In February 1902, Siemens established the Central Office for Press Affairs to provide central coordination and management of information about the Siemens companies in Germany. This event, more than 115 years ago, marks the beginning of the company’s public relations work. Over time, the range of communications media has expanded vastly, until today it covers every medium, whether analog or digital.
But what did press relations work look like at the beginning of the 20th century? What was a public relations unit supposed to do, and how did its work change the company?
E. Neisser, the head of the Central Office, was supposed to personally maintain relations with editorial boards and journalists, write articles, and release them to the relevant publications. Besides providing information to representatives of the press, the staff was also responsible for watching the media and placing ads for the company. As a separate department, what was called the "Literature Bureau" (founded in 1900) was in charge of gathering, processing and forwarding product-related information and providing other technical services to the specialized technical and scientific media.
The growing significance that the company attached to the daily and business press is also reflected in the fact that individual employees’ publications now became subject to approval by their own department heads. Publications with content that involved the work of multiple departments had to be submitted to a seven-member Press Committee of the Managing Board.
At the Managing Board’s meeting on January 31, 1902, the decision was adopted to set up a single Central Office for Press Affairs for all our German operations, and to place this bureau under the central department.Circular of February 8, 1902
As part of the 1913 reorganization of the Siemens companies, the distinction already in place between central corporate press relations and sales-related press relations was reconfirmed and continued. Accordingly, the "Press Bureau," as the Central Office had now been renamed, was in charge of publishing the first magazine for customers, providing readers with information about all the fields in which Siemens operated. The first edition of these "Communications from the Siemens & Halske / Siemens-Schuckertwerke Companies," intended for both customers and the trade public, appeared in July 1913. But publication was halted barely a year later.
To establish closer connections with the daily press, in May 1922 Helmut Böttcher, an experienced outside journalist, took over managing the press bureau. Corporate management made use of the announcement of this staff change to point out once again that for the sake of a consistent, uniform corporate image with the public, "all transactions with publication editors […] must be conducted solely through the Press Bureau […]." In his capacity as head of the central press office, Böttcher also took over the editorship of the "Siemens Business Communications" – "Siemens Wirtschaftliche Mitteilungen" – which had been appearing since 1919. This was the forerunner of today’s "SiemensWelt."
The Press Bureau, which had been part of what was called the "Business Policy Department" since 1917, remained in existence into the 1960s. Over the years as Germany’s postwar reconstruction came to a close and the economy gradually transitioned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market, corporate communications steadily gained in importance as a way of clearly differentiating competing producers and products. Or as Gerd Tacke, the first President and CEO of Siemens AG, said in retrospect: the company started to realize "that some day its public relations work would all have to be seamlessly consistent."
That day came in July 1968. For the first time in the company’s long history, the founding of the Central Office for Information (ZI) established a central office to answer questions and supply information, where media representatives and interested members of the general public could get information about the entire company, whether for products, technical matters or business affairs. Coordinating and strengthening regional press and public relations work in Germany and around the world goes hand in hand with the aim of conveying a consistent, uniform, positive sense of the electrical equipment company to the public at large.
You might also find this interestingFurther information on this topic
Astrid Zipfel, Public Relations in der Elektroindustrie. Die Firmen Siemens und AEG 1847 bis 1939, Köln u. a. 1997 (in German only)