Oral Histories

John M. Reed

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

John M. Reed Biography

John Reed, a pioneer in the development of international public relations, began his career following military duty in Korea and Japan and work with the United States Information Service, USIS, (known domestically as USIA).  His initial position in international PR occurred in 1960, when he joined the reorganized Olin Mathieson Corporation.  After a variety of similar positions with other international companies, he opened Consultants in Public Relations, SA, (CPRSA) in Geneva.  His first client was Johnson and Johnson.  After several years, he joined Control Data Corporation as vice president of public relations, but also continued his consultancy in Switzerland.  Reed’s career has spanned a wide variety of influence in public relations, covering international work in government, industry, consultancy and teaching.  Reed, a recipient of multiple awards and honors throughout his lifetime, continues to travel the world extensively.


Interviewer:  Well we’re in the 50s now was there some time you spent in the Philippines?

Reed:  Yes, well what happened was while living and working in Korea, a war began. The North invaded on June 25, 1950. I was living in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, which is only a few miles from the border where the tanks came over in the middle of the night and we were in deep doo-doo. And so we had to flee. Cargo planes were flown in to Kimpo Air Field and we were rushed out to board those planes and fly to Japan to safety.  Shortly after that, the Americans committed troops to the defense of South Korea.  To me, one of the great proofs of the efficacy of public relations is that during the initial stages when the North Koreans occupied all of South Korea except for one beachhead around the city of Pusan, there were no defections, the South Koreans stayed loyal to the West, to America. Why do they do that? Well I think part of the reason is because we had a good information program. We had exposed America, the United States as a model to follow for the South Koreans. And they had had a free election. And we promoted the use of the Korean language. One of the most interesting things to me personally was I noticed that the American Embassy in 1949 early 50 had brought over some intelligent people, scholarly people, to write a newspaper and to produce a daily newspaper. And I noticed that after they produced the paper, and it was printed, piles of them were still stacked up around the Embassy.  I don’t usually talk this much. Piles of these papers were stacked up and they weren’t being delivered. And there were various distribution systems to the Embassy, the Embassy tried to establish for the newspapers. And my boss, Jim Stewart said “John why don’t you figure out how to get these things out to the people who should read them?” So, I went out to the villages in Korea. And I discovered that every village had a senior man, sort of as the unofficial local mayor or [inaudible]. He was called the Yong Bon and he wore a funny hat. And he was distinguished and deferred to. And he was wise. And he had a name and he had an address and so I started collecting the names and addresses of the Yong Bons of the villages of Korea. And then put other people to work doing it. And back at the Embassy in Seoul, we started addressing the newspapers to the Yong Bon and mailing them to them.  One thing the Japanese were very good at in the occupation of Korea was roads and telegraphs and mail service and schools. The mail worked fine. So we mailed them. The Koreans loved it. They got a piece of mail. So the Yong Bon would read the newspaper giving credence to the propaganda we were issuing. This had a powerful effect. The proof of it was when the North Koreans.

This simple device of sending the newspapers, which otherwise were useless, direct to the Yong Bons with their name and address gave dignity to the recipient. He would read the paper to the local people. The paper was in Korean not in Japanese or English. We built up an enormous amount of support and good will in South Korea by the simplest and most inexpensive of all possible projects. I liked that. I thought, hot dog! Now I’m learning something about public relations. Excuse me. It’s a true story. Well we got kicked out of Korea by the fate of the war going down to the Pusan beachhead, Pusan Perimeter, as it was called.

I was transferred from Tokoyo to Manila to help develop and build and operate a printing plant that would produce propaganda or PR materials for Southeast Asia for US Information Agency. The State Department did not like the notion of getting into practical business things. They liked diplomacy, flowery notes, cocktail sipping, la de dah.  But a printing plant? Good God!  Greasy messy!  But that printing plant ran for 30 years after it was set up to produce PR materials from surrender leaflets to prayers in the initial stages in the war in Vietnam. And the production of that printing plant was also used in the Philippines and got people interested in and connected with learning local languages because they had to be printed in languages appropriate to the Philippines and to Indonesia and to Indochina and to Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, and that helped to develop American scholarly interest and broaden American interest in those languages and therefore those peoples. So I worked there for quite a while and traveled into other parts of Asia seeing what kind of printed materials would be useful in promoting democracy and fighting Communism. It was practical PR. I should have paid them for the job. It was so much fun and I learned so much.

Interviewer:  Yes. Well let’s look at kind of winding this discussion up. But one thing

Reed:  I think we’ve been speaking for about four or five days haven’t we? I don’t know if this has been of any use to you at all?

Interviewer:  Oh absolutely. Let me ask you quickly if for what accomplishments are you most proud of in your life? Can you put your finger on something and say oh I know what that is?

Reed: Bayanihan

Interviewer: Say that again.

Reed:  [inaudible] Bayanihan.

Interviewer:  Will you talk a little bit about that?

Reed:  I thought everybody knew about it, but goodness gracious. These are Bayanihan girls.

interviewer:  Okay.

Reed:  Here’s the problem. After WWII and after the independence granted to the Philippines by the Tidings-McDuffie Act took place in 1946. And after the Hukbalahaps to some extent were subdued in central Luzon, these were the revolutionaries, the left wing revolutionaries and the people the Muslims in the southern islands of the Philippines, notably Mindanao, were pacified and things were back to sort of normal by 1950. This is five years after the war ’55. Things were calm. The university students were radicalized as they had been in the United States if you remember the 50s and 60s in the United States. Well, copycat Philippines was like that. There were all these left wing beard-growing hippies of, Philippine type hippies, and so on and so forth. And they wanted to, they didn’t want to go and fight with the with the rebels as it were but they wanted to, there were strikes. There were parades. There were marches. There was all this agitation. And one of the big complaints among these young people who were to be the intellectuals and to be the teachers of the future for the country was that everything was Uncle Sam’s fault. The reason we don’t have it. The reason we aren’t. The reason we can’t. The reason… it was all Uncle Sam’s fault.  And so the propaganda internally in the Philippines was against anything American. Uncle Money Bags. Well you have two ways to go at that sort of problem. You can say they can say you are the bad guy and you can say no I’m not. So you have the denial avenue. No I didn’t. No I can’t. No I won’t. Or you can use enfilade PR. I love the enfilade system.  That’s where you shoot from the side. Instead of straight back or back and forth you shoot from the angle. Enfilade PR. Just as American culture was being decried by Philippine’s so called self-established or self-styled nationalists; a little group was forming called [inaudible]. [inaudible] it comes from the word byon meaning people and [inaudible] people working together. Great concept. And it was the name of a dance group. It was a group started at the Philippines Women’s University. You like the sound of this already don’t you?  And they had gone out and done a lot of research through the PE department, physical education because dancing is healthy. But later through the whole university and they had learned that in all these islands, 7,100 islands of the Philippines, there were all different kinds of dances and songs and musical instruments. And you could say well there was no national Deutschland Uber Alles. No they had something stronger. They had this whole woven network [inaudible] working together. What a great thing to promote. To be in favor of Philippine culture. All they needed was recognition outside their own country. The way to get recognition - drill the company and take them on tour. Send back the newspaper clippings of how well they were received in Paris or in Washington and all of a, and that’s what happened. And all of a sudden in the Philippines there were a dozen more [inaudible] groups all over the country promoting their own culture saying we are proud of our culture. Nobody ever paid attention to our culture before. We have it now. And it’s wonderful and it’s beautiful. And all the critics of America are gone because there is something that is alive and wonderful. That’s great. Fiftieth anniversary of [inaudible] is in October this year. I’ll be going out to Manila.

Interviewer:  [inaudible]

Reed:  That’s a PR program in the way of no press releases but in the way of an action that has the result that’s positive and useful and at the same time without saying so crushes all these complaints. That’s PR in action, I think.