Institute for Public Relations

Founded in the US in 1956 as the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education, the Institute for Public Relations (IFPR) represents itself in a somewhat closed inward-looking style (not to be confused with the UK Institute of Public Relations). Its web site’s section ‘In the Media’, draws all of its examples from PRWeek.  Even in its wider thinking its research papers are from a small range of people and its account of itself for the year somewhat sparse and repetitive.

On their own ‘purpose’ they say:

“No occupation attains the status of a profession without a substantial body of codified professional knowledge and educational systems to help create and disseminate that knowledge. This is as true of public relations as it is of medicine, law, accounting or teaching. There is science underlying the art, and it is the working knowledge of that science combined with creativity that marks the best professionals. The Institute for Public Relations is focused on the science beneath the art of public relations. We exist to expand and document the intellectual foundations of public relations, and to make this knowledge available and useful to all practitioners, educators, researchers and the corporate/institutional clients they serve.”

Is legitimate enquiry or science, medicine, law, accounting, teaching or art always best served at the behest of “corporate/institutional” clients? What is the science beneath the art of PR? Is it inclusive of what is derogated as ‘junk science’, i.e. pseudo science? Is there intellectual honesty and objectivity underlying the foundations of public relations? Further self-definitions in its annual reports describe the IFPR as intending to ‘expand research-based knowledge in public relations,’ and it views itself as a bridge between the academic and professional worlds. Is research-based knowledge necessarily accurate?

The IFPR seems to work closely with the Arthur W. Page Society and hold page and several other somewhat ambiguous figures as champions of PR, yet its historical evidence is at best partial. The IFPR also seems to have close ties to both PR News and PRWeek, which would naturally draw on their International Public Relations Research Conferences.


The IFPR in its ‘Media and Speaking Forums Outreach’, and elsewhere, promote the work of Transparency International and has done so for a number of years. Here they argue that together with other like-minded organisations such as the International Press Institute, the International Federation of Journalists, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, and the International Public Relations Association they offer:

“support for a set of principles designed to foster greater transparency in the dealings between public relations professionals and the media, and to end bribery for media coverage throughout the world.”

The actual analysis (Sponsored by Hürriyet, a member of the Doğan Media Group of Turkey which does not have a free press) offers very little and draws almost exclusively from the CIA World Factbook, 2001, (Three-page printouts that contain factual information on “government type,”) and Transparency International’s’ Corruption Perceptions Index’. Transparency International’s co-founder has direct ties to the US Intelligence Services and critics have accused the organisation as acting as agents in advancing US foreign policy interests — the organisation has been embroiled in several corruption scandals itself. The IFPR define its work uncritically as “This reliable and highly respected index”. It does however come up with some interesting definitions:

*”Information subsidies” is editorial content that public relations practitioners provide free of charge to media.

*”Gatekeepers” are editors, producers, and other media managers who function as message filters, making decisions about what types of messages actually get produced for particular audiences.”

*”Newshole” is the space left over in a newspaper for news content after all the ads are placed.

*”Zakazukha” is a Russian word that can be translated as “order for the story,” or “paid-for-publicity”… Specifically, this is “the payment of newspapers and individual journalists for media coverage.”

Thus armed with jargon we can make more sense of this:

“However, considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that “cash for news coverage” occurs regularly and with impunity worldwide; “news sources” pay “bribes” to have their information subsidies disseminated in many consumer news media (e.g., public relations practitioners, government officials, business executives, advertisers and others). This phenomenon might occur between a public relations practitioner and any of the “Gatekeepers,” who might be “editors, producers, and other media managers who function as message filters, making decisions about what types of messages actually get produced for particular audiences” (Campbell, 2000, p. 530). Shoemaker, Eichholz, Kim and Wrigley (2001, p. 235) note that “gates” are decision points at which items may be stopped or moved from section to section or from channel to channel, while “gatekeepers” are the individuals or sets of routine procedures that determine whether items pass through the gates.”

In this world no one can really tell whether you are a human individual or ‘sets of routine procedures.’ It should be noted that the IFPR are not loudly cheering this flawless and time-honored system, not in public anyway.

Counselors to the prince

In another of their reports available from their site (“Mini-Me” History: Public Relations from the Dawn of Civilization By Don Bates) the IFPR define PR as:

“Unlike advertising or marketing, with which it is often confused, professional public relations is more “soft sell” than “hard sell.” It emphasizes information and persuasion as opposed to packaging and paid media, diplomacy as opposed to force. Owing to its subtleties, it is occasionally viewed as “propaganda” or, in more current jargon, “spin,” the intentional manipulation of public opinion without regard for what is accurate or true.”

The report outlines a somewhat messianic version of PR’s rise in history;

“Whether they were promoting their image as warriors or kings, leaders of ancient civilizations such as Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia used poems and other writings to promote their prowess in battle and politics. In Egypt much of the art and architecture (statues, temples, tombs) was used to impress on the public the greatness of priests, nobles, and scribes. In ancient Israel, the Bible and other religious texts became a powerful means for molding the public mind. With the growth of the Hellenic world, the word, both written and spoken, exploded as a force for social integration. And the Athens marketplace became a center of public discussion concerning the conduct of business and public life. Oratory flourished, and the public interest became a central concern of philosophical speculation.”

Who is it that regards the public as ‘the public’, a subject to be acted upon rather than a body of which the individual is a part? Public relations would better be termed ‘Power Relations’ here. In this history, and what comes after it we see a basic ineptitude which has so often characterised philosophers and intellectuals when faced with political reality — they want to be the counselor to the prince, who is in fact a tyrant. PR engages in the rationalisation of the real — the legitimisation of the powers-that-be. An attitude that harks back to the ancient belief that certain institutions were sacred. Philosophy and real science were born as integral parts of putting the established order into question. In one sense the IPR is designed to reverse this.

The report provides a ‘Public Relations Time Line’ of the twentieth century whose historical omissions and evasions nevertheless form a revealing picture:

1900 Publicity Bureau of Boston established as first public relations firm.

1904 Ivy L. Lee becomes public relations counselor.

1913 Ludlow Massacre establishes value of corporate public relations

1923 Edward L. Bernays publishes Crystallizing Public Opinion, first book on professional public relations.

1929 Bernays stages “Torches of Freedom” march to promote smoking

1948 Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) founded.

1950 PRSA Code of Professional Standards adopted.

1955 International Public Relations Association (IPRA) founded.

1965 PRSA Accreditation established.

1970 International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) founded.

1989 Exxon Valdez crisis becomes PR nightmare.

1998 Council of Public Relations Firms founded.

2000 PRSA Code of Ethics revised as inspirational guidelines.

2002 PRSA promulgates Universal Accreditation as standard for practice.

Although it recognises that: “The profession of public relations lacks a serious, comprehensive history,” it draws on favoured accounts, in particular Edward Bernays, to assert that “public relations has always gone hand in hand with civilization.” It even goes so far as to argue that “much of recorded history can be interpreted as the practice of public relations.” And indeed much of unrecorded history — that which has been erased or held in little regard. The narrative skips through much of ‘recorded history’ to rush towards a fixation on the USA and extol the virtues of such great philosophers as Phineas T. Barnum. Even the extraordinarily partial history presented in the report is reluctant to avoid acknowledging that the emerging large combines and Corporations of the 1900s had to combat hostility and court public favor through PR and news management (these are still after all the clients of today). But the key impetus for this it identifies are not moves which go ‘hand in hand with civilization’, they are more hand in hand with barbarity and the destruction of institutions which aim to be representative of the people:

“The hard-bitten attitudes of businessmen toward the public were epitomized in 1892 by the coldblooded methods of Henry Clay Frick in his attempt to crush a labor union in the Carnegie-Frick Steel Companies plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The employees’ strike was ultimately broken and the union destroyed by the use of the Pennsylvania State militia. Brute force won the battle for immediate control, but public opinion, framed in the struggle of the workers, won the war. Much of public relations history is woven into this unending struggle between employer and employee, though today, fortunately, the war is waged by discussion and negotiation, not private police or armed guards.”

Unfortunately only the specious art of ‘public relations history’ can still turn a blind eye to the private police, armed guards and warfare integral to the imposition of today’s ‘battle for immediate control.’

Spin Time

The report celebrates several PR Pioneers, who will strike the impartial reader as more infamous than famous, and here a similar profile as to the Carnegie-Frick episode emerges:

* Ivy Lee/Ivy Ledbetter Lee: “Many believe that his major contribution was to humanize wealthy businessmen and to cast big business in a more positive light.” Some of Lee’s most important work was for the Rockefeller family:

“which he began to assist in 1914. In that year John D. Rockefeller, Jr., asked for his advice in handling the so-called Ludlow Massacre that began in 1913 in southern Colorado when some 9,000 people went on strike. In April 1914, an accidental shot led to a battle in which several of the miners, two women, and 11 children were killed… In the end, Lee died in disgrace for putting his considerable skills to work in getting the Soviet Union recognized in the United States in the 1930s and for assisting the Interessen Gemeinschaft Farben Industrie, a Dye Trust that was eventually taken over by the Nazis.”

The omissions here are as staggering as the Soviet Union’s or the Nazi’s: IG Farben made products other than dye.  With the IFPR’s report it is hard to appreciate just what one has to do to incur their displeasure.

* Edward L. Bernays and his associate and wife, Doris Fleischman, were among those who competed with Lee for prominence. Bernays is credited with coining the term public relations counsel in his first book on the subject, although it does not take long before we read:

“In 1917, during World War I, the Committee on Public Information, also known as the Creel Committee after the name of its chairman, former newspaper reporter George Creel, was organized to help sell war bonds and generally to promote the war effort. Bernays was among those who lent his talents to the war’s publicity front.”

The USA went from a neutral stance to participation in the slaughter of the trenches in a matter of months goaded by stories of atrocities. The report also notices PRs interest in dissimulation:

“One of Bernays’ most famous and quintessential campaigns was the 1929 Torches of Freedom March in which he had ten carefully chosen women walk down Fifth Avenue smoking cigarettes. The women were advancing feminism while setting the stage for a surge in smoking by women. What the public and the press didn’t know was that Bernays was a consultant to the American.”

With admirable tolerance of their champions and ignoring all criticism, it closes with “Bernays remains the preeminent figure in the field of public relations for his tireless efforts…”

Other shining lights of the PR world emerged from the huge monopoly of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), and Theodore N. Vail and Arthur W. Page are mentioned. AT&T executives founded the [[Arthur W. Page Society]] to promote and publicize his ideas to other companies and in other contexts. The organization’s membership is composed of leading corporate communicators and public relations counselors. One of Page’s great axioms was: “To ensure frankness in telling the public about the company’s actions”, which is criminally laughable given AT&T’s role in South America with the CIA.

Things become somewhat faceless in the 70s and 80s but the report did finally take note of the “greed-induced meltdown of ethics and governance in companies such as Enron and Worldcom.” They also note:

“Without a doubt, 9/11 was the biggest PR effort in history for public officials and public servants. For obvious reasons, the bulk of public relations activity was done with the media, which by default became the government’s “public address” system.”

The report has a little Addendum which notes the European influence on PR (provided by Dr. Jacquie L’Etang, member of the Stirling Media Research Institute). Here the originators of the craft seem drawn from the secret intelligence services although the similar connections in the US were ignored. This highlights the work of PR pioneer, Maurice Buckmaster:

“head of Special Operations Executive (France), who was responsible for dropping agents into that country. Before the war, he worked for the Ford Motor Company in Europe in a non-public relations capacity, then again after the war, later becoming a consultant for the French champagne industry. He was president of the Institute of Public Relations in 1955-1956.” And it also singles out Sir Stephen Tallents whose “own ideas achieved realization in the formation of the British Council, which, for all intents and purposes, is still the UK’s largest public relations agency.”

And J. H. Brebner who:

“had a distinguished career in the 1920s and 1930s at the Post Office and at the Ministry of Information where he was successively Director of the News Division, Special Overseas Operative and, at Supreme Allied Headquarters, Director of Press Communications.”

And Fleetward Pritchard and Basil Clarke:

“a former Daily Mail journalist, worked for central government at the Ministry of Reconstruction, the Ministry of Health and, finally, as Director of Public Information in Dublin Castle at a time of the Irish conflict. He then set up his own agency, Editorial Services, which became a large and influential consultancy.”


Chair: Peter D. Debreceny

Treasurer: Margery Kraus

President: Frank E. Ovaitt, Jr.

Worldwide Board of Trustees
* Amy Binder —RF/Binder Partners, Inc.
* Louis Capozzi —Publicis Groupe
* Fred Cook —GolinHarris
* Björn Edlund —Royal Dutch Shell
* Samuel F. Falcona —ConocoPhillips
* Robert C. Feldman —DreamWorks Animation SKG
* Michael A. Fernandez —State Farm
* Patrick Ford —Burson-Marsteller
* Matthew P. Gonring —Rockwell Automation
* Gary F. Grates —Edelman
* Robert W. Grupp —Cephalon
* William C. Heyman—Heyman Associates, Inc.
* Frederick Wells Hill —FW Hill LLC
* Jeff Hunt —GCI Group
* Rich Jernstedt —Fleishman-Hillard
* Lars Göran Johansson —AB Electrolux
* Raymond C. Jordan—Johnson & Johnson
* Alan Kelly —Applied Communications
* Dr. Kathleen S. Kelly —University of Florida
* Raymond L. Kotcher —Ketchum
* Maril MacDonald —Gagen MacDonald
* Sandra Macleod —Echo Research
* Kenneth D. Makovsky —Makovsky & Company
* Thomas R. Martin —ITT Industries
* Anne M. McCarthy—AP AG
* Judith A. Mühlberg —Gagen MacDonald
* James S. O’Rourke, IV —University of Notre Dame
* Douglas G. Pinkham —Public Affairs Council
* Andy Polansky —Weber Shandwick
* Gary Sheffer—General Electric
* Jim Simon —Nationwide Insurance
* Dr. Don W. Stacks—University of Miami
* Kirk Stewart —Nike
* W. Ward White —Marcus Foundation
* Louis C. Williams, Jr. —L.C. Williams & Associates
* Dr. Donald K. Wright —University of South Alabama

* John W. Felton

Honorary Trustees
* Don Bates —Media Distribution Services]]
* Willard D. Nielsen —Retired, Johnson & Johnson


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