Oral Histories

John M. Reed

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

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:  You mentioned technology. Touched on it. The world now is able to hold virtual meetings. There are virtual teams working on projects together in various places in the world. We bring together these different cultures in these different geographic locations, and knowing that they have to communicate with each other, now what, how is this going to influence the public relations in the future and how do you work through this? Are there problems here? If there are how do you work through them in a virtual world?

Reed:  I have a great respect for inventors and for high tech. Great respect. I have a low regard for my own ability to deal with those things. I’m pretty low tech kind of guy. I wish everybody well who’s in high tech. I want them to devote their high tech abilities to the low-tech requirements of our society.  As for the international development of PR and persuasion and its relationship to high tech, I think that the world is growing bigger not smaller. Partly because of this high tech business, because you can form discreet smaller units in all phases whether it’s communications or technology or science or people. The United Nations when it was formed had, I don’t know, 50 countries, 70 whatever; it was it’s over 200 now. That means the world is getting bigger not smaller. There are more and more discrete nations or nation states or neighborhoods in the world. And people are pulling themselves into shells that follow that particular unifying force for the neighborhood. I don’t think that the India and the United States necessarily will remain as big as they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an independent country called Hawaii someday. Why they are not connected to the United States? And the same thing is true in India. I think that that there are such great differences. The Pakistan was one country. East and West and now it’s two countries. Pakistan and Bangladesh. India, I think I’m pretty certain, that South India will pull apart from Northern India and Mountain India. China has got it’s greatest challenge, is not the military challenge any more; its greatest challenge is whether it can hold together the disparate unified states that make up China and who speak different languages and have a different history. And nobody most people outside of China looking let’s say from this room in China say “Oh they all look Chinese. They all have eyes like that and they all speak ching, ching, ching.” But they don’t. They don’t all have eyes like that. They have different histories. They speak different languages and they know the differences. The people from [inaudible] don’t speak the same Chinese as the people from Hunan. The people from Mongolia are totally different. The people from Sanghai, or Shanghi it’s called, speak totally different than people from Canton. And their food is different and their history is different. And they may look all the same to us sitting here in Pennsylvania Avenue but they are different to each other and I don’t think and certainly has been true throughout history, that a unified China can last very long. So if I were advising students, I’d tell them start learning to speak, take your pick of a Chinese language. And learn to write the ideograms. Ideograms remain the same. That’s the unifying force. But the spoken language is totally different. I think that the PR is going to have a lot to do with how these conglomerated countries stick together. Just as there has been a unifying force, that in the European economic union, it’s splitting apart right now as we speak into very separate and more countries now exist in Europe than has ever existed before. When you start counting the ones that have been liberated in the north like Estonia and Lithuania. I think Russia disillusioned which is the central government now of Russia itself, is trying to pull back together by military means is irrevocably split now so that you’ll have 20 countries vying on the international scale all of whom need PR people. All of whom need to learn PR.  And so the, those former provinces of the Soviet Union or as they call it the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics USSR is splitting.

Interviewer:  you’ve called the world a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Reed:  Yeah it really is.  And I love puzzles.  It’s really, it’s really amazing to me how provincial people are place by place. It’s astonishing to me. I go to country after country or in this country state after state, and find there is a local innuism, a local characteristic that makes them people in that particular place different or want to be different. It’s okay with me. As a PR man, all I have to do is learn what makes them tick and persuade them.