Archive | PR history RSS feed for this section

Man on the moon

20 Jul

It was forty years ago today – and I remember watching the moon landing on TV (there was little else on in those black and white days).

Here are the PR aspects of the story:
  • Putting man on the moon in that decade was a commitment made by John F Kennedy in 1961 (his inaugural year as president).
  • The space race was the acceptable face of the cold war arms race, mirrored in the UK with Harold Wilson's talk of the 'white heat of technology'. The cold war itself is now history; many of my students were born after the collapse of the 'iron curtain' in 1989.
  • The very first word uttered by a man on the moon was 'Houston' as the astronauts sought to make contact with mission control (two decades later I was involved in a large-scale technology launch in the Houston Astrodome). But the most memorable words spoken are based on an error. The speech writer had clearly intended 'one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind' but Neil Armstrong delivered 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' 
  • Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has a great name, reflected later in Buzz Lightyear. Surprisingly, there aren't scores of thirty-something PR practitioners today called Buzz. Buzz Bailey has a ring to it, don't you think?

Private realm, public sphere

19 Jul

Once, there was no privacy. Large families lived in small dwellings; those in large houses were surrounded by large households. Where the individual could break away from the group, there were the exhortations of the church to consider: an omniscient God was watching you. (As a reminder of this medieval world, I’m told there’s still no word to describe privacy in Italian.)

Now, as Naomi Klein has argued in No Logo, the public realm is being privatised: invaded by sponsorship and advertising clutter. Our default assumption is private, not public. (Commuters on public transport are individual iPod bubbles or are blithely conducting private conversations in public.)

Others argue that in our ‘surveillance society’ there’s an unacceptable invasion of privacy, but I interpret this debate differently. We are so agitated about this issue because it runs counter to our assumption that privacy and individualism will triumph.

This issue matters to students and job seekers when they find that what they assumed to be private (for example, their Facebook conversations, interests and photos) are considered in the public domain by university authorities or employers. It might matter to anyone taking photographs in public spaces; depending on how the photo is used, whose privacy is being invaded? Were any children in the frame?

If we are privatising the public realm and witnessing the deconstruction of the mass media into masses of media, then what is left for public relations to do? I’ll leave this for the scholars to debate, but I suspect that the phrase public relations will decline in usage through this century. Nor will it be replaced by private relations: that phrase will surely still mean something else.

Like father, like daughter?

10 Nov

Our industry is barely a century old, and it’s still not quite a full profession. So it’s not surprising that there are so few British PR dynasties.

I’ve worked with Kevin Traverse-Healy FCIPR whose father Tim is a distinguished practitioner and academic. I remember Chris Corfield (when at A Plus Group) telling me his father had been in PR. Crispin Manners also followed in his father Norman’s footsteps (see the note to editors at the end of this news release).

Have I missed any obvious dynastic examples? Perhaps here’s one for the future…

One of our second year students is the daughter of CIPR president Tony Bradley’s business partner (in Bradley O’Mahoney). She possibly has greater opportunities than her father (since the public relations business is now so much larger), but she will probably face more competition at every stage of her career.

Betjeman: his life in PR

17 Aug

Betjeman As a minor contribution to the John Betjeman centenary celebrations I’d like to fill in a missing paragraph or two from the documented history of public relations. John Betjeman is not mentioned in Jacquie L’Etang’s study of Public Relations in Britain, yet there’s a case to be made for the poet and architectural writer to be considered one of the pioneering figures of public relations in twentieth century Britain.

Surely not… JB undoubtedly poured scorn on public relations just as he wished bombs would rain down on Slough. In his poem Executive (published in 1974) he satirises a spivvy public relations officer (PRO), associating him with many undesirable aspects of modernity. (Disclosure: this blog’s author spent five years working in PR consultancy in unfit-for-humans Slough).

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.

So on what basis can I claim John Betjeman as a pioneering public relations practitioner?

Continue reading

A time to celebrate Freud

7 May

Will Hutton, writing in The Observer, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. In doing so, he challenges Freud’s present-day detractors.

Freud’s thinking has been influential in creating the world we know – and the work we do. This was explored in a BBC documentary called The Century of The Self.

Freud’s nephew (twice over), Edward Bernays, was the self-proclaimed father of public relations. And Freud’s great-grandson, Matthew Freud, is a prominent PR consultant in the UK. (His father Clement was a Liberal MP; his uncle Lucian is the painter). Matthew Freud is married (dynastically) to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth.