Abstract: Public Relations Revolution after World War II: Counter-Organization and Transnationalism

David B. Sicilia


This paper explores two major transformations in the public relations industry following the Second World War: dramatic expansion in response to new challenges to corporate legitimacy; and the global diffusion of firms, knowhow, and practices from nations with leading PR firms to those with few capabilities. Scholars of PR history have chronicled the early development of public relations in the United State and Europe, but very few have examined the post–World War II decades. By the 1950s, leading firms in the most developed economies, especially the United States and United Kingdom, had regularized their management of corporate image. But in the 1960s and beyond, they sustained colossal new challenges to their legitimacy. Their existing public relations capabilities proved inadequate in a new setting, which increasingly privileged consumer rights, corporate social responsibility, environmental protection, and corporate transparency. In response, leading firms counter-organized massively, led by firms in industries that were sustaining the sharpest attacks. At the same time—and as part of the general rapid postwar spread of multinational enterprise—leading PR firms in the United States and Western Europe opened foreign offices at a rapid clip. The result was the swift dissemination of modern public relations organizations and practices throughout the developing world.