Five years ago, Toni Muzi Falconi gave PR Conversations readers a private viewing inside the Museum of Public Relations. From its beginnings in 1996 as an award-winning internet museum (possibly the first in the world), two decades later the Museum of Public Relations resides at Baruch College’s Newman Library Archives and Special Collections, where it is open to the public by appointment for tours, guest lectures and research.
As an educational institution chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, the museum is a tangible link to public relations’ history which makes it a great place for students from across the world. A mix of first and second year students studying BA Public Relations at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London recently visited with Adrian Crookes, senior lecturer/course leader, who reports.
Whatever your take on the history of PR, it’s inspiring to be there in the museum, handling Bernays’ books and getting up close to that part of our disciplinary history that still gets significant attention. I find that it really captures student imaginations, helping them to make sense of the past surrounded by these early materials. A terrific resource for students and educators alike.
Acquiring new materials
Education is the heart of the museum, accessible beyond the physical building with the website and a Facebook site with over 7,000 followers. But any museum is only as good as its archives and the Museum of Public Relations has accumulated
- more than 600 significant books (many first editions and signed)
- dozens of physical artefacts
- photographs of historically significant people and events
- examples of old media technologies
- and a digital archive of video taped oral histories.
I asked Shelley Spector, the museum’s founder, about how she acquires new materials:
“Besides being offered materials from personal archives (such as Ray Hiebert’s collection of Ivy Lee papers) I do a lot of a acquiring of materials on rare book/newspaper sites, and even eBay, where I’ve gotten some gems like a 1939 magazine called “Public Relations”– a life of only one issue, but what a great issue it is. One piece from it about Lee was posted on our Facebook site recently. Another piece in the magazine is written by Byoir, and it may well be the only copy of that piece around anywhere.
“I am fascinated by contemporaneously written articles about PR. Such as a Fortune 1939 take out on the PR field that I’ve posted about on the Facebook site is just one of the most amazing pieces we have in the museum. It gives a “current” look at the major players and what they were up to. Not to mention, this was Fortune writing a fairly positive article on PR.”
“As well as the advantage of donating to a non profit, more and more, people are giving us things because they want to create their own legacy. We’re also getting a lot of PR textbooks from other countries, which I love.”
“We’ve expanded our holdings to include artifacts/photos of social movements (especially women’s and minorities). We also have a great collection of 1960s protest buttons. Muriel Fox (PR director for NOW) gave us her 1966 release announcing the formation of NOW with Betty Freidan.
“Sadly, I find that many of things I have in my basement are suitable now for the museum. My father’s Ansco camera from 1959 is a big hit with young visitors, who can’t imagine how we used to use film and waited to develop it!
“Finding gems within what appears to be rather dull stuff is something we find ourselves doing quite a bit. For instance, an old Byoir executive was cleaning out her office, and shipped us boxes of her old files. Out of all the hundreds of memos and releases, we found what could be the world’s only copy of an unpublished bio of Byoir, written in the 1980s as a thesis under a professor at Wisconsin — Scott Cutlip, of all people! We have been transcribing it verbally for months through voice-text software, since it can’t be digitized.”
What’s new and future plans
Being curious, I asked about what’s new at the museum. Shelley told me about the Ivy Lee papers and plans to reissue his biography “Courtier” by Ray Hiebert. There are plans for an exciting new conference next year – which I’m sure we’ll get involved with here at PR Conversations.
Another wonderful thing about the Museum of Public Relations is how it is creating history (as mentioned in yesterday’s post). It is recording video oral histories for the Arthur Page Center. The current one is John Paluzek and Ray Kotcher (former chairs of Ketchum), already online. With Ray Heibert as the next to be profiled.
Shelley also tells me that 92 year old, Elias (Buck) Buckwald (Harold Burson’s very first employee) is a guest lecturer in her class this week. This is his first lecture in 30 years or so and will be recorded – with a promise that I can add a link here.
Coming back to finding gems, Shelley has given me permission to share a wonderful video via PR Conversations. The PR Museum has a fabulous collection of videos via its Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/museumofpr, as well as the main website: http://www.prmuseum.org/video-and-audio/
This one is even more special however – it is a public information video: March of Time – Public Relations… This means You! from 1947.
This is the link: https://vimeo.com/159845572 (password: PR&You)
Thanks to Shelley for allowing us this exclusive showing – and please remember to credit the Museum of Public Relations if showing to others.
This is the second post in the PR Conversations inaugural History Week. See links below to all five posts:
Part 1: Made by history – a book collector’s story by Heather Yaxley
Part 2: The Museum of Public Relations – archives and artefacts under the gaze of Bernays (and Lee and Page and Byoir…) with thanks to Shelley Spector, and Adrian Crookes
Part 3: PR History – prospecting for archival gold by Tom Watson
Part 4: Conducting historical interviews in a transparent age by Heather Yaxley
Part 5: The dimensions of PR history: 60 x 75 x 94 x 350,000 by Tom Watson