Oral Histories

John M. Reed

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

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:  Let’s talk a little bit about, since we sort of touched on education, let’s talk a little bit about public relations education. When you found yourself as a teacher in the classroom - university level, you talked earlier when we were at lunch about how important that was, how important it is to you? Do you believe that recent graduates are prepared for the informed ethical decision-making that they are going to face in today’s world?

Reed:  I'm going to put my foot in it now. It depends on the attitude of the student and the attitude of the teacher. If the attitudes are and the thought process is that this is something mechanical like mathematics or brick laying, I fear for the future. If, if this is seen as something that has a life unto itself, that’s going to go wrong. What public relations is really about is supporting the best things, backing, pushing, helping the best that is in society. And making its practitioners feel great, as well as rich. But first great, and making the best causes survive and prosper. By causes I mean automobiles or donations to the Red Cross or whatever the product may be. I think a lot about this, because I’ve been in the classroom and the young people are like the population of the country. Some are this way. Some are that way. Some are tall. Some are short. I don’t find enough ‘spirit’ for want of a better word. This is not a very academic word perhaps, but spirit. I don’t find enough spirit there. And spirit is what’s needed as well as technology. I think that the history shows that the great PR people have been those with spirit who have dared to do something, who had taken on difficult problems and solved them. I think that anybody can make a work-a-day livelihood in the PR field by doing this, that or the other thing, being very good at audiovisuals or knowing how to write a press release; but those who will really enjoy life and have fun with it and contribute something positive and useful to society are those who will be fired up by the notion of persuading for good, persuading positively, persuading to make something good happen whether it’s to buy Hershey bars or not to eat too many chocolates. It’s a wonderful profession.

Interviewer:  What was that spirit, the quality of having spirit? Are there any other qualities? What other qualities will make a good…

Reed:  …Good PR person will be someone who is very curious about things. Who wants to learn? Why did she do that? Why did he do that? Why do people do that? And having learned why, then you don’t have to change their direction if it should be changed. Why do they do that? Then what makes so and so tick?  What makes Chinese people open restaurants in the United States? Why are there so many Chinese restaurants and no Chinese farmers? Why? Why is why is this, why is that? That’s the thing that I think helps make great PR people. Why do they do that? Because if you understand why they do that then you know how to alter to change it.  I think that PR is dealing with the real heart and soul of human beings. I don’t think there can be anything more exciting than that. And I think that, that those who see that and who sense that have a great pleasure in following the path of this career of PR.