I’ve been reading Jacquie L’Etang’s long-awaited history of Public Relations in Britain.
It tells a compelling story of a long, slow struggle towards professional respectability, punctuated by familiar attempts to distance professional PR from the publicists, to fend off attacks from journalists, and to reconcile the distinct needs of consultancy and in-house practitioners. Reading this, it sometimes feels we’ve not travelled far at all.
As a history, I feel she’s too quick to impose current perspectives on the study of the recent past. It wasn’t only public relations that was a boys’ club back in the 1950s – so were most professions and most of public life. And she misses an early episode that I would have included: the enlightened decision by oil company Shell to sponsor the Shell county guides and to enlist John Betjeman as series editor.
But this book makes an important and timely contribution to the curent debate on professionalisation in the year that the IPR has applied for Chartered Status. (Nor was my idea original: it seems that PROs were keen to distance themselves from the spivs long before I wrote this.)