From papal PR to Harriet Beecher Stowe

The latest International History of Public Relations Conference proceedings are now available. As usual they contain fascinating, surprising and enlightening insights into PR history – from papal PR to the anti-slavery UK celebrity book tour by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Perhaps the most significant paper, however, is by Professor Michael Kunczik on public relations for money, particularly in the context of German historical experiences. The paper explores the communication realities which have been based on Talcott Parsons’ and Adam Muller’s theories about money as a medium of language and a general instrument of communication. The blog wasn’t aware of Muller (a 19th century German economist) who apparently pre-dated Parsons in forming the theory. Obviously, after German hyperinflation, post-war reconstruction and then reunification monetary policy, money and communications around it are extremely important to German consciousness but Kunczik takes his investigation much wider including looking at currency and national identity.

Kunczik recognises the significance of behavioural psychology and behavioural economics for how, and what, we think about money and the communication implications of this – giving overviews of the significance to those of the work of Herbert Simon, Albert Aftalion, Max Weber, George Simmel, Lenin and others. Mini-case studies look at Ivy Lee’s handling of loans for Poland, Rumania and other countries; Eastman Kodak’s Reagan era campaign to influence the US exchange rate; Ecuadorian dollar parity; Brazilian monetary reform; and Nazi PR for the Reichsmark. There is an excellent discussion of the various campaigns around the German social market economy concept and its application to reunification. A feature of this is a description of one of the worst imaginable PR/advertising campaigns about what reunification might mean which, fortunately, was never implemented.

Also on Germany there is an abstract, but sadly not the whole paper, of Professor Gunter Bentele’s paper on the history Krupp company PR from the 1850s to the post World War II period in which the company set out to rebuild the company reputation. There is also a good paper about Austrian PR which unfortunately prompted the blog to recall the old joke about the brilliance of Austrian national PR in convincing the world that Hitler was a German and Beethoven an Austrian. Another paper on PR in East Germany, by Jan Niklas Kocks and Professor Juliana Raupp, points out that contrary to our preconceptions about socialist propaganda some of the tactics adopted by the East German government weren’t all that different from those employed by their counterparts in the West.

For Australians there is an abstract of a paper by Jim Macnamara and Tom Watson on the deep Australian involvement in IPRA particularly in the mid to late 1980s and the subsequent decline of Australian membership of the organisation. Less directly there is a paper by Sian Rees on the representation of the BBC and its sources of legitimacy which are very relevant to the current position facing the ABC. Despite criticism of the BBC (much from the same sources as the criticism of the ABC) the perceived BBC values of serving the public interest; listening, understanding and responding to its audience;and, its reputation for impartial, honest and independent news coverage are similar to the brand values which protect the ABC from the current Abbott Government and the attempts by other media organisations (which share none of those brand values) to nobble the organisation. An abstract of a paper by Dr Collette Snowden on the South Australian Muriel Matters’ role in the UK suffragette movement suggests the full paper will be worth well reading. Matters used “emerging technology and media in creative ways, such as hiring a hot air balloon to drop leaflets on London,” Dr Snowden says.

An abstract by Professor Edward Downes previews his forthcoming book on Congressional press secretaries which looks informative. Robert Heath and Damion Waymer contribute an abstract on the US abolitionist John Brown linking it to PR, terrorism and social capital. As they say: “Terrorism is often treated as a destructive force in society despite awareness that it motivated the US War for Independence and contemporary activities by environmental terrorists. ….. (and) Terrorism, as enacted by Brown, can be interpreted as an asymmetrical one-way strategy… (which) dramatized the importance of publicity and promotion. The blog read the abstract shortly after being told by a friend who was attending a conference in the US that he had just learnt that the ISIS group has in their hierarchy a Director of Media and Strategic Communication, a Syrian who was formerly director of a PR company. The blog, with Mark Sheehan, discussed the same phenomenon in a paper in the APPRJ on PR roles in the IRA’s organisation. The Heath-Waymer paper looks important and hopefully the full paper will become available soon.

On civil rights a paper by Professor Cheryl Ann Lambert looks at the experiences of a white liberal editor, P.D.East, who ran The Petal Paper in Petal Mississippi in the 1950s and used it to advocate civil rights. Faced with a variety of advertising boycotts he ended up with zero circulation in his home town. Despite the latter the paper had influence well beyond Petal. Paula Keaveney’s paper on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1853 UK tour is an excellent example of the 19th century use of techniques such as expectation management, media relations, ‘piggy-backing’, public affairs and lobbying.

Toni Muzi Falconi always provides unique insights into the workings of the Vatican. At the 2013 IHPR conference he gave a terrific paper on the Vatican bank and the Calvi affair informed by some direct experience. This year, with Giovanni Eugenio Tomassetti, he provides a paper on the PR approaches of the last three popes emphasising: seeing, thinking and touching. Obviously the first is about John Paul II and his peripatetic approach to being seen by many around the world and his recruitment of a spokesperson who lived in the papal apartments. Benedict is equally obviously the thinker and Francis the embodiment of touching and trying to “achieve change by reducing the distance and the barriers between him and ‘others’.” The role of the outcomes from the much misunderstood Council of Trent and the 1963 decree by Pope Paul VI on Vatican outreach are also discussed.

The proceedings can be found at