Oral Histories

John M. Reed

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

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’ve touched on this a little bit. Well actually quite well. You place a lot of importance on learning about the cultures that you are going to be working with.

Reed: Yeah.

Interviewer:  Getting local help.

Reed:  Yup.

Interviewer:  Publishing things producing things, presenting things in local context.

Reed: Yeah.

Interviewer:  Okay, you’ve talked a little bit how important this has been. Can you talk a little bit about how you get things to resonant with your target audience and how you really first realized that the challenge of this cultural myopia, that you don’t just arrive in a country and do things the way you’ve always done them at home. Do you have anything else that you might want to add? How you bridge these problems in international PR? Do you think these are important to building trust and credibility?

Reed:  Absolutely the task is to persuade people to do something. And the best way to persuade them is by understanding and making friends with, and using the channels that they find that they open naturally. In the case of Korea, for example. When I first went to Korea, the Koreans had been speaking Japanese for 50 years with an occupation power. They were yearning to speak Korean. A lot of the people who came to work in embassies, American and others, or in international agencies, whether it’s Red Cross or whatever, spoke Japanese. Japanese was a popular language of study.  Japanese was a dominant language of big country. And everybody knew the Koreans spoke Japanese. And so they came in, speaking Japanese. I found out the first day the Koreans didn’t want to speak Japanese. That was what the occupying power head kept them submerged under for 50 years. They wanted to speak Korean. But the people who went over there had no idea about Korean. A few missionaries, Christian missionaries, spoke Korean and had bothered to study the language and there were a few books as a consequence of that.  And a few ex-patriot Koreans had tried to teach people in other countries to speak Korean, notably in Shanghai and in Hawaii, and even in Washington. It became quickly obvious to me that we didn’t want to be speaking Japanese to Koreans. We want to speak Korean to Koreans. And that, that newspaper sent out by mail did that, that was a profound lesson for me to learn. Really, really in the Philippines, the United States had been an occupying force from the, from the war, Spanish American War, 1898-1900.  For a long time the United States had been. And under the Tidings-McDuffie Act, had agreed to liberate the Philippines and make them an independent country in 1946. That was interrupted by the war but the United States kept its pledge and the country became independent and nobody in America spoke [inaudible]. They insisted the Philippines speak English. Well the Spanish had insisted they speak Spanish. That didn’t take. We insisted they speak English. That took halfway. But any American who could speak local language [inaudible] and its relative languages [inaudible] and [inaudible], and so forth really had an edge. It became quickly evident to me that if I wanted an edge, I’d learn to speak [inaudible]. It couldn’t be that tough. I mean the Philippines were speaking it. But that was a profound lesson to learn and it helped me a lot everywhere I went. Or if you are going to speak English in the Philippines speak Philippine English. That requires certain word selection and a certain accent but it’s very effective.