September 24, 1957, isn’t necessarily a date many Seattleites mark as memorable. There wasn’t a huge local celebration. There wasn’t a landmark news event. In fact, the average person probably couldn’t differentiate it from any other day that month.
But for several individuals in a meeting room at the Olympic Hotel, this day marked the beginning of a very important society; one whose members would touch thousands of public issues, business strategies, community celebrations, news events and media projects during the next 50 years.
This was the beginning of the Public Relations Society of America in the Northwest.
But long before the Puget Sound had its own PRSA chapter and even before PRSA was founded as a national organization, there was a local group interested in talking about public relations.
The formation of this group dates back to the summer of 1946, when John C. Grover, an account executive with Foster & Kleiser, and Paul G. Weaver, Public Relations Director of the American Legion Department of Washington, decided to form an organization comprised of local public relations practitioners.
Their idea easily gained acceptance with a group of local practitioners during a luncheon on September 26, 1946, at the former Washington State Press Club. Not long after, the group decided to organize on an informal basis and set up strict qualifications for membership. The new organization, called the Public Relations Round Table (PRRT) of Seattle, launched on December 2, 1946.
The organization held meetings twice a month, each being conducted as a round table discussion about public relations topics. The group operated in this fashion until late 1950, when they decided to formalize their structure and draft a constitution. The first board of officers adopted its constitution in December 1951. Outlined in the plans was one big change: quarterly dinners with invited speakers.
According to a 1956 publication by the PRRT, no effort was made to build a large membership through high-pressure promotions. The guiding principle of the organization’s progress was “to maintain high professional standards.” It had an eventual goal of including all qualified public relations people in the Seattle area.
It wasn’t until five years later that PRSA would be on the horizon. On November 15, 1956, a group from PRRT met with Ned Wiener, PRSA Director at Large, to discuss the possibility of starting a Puget Sound chapter of PRSA. Leading this group was Erle Hannum, General Information Manager for the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company.
Hannum managed most responsibilities associated with forming the chapter and continued to be the driving force until its inauguration.
The Pacific Northwest Chapter of PRSA, with 33 members from Seattle and Portland, was inaugurated on September 24, 1957, during a dinner meeting at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle. The elected chapter officers were:
Erle Hannum, President; Harold Gowing, Vice President; Byron Christian, Treasurer; Joseph DeLeon, Secretary; Byron Christiansen, National Representative.
The chapter initially hosted monthly meetings and rotated quarterly membership meetings between Seattle and Portland. But it didn’t forget its close ties to PRRT, and chose to hold its meetings immediately prior to the PRRT’s monthly meetings. The PRRT continued to meet for several years. Though the reasons for disbanding in the mid-1960s are unclear, it is likely that most of the members decided to be sole members of the larger organization, PRSA.
In April 1959, Portland members of the Pacific Northwest Chapter petitioned for and were authorized to form a separate Portland chapter under the name Columbia River Chapter. The Seattle chapter considered Puget Sound as the new name, but members voted for Washington State as the new PRSA chapter name. This was later changed in 1980.