be difficult with today’s contentious 24-hour news cycles and endless number of watchdog organizations. But when a crisis arises, remember, cool heads communicate best.
Practicing and aspiring public relations executives would be well-served to keep a copy of these timeless Page Principles on the wall, or at least in their desk’s top drawer.
Life-long students of PR craftsmanship will also enjoy and benefit from reading the acceptance remarks from the Page Society’s Hall of Fame recipients, and from watching the videos from the Page Center’s collection of oral histories given by some of the profession’s most noteworthy PR practitioners from the past and present. Notably, the Page Center’s website also contains a great number of Page’s speeches and writings.