I am not an advertising agent, but a storyteller. This statement concludes a splendid article by Gugliemo Emanuel, correspondent from London of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera…dated December 1 1909 (yes! one hundred years ago..), significantly titled BUM!
The author clearly is not speaking for himself (he is a journalist!) but about Dana Blair, an American living in London, at the time the most famous press agent in the UK.
Emanuel supplies a terrific profile and sends us a few very subtle and contemporary messages:
° a certain envy for this new profession (he was not aware that many of his American colleagues had already crossed the line from journalism to public relations, as they still do today in increasing numbers in most countries);
° celebrity public relations -the domain of press agents- was the principal activity of british public relators and it still remains such today, stimulated by a media system characterized, much more than in other countries, by a huge offer of trash press which thrives on press agents.
As most visitors of this blog certainly know, press agentry is the first of the four descriptive model of public relations practice rationalised by James Grunig some 24 years ago.
The model derives from the activities in the second part of the 19th century of Phineas Taylor Barnum, the famous circus impresario.
Passionate for both his work and newspapers, in order to attract the attention of his potential customers, Barnum would write and distribute fantastic and highly creative stories of love and hate in relationships between his animals and get these published in local newspapers a few days before his circus arrived in town.
An ensured audience, and less need for costly advertising.
In describing Blair’s job, back in 1909, Emanuel wrote:
He is a prototype.
For Blair the media is indispensable, but he does not own a trust of newspapers; yes..he knows journalists… but this is not a necessary asset…he could even do without it.
He does not pay for the visibility he obtains for his clients, but this is not framed in the advertising pages; but he doesn’t even implore visibility as a grace from the benevolence of this or that media. No. He operates at a higher level.
Newspapers draw a pudic distinction between paid print and news print.
Very true…but these news columns, uncontaminated by money, need to be filled up with interesting news items, unexpected events, original gestures.
This is where I come in the game: here is where my interests and those of my clients coincide with the interests of newspapers, which are equivalent to the interests of the public.
I offer to the media what they need: true current events, eccentric adventures, imagined extravagances conceived and implemented purposely to attract the public’s curiosity, therefore infinitely more savoured and stimulating than what life would offer in lack of my fantasy.
The adventures of my celebrities are no longer advertising for newspapers, rather, they are history in action…