How we got to where we are today.
1970 was a year of change. It saw the end of the Adenauer era, student riots, the Baader-Meinhof group and Willi Brandt‘s ‘Warsaw genuflection’. It was the year the Republic came of age.
As democratic principles became increasingly firmly entrenched in the public mindset, calls for transparency, both in politics and in business, became louder. Propaganda was replaced by public relations, a concept that very few people had heard of at the time. This created a brand new market which, like many other markets before it, had its origins in the USA.
The young economist Werner vom Hoff, a former team leader at the renowned US public relations agency J. Walter Thomson in the late 1960s, sensed the change in Germany. People no longer implicitly trusted companies and organisations. That trust had to be earned, which was a brand new phenomenon.
Werner vom Hoff recognised that the time was right and founded a PR agency in Düsseldorf, naming it ‘Büro für Öffentlichkeitsarbeit und Wirtschaftspublizistik Diplom-Volkswirt Werner vom Hoff’. At that time there were only a handful of PR agencies in Germany, one of which was vom Hoff.
Werner vom Hoff was a pioneer with an entrepreneurial spirit and the agency got off to a very impressive start. Its first clients included the Federal Construction Ministry, the German Road Safety Council and Thyssengas.
In the early 1990s, Werner’s son Kai joined the agency team after graduating from university with a degree in economics and an internship. This marked the start of a new era. The agency, which had been strongly centred around Werner vom Hoff, positioned itself more broadly and employed additional consultants to share the workload. The focus increasingly shifted to the industrial sector, interdisciplinary teams were set up to collaborate on projects, and public affairs and crisis communication services were added to the portfolio.
Promoting trust is always based on trust
Many things have changed since the ‘gold rush era’ in the initial years after the agency was founded. There is more competition and specialisation, clients and agencies are more professional, we live in dynamically changing times and we’re on the brink of the digital age. But some essential things that haven’t changed.
On order to develop communications concepts that work, one still needs an excellent understanding of strategy. One must recognise what people really want. Without a concept and a strategy, communications are ineffective and short-lived. And one needs experience.
There is far more to public relations than just image polishing. Reputation is also a very significant aspect. Companies today cannot survive without it, so public relations must drive value and create value. If they fail on this count, they forfeit the trust that they need to operate successfully in their markets.
Public relations should therefore be placed in the hands of specialists with the necessary experience and knowledge, especially in a dynamic world like ours!