In praise of publicity – a woman’s history
I’ve yet to come across Constance Hope in any public relations textbook – perhaps not surprising as women are largely missing from the history. Indeed, apart from Doris Fleischman, I am unaware of any female voices writing about early experiences of the practice in the US; and Fleischman’s contribution inevitably is linked to her husband Edward Bernays.
So exactly who was Constance Hope and why should we care about her story? Well she authored a book called: Publicity is Broccoli (published in 1941) a title which has to be worth a bit of our attention – and that’s the point about Constance. She was a highly competent publicist working in the 1930s. Alongside various high profile celebrities of the day, she managed numerous entertainment-related clients (orchestras, restaurants, recording companies). Although strictly speaking, Constance Hope Associates was not in the business of public relations. She was proud to be a publicist – defining the work in two words: Making news.
Constance distinguished publicists from press agents and Public Relations Counsels (her capitals):
The press agent is the fellow who believes there is no such thing as bad publicity. He operates on the theory that even if his client plays the leading role in a murder trial, it’s justified by the space he gets in the papers… he reasons that a plug is a plug, even in the obituary column.
In contrast, she writes “the publicist is more selective” and concerned with creating “a definite impression in the public mind”. Her methods invariably included choosing an appropriate publication and obtaining coverage that not only changed perceptions, but led to measurably outcomes. Reading her detailed, yet light-hearted, explanation of the ways in which she helped her clients provides an exceptional insight into the publicity industry of that era. Both direct and indirect approaches are in evidence – and Constance is open enough to discuss her failures too (not something I’ve seen often, if ever, among male writers of her generation).
Stunts – particularly the “screwy, space-grabbing variety” were not her method of choice, although she and her team demonstrated exceptional creativity in their work. CHA was certainly not against being creative with the truth, as Constance justified “tongue in cheek” yarns that she felt were enjoyed by editors, readers and clients alike.
What I loved most about Constance Hope in reading her book was her enthusiasm and lack of pretention for her craft. She saw publicity as a full-time job which offered moderate rewards:
The publicist, as a general rule, makes more money than the press agent, but the Public Relations Counsel is rich like anything.
She was scathing rather than envious of her more salubriously located “betters”:
The P.R.C. prepares impressive campaigns, studded with surveys, graphs and excerpts from Freud, to show how he will mold the mass mind, psychoanalytically. (The P.R.C. scorns anything less than eight-cylinder words).
Who can she mean with this portrait? Undoubtedly Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who also dismissed press agentry (as originating in the circus) and agreed with Constance in the distinction that:
Public relations is not publicity.
Bernays saw publicity as a one-way street of communications compared to the two-way world of gaining public understanding and acceptance [Your Future in Public Relations 1961]. Their different viewpoints have echoes of today’s ongoing debate between those who seek to maintain a clear divide between rarefied PR and down-market publicity. Or is that honest publicists and disingenuous public relations professionals?
Constance Hope (1908 -1977) had a successful 40 year career with an impressive roster of clients operating across the US (with offices in New York and Los Angeles) and working in Europe. Music publicist Alix Williamson (who originated the idea for the book written by Baroness Maria von Trapp that eventually became, The Sound of Music), started her career at CHA. However, Kater, in his biography of Lotte Lehmann, (Hope’s first and best known client), criticises Constance as a self-publicising “woman-about-town” and accusing her of almost Simon Cowellesque control of her client.
And she was that famous, being profiled in Opera News and starring in an edition of This is Your Life in 1957 – hosted by Ronald Reagan. Publicity is Broccoli was also a publicity tool for her business. The title is bemusing and not explained in the text at all, but apparently Constance wanted to call it And You Meet Such Interesting People, whilst her editor wanted to link to an earlier successful book Fashion is Spinach (by designer Elizabeth Hawes). Her choice of title is used for a fascinating article in Columbia Library Column written in 1976.
Today Constance seems largely forgotten. She does not even have a Wikipedia entry. However, her “extensive files of papers, correspondence, photographs and memorabilia” are stored in the Columbia University Libraries’ Archival Collection (where she is listed as a public relations specialist and artists’ representative). I’m not aware that any PR historian has yet studied these as has been the case with many of her male contemporaries.
Given the paucity of women’s stories in the early years of public relations (or publicity), a study of Constance Hope, her agency, nature of work and possible influence on others is surely due. At the least, we need to raise her profile as evidence that women not only worked in the field, but were capable of running a successful consultancy business. Time to write that Wikipedia entry I think.