Shelley Spector has been on a mission to establish and expand the Museum of Public Relations. She founded it in 1997 and recently moved into a space at Baruch College in New York City. There is information about how the museum dedicated to preserving the history of public relations available at www.prmuseum.org. Shelley was kind enough to participate in this interview:
1. Shelley, what was the motivation behind the Museum’s creation? First, I think that it was an entity that needed to be created. Very few people truly understand the evolution of the field and especially, how the field has helped shaped our history. They might know certain names-- like Bernays and Ivy Lee-- but beyond that, practitioners today have little knowledge of the why and how modern PR began 100 years ago. Besides which, unlike most professions, there are very few existing documents or records of the early days of PR, so there is hardly a way for people today to truly get a sense of our beginnings. As Harold Burson said at the museum's opening, "Public Relations is one of the few professions with no institutional memory of its history." I know Bernays, too, thought the same. He also felt it was important to preserve the records of that history for future generations. Bernays lived in a Victorian mansion near Harvard. Most of the first floor was lined with bookcases, and these were filled to the brim with very old, very important books, many from turn of the century social scientists. In the study on the second floor hung about 250 original photos and letters, going back to the early 1900s: Sigmund Freud, Enrico Caruso, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt-- a pretty impressive collection.
11. Has the image of PR practitioners improved over the last 50 years – or declined? Why? The image of PR suffers because most don't understand what it's supposed to be and how it's supposed to be practiced. This was one of the reasons for starting up the museum in the first place: to help achieve greater understanding of what PR is and is not. It is not publicity. It's not a matter of getting "good PR" or or "PR-ing a client." It is not about stunts, making a splash, or calling in a favor to a reporter. It is not "free advertising" -- as some in Marketing may describe it. It is not getting "likes" or retweets. Public relations as it was originally defined is a strategy to build mutually beneficial relationships with its various publics. That's done best by actions rather than words. If public relations campaigns were conducted the way they were in the first part of the twentieth century, by Ivy Lee, Paul Garett, Carl Byoir, Edward Bernays and Arthur Page, we would not need to worry about its image. Unfortunately, the need to "measure" and "explain" what we do makes us turn to visible metrics like placements, SEO and Facebook followers. Instead we should be measuring changes in our publics' attitudes and behaviors that may have been impacted by our campaigns.