From papyrus to pixels: the history of PR and marketing

In today’s hyper-connected world, we’re bombarded with advertisements, social media and influencer campaigns, and brand messaging at every turn. But how did we arrive at this point? Public Relations (PR) and marketing have undergone a fascinating evolution over the centuries, adapting to changing societal norms, consumer behaviours, technological advancements, and economic landscapes. From humble beginnings to multi-billion pound industries, the history of PR and marketing is a tale of innovation.


Ancient persuasion

Let’s throw it way back to ancient civilisations. It was here that the art of persuasion first took root. From Egyptian hieroglyphs promoting goods to Roman political speeches designed to sway public opinion, early societies recognised the power of communication. These initial forms of communications laid the foundation for the future evolution of PR and marketing.


The printing press and propaganda

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century sparked a communication revolution. This paved the way for the distribution of information on a mass scale in the form of newspapers, pamphlets and posters. With the proliferation of printed materials, businesses and governments seized the opportunity to engage in promotional activities to help shape public perception.


Industrial Revolution: the rise of mass production and advertising

The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries brought about unprecedented changes in manufacturing and commerce. Mass production enabled the widespread availability of consumer goods, leading to the emergence of advertising. Advertising agencies began to appear, offering strategic planning and creative services to businesses seeking to enhance their market presence.

While PR practitioners honed their craft, technological innovations were reshaping communication channels. One such innovation was the fax machine. The concept of facsimile transmission dates back to the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that fax machines became commercially viable. Fax machines marked a milestone in the evolution of PR practices as they allowed professionals to distribute press releases, media kits, and other materials to journalists and stakeholders with speed and efficiency. This newfound immediacy allowed for rapid responses to breaking news, facilitating timely communication.

Photography facilitated the creation of visually captivating advertisements, while the expansion of newspapers and magazines provided platforms for reaching a broad audience. Brands were now able to build a reputation and credibility through stories sold into newspapers.

The digital revolution

The creation of the internet in the late 20th century ushered in a new era of marketing. Suddenly, brands had access to vast digital landscapes where they could engage with consumers on a more personal, but also global, level.

The term Digital Marketing was first used in the 1990s and shortly after in 1995, Yahoo web search was created. Then in 1998, Google was born. Soon, social networking sites began to emerge. With the arrival of the first social networking site, MySpace, which was followed by Facebook, businesses realised with these resources they could take new approaches to promote their brand. This unveiled a whole new side to communications by capitalising on social networking platforms. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter became virtual playgrounds for marketers, offering unprecedented opportunities for targeted advertising and real-time customer feedback.

When accessibility to the internet and technology improved, we saw the emergence of the first forms of digital PR. This included outreaching stories and more creative or data-led campaigns to websites, online news sites and online magazines, which accelerated the pace at which PR information could be relayed.

Previously, there wasn’t any opportunity to react or engage with businesses if you saw their PR or marketing material. However, the internet changed that with the advent of blog comments, emails, instant messaging, and more. It was this connection between customers and the general public that made PR and marketing even more important.

The present

With an estimated 5.35 billion internet users in 2024, the internet has enabled marketing and PR to reach people across the globe, making brands hugely influential in today’s society. From mainstream media through to very niche blog sites and forums, in some ways, it has never been easier to speak to your target audience.

PR and marketing show no sign of slowing down and the internet is easily the most prominent platform for this process. Traditional methods like radio and newspapers are still used, but the internet is dominating the media landscape.



From the ancient market squares of antiquity to the digital highways of the 21st century, the history of PR and marketing is a demonstration of the power of persuasion. As technology continues to evolve and consumer preferences shift, one thing remains constant: the need for brands to tell compelling stories that resonate with their audience. The history of PR and marketing is not just a chronicle of campaigns and slogans, it’s a reflection of who we are as a society and how we communicate with the world around us.