PR Legend: John M. Reed*


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Reed

Spent his entire career in international persuasion and public relations. Worked for the U.S. government’s overseas PR programs; established international PR programs in three major corporations; founded a network of agencies that specialize in cross-cultural public relations. Chairman, Consultant in Public Relations. Adjunct professor at American University. Recipient of PRSA’s Gold Anvil (1998) and Atlas Awards (2004). Former editor of the International Public Relations Review.

A good definition of public relations is “organized, ethical persuasion.” International public relations simply means you “do it someplace else.” By “someplace else,” I mean places where the audience or public is different from the persuader, where geographic, linguistic, historical, religious and other boundaries are crossed. In particular terms, it means working in other societies, countries, ethnic pockets. International PR requires the persuader or PR person to have an extra skill set that includes linguistic ability, a knack for and desire to engage in cross-cultural persuasion.

In my own case, a deep interest in other people and cultures came in the form of a postcard from my father, Charles Leo Reed. The dog-eared postcard arrived at my boarding school in Leonardtown, Maryland from Lima, Peru, when I was in the sixth grade. Wow! That stamp was strange, the picture of the Andes exciting, and the fact that my father was there was amazing to this 10-year-old boy. My curiosity was stimulated, a feeling that exists to this day. I delved into geography and history and languages, determined to travel the world. Later I gained the opportunity to do so in the U.S. Army and in my PR career. I early decided to concentrate on international PR. What fun!

Working abroad means finding those avenues, media and programs that will be effective in persuading, for example, local employees to work hard and remain loyal; produce legislation and regulatory systems that are fair and compatible with good practice; convince potential tourists to visit particular places; and so on. The important concept to be learned is that people differ markedly from place to place in terms of their histories, religions, interests, values and so forth, and that to persuade such audiences one needs to have local help, a person of the local ethos.

The old slogan that the world is getting smaller no longer applies. It was spoken of the modern transportation making it possible for people to travel easily over long distances to visit formerly remote destinations. Today the world is getting bigger as greater numbers of discrete linguistic, ethnic and political groups establish separate, sometimes independent nations or entities. The membership in the United Nations, originally a few dozen nations, now has over 200 members. Persuading people in Tahiti is quite different from persuading Cape Verdians.

For future practitioners of the noble art of ethical persuasion, there is a growing need and opportunity for young, well-educated, energetic university graduates with a solid foundation in liberal arts, languages, history, writing, media and, most importantly, with a genuine interest in “other” people and what makes them tick. Come on in, the water’s fine, especially in Tahiti and Cape Verde!

Reed Sig


Published: 2007
* Deceased (1927-2009)

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