Shelley Spector has been on a mission to establish and expand the Museum of Public Relations. She founded it in 1997, and recently moved into a space at Baruch College in New York City.
Our own firm has recently celebrated 50 years in the Public Relations industry, and has seen a lot of changes. We spoke with Shelley about the museum, the state of PR, and how she sees the landscape of the industry changing:
MEDIA CONNECT: Shelley, what was the motivation behind the Museum’s creation?
Shelley Spector: First, I think that it was an entity that needed to be created. Very few people truly understand the evolution of the field and especially, how the field has helped shaped our history. They might know certain names– like Bernays and Ivy Lee– but beyond that, practitioners today have little knowledge of the why and how modern PR began 100 years ago.
Besides which, unlike most professions, there are very few existing documents or records of the early days of PR, so there is hardly a way for people today to truly get a sense of our beginnings. As Harold Burson said at the museum’s opening, “Public Relations is one of the few professions with no institutional memory of its history.” I know Bernays, too, thought the same. He also felt it was important to preserve the records of that history for future generations. Bernays lived in a Victorian mansion near Harvard. Most of the first floor was lined with bookcases, and these were filled to the brim with very old, very important books, many from turn of the century social scientists. In the study on the second floor hung about 250 original photos and letters, going back to the early 1900s: Sigmund Freud, Enrico Caruso, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt– a pretty impressive collection.