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Typically people have no idea what public relations is or what PR people do.  No, we are not all like Samantha from Sex in the City, nor do we just go around making sure celebrities’ pictures are in the best magazines.  PR is, in its most basic form, communicating a message strategically and effectively. It’s easy to site a case study about a Fortune 500 company or fashion designer to help demonstrate this, but I find the real fun is showing PR in a way you never thought about it before.

The world’s largest youth movement originated in the 1950’s with the Beatniks: young, artistic people who rejected the norms of conventional society. As the years progressed, the movement became more sophisticated.  Unbeknownst to these young outcasts, aspects of public relations began to take hold and their small existence amassed into what today is referred to as the Hippie Movement.

This movement of the 1960’s-1970s fostered a decade of love, sex, peace and recreational drugs. Being a hippie meant you were unconventional and stood firm against societal pressures. They supported anti-war protests, civil rights, and environmental consciousness. They knew that in order to make an impact and have their messages heard they had to increase their size and strength. Soon word of mouth blossomed into full blown public relations tactics.

These tactics included most famously the use of music. Artists such as The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley and Janis Joplin to name a few, made music with a message. These messages incorporated lyrics of peace directed toward American participation in the Vietnam War and lyrics of equality during the Civil Rights Movement. Songs like Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Puff the Magic Dragon became anthems laden with subtle influential messages.

Music set the tone as grassroots tactics came into play. Protests were prevalent. Hippies actively voiced their opinions in demonstrations and sit-ins every chance they could. Police officers were handed flowers and given hugs. Slogans that powered anti-society, freedom, and self-empowerment such as “think for yourself and question authority,” (popularized by Timothy Leary an American psychologist known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs) fueled unity and cohesion in the movement.

The summer of 1969 inarguably demonstrates the role of PR in the hippie movement. The “buzz” generated for Woodstock was so successful it attracted half a million people from all over the United States to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York. A community relations task force was put together to try and appease the negative pushback from the townspeople who were afraid the hippies were going to “cause riots and rob them.”  The task force held local press conferences and free events that focused on spreading positive messages about the music festival. Although these tactics proved to be unsuccessful, as the people of Bethel later voted to make it impossible for such a large event to ever take place again, Woodstock did happen and is now known as one of the most famous musical events to take place in America’s history.

The hippies had messages they wanted to spread to the world. Although they used unusual PR methods of execution and recruitment, they were effective. As a result, what started as a small group of societal rejects amassed into the world’s largest youth movement, impacting history in a way that will never be forgotten.