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Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

A must read !!!

Stuart Ewen's book PR! A Social History of Spin elucidates the journey of PR starting in the 19th century in America, and as the term 'spin' suggest, simultaneously casts a critical eye on the practice of PR.
The author starts the book on an interesting note, giving details about his candid encounter with Edward Bernays, whom he holds in high regards and then further narrates the incident, about him donning the robe of “Spin Doctor” in his class on PR uniquely called the ‘Cult’ure of Publicity, so to influence the review of the journalist.
The various chapters in the book cover the effective use of PR by different sections of society like the government during the world war, big companies and organizations in refurbishing their image and by politicians to keep their vote bank ringing. The inclusion of factual illustrations like the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, Standard Oil Company, Work of NAM, New Deal Policy and the outstanding use of visual aid to depict the American civilization transports the reader back to early 19th century era. These illustrations also reveal the harsh realities of the unethical nature adopted by various organizations to pursue their economic objectives at the expense of public interest (2007, p 10). The work of noted PR practitioners like Ivy Lee, George Creel, Gustav Le Bon, Edward Bernays, and Walter Lippmann explicates the use of spin by these 'intelligent few'
The book also enlightens the very power of the methods used by the invisible wire pullers (read PR practitioners) like the newspaper, radio, billboards, plays, four minute men, images, movies, television, surveys and research for systematic forging of public opinion in Edward Bernays words(1996, p 170). The radical emphasis on mass psychology to lure the public heart, demonstrates the power of propaganda, identified post the world war.
As a reader it grasps the attention with its succinct description of events using public as a commodity, which were then packaged and sold at the highest price. Secondly the exercise of engineering of consent to create news cased with emotional message, explains the significance given to public sentiments. As Abraham Lincoln states “Public sentiments is everything. With public sentiments nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiments goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute.” (1860)
On a critical note, the sardonic rendering of PR as the one, not always in public interest but of his host leaves one in perplexity. This brings us to the ethical issues which seem of great magnitude now. As Shannon Bowen writes “The power to influence society means that public relations holds enormous responsibility to be ethical.”(2005a cited Coombs and Holladay 2007). Secondly this book limits itself to 1950 and does not explain the power of PR, in a democratic and free environment.
Besides that, it is undoubtedly a book worth one's time, who is interested in knowing the finer nuances of PR and its subsequent outcome. . The author successfully highlights the vast role of PR in our world. In addition the witty quotes by eminent personalities and worthy of note examples makes reading a captivating experience. Thus in all honesty as a reader, this book is definitely not the one to be missed. It’s a must grab and read.

Ewen, S., 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin. New York: Basic Books (Harper Collins).
Coombs, W.T and Holladay, S.J., 2007. It’s not just PR: Public Relations in Society. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing

Tags: prcommunications

Image of Ewen, S., PR! A Social History of Spin
Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

PR! A Social History of Spin: Review

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute. Abraham Lincoln, 1860.”

So begins an extremely knowledgeable, compelling and enjoyable read, built entirely upon fact from both history and experience. Taking us through the growth and progression of Public Relations in America throughout the 20th century, Stuart Ewan displays with acute detail, the historical foundations and formation of today’s political adept society. Beginning with Ewan’s personal meeting with Edward Bernays “Of course, you know, we don’t deal in images... We deal in reality.” and his credible influence on the PR industry we are literally invited into a real life encounter of not only the foremost steps towards our current social state but with also many of the masterminds who delivered us here today.

Furthermore Ewan goes on to successfully open our eyes and minds to the raw world of Public Relations and the ‘spin’ and importantly how often it is used to mould and shape public opinion to suit those of higher power and influence. In the words of French writer Georges Duhamel, taken from his work ‘America the Menace’ he refers to his experiences of American society in the 1930’s explaining “Everything was false. The world was false. I myself was perhaps no longer anything but a simulacrum of a man, an imitation.” We are introduced to a self-interested era and industry where because of ‘spin’ it is arguable that America became vulnerable and susceptible to terrible ultimatums such as The Great Depression and eventually the New Deal.

On a whole, in account of everything, it becomes clear that this book offers you everything required for a comprehensive insight into the use of PR in America and a society we all undervalue and take for granted through the guidance of various mediums. With the use of visuals such as pictures and photographs and a natural story telling technique Ewan takes us with clear precision progressively through history on a level that is both easy to understand and enjoyable for the reader making it perfect for both 1st year and 3rd year students alike.

Tags: global-business-context

Image of Ewen, S., PR! A Social History of Spin
Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

interesting chronical of the transition of public relations

PR! A social history of spin is written by Stuart Ewen and gives an in-depth insight into the transition of public relations within the corporate business world. It starts off with an interview with famous public relations founder, Edward Bernays. Ewen is a talented writer, he is easy to read and also personal in his tone which appeals to the reader. The interview with Bernays grabs the readers’ attention as it gives a reflection of one of the most acknowledged men in public relations history. It describes the man’s attitude to the field of public relations perfectly; “public relations was about fashioning and projecting credible renditions of reality itself” and gives the reader a chance to learn first hand opinions from such an authority within public relations.

Stuart Ewen incorporates both past and present in this book, as he describes his own efforts of doing public relations by creating a stunt in a school to engineer a journalist’s opinion who was writing an article on that particular lesson. This chapter again highlights the personal tone he is reflecting to the reader, as it gives an insight into his own view of PR, as well as the founding public relations leaders’ opinions of it within the rest of the book.

PR is generally associated with the corporate world within Ewen’s writing, from the muckraking journalists highlighting the corruption of the businesses, to the latter businesses changing their image to appeal to that of the ‘middle- class’ opinionated public of America. He focuses on the transition from the 1920’s and the influence of Bernays, to the more industrial and corporate 20th century where big businesses were expanding. He highlights their need to mould opinion of the public sphere and increase their profits and image using public relations. Ewen also gives an informative reflection of how public relations aid conflicting political views and the role it has on a democratic society. He covers all the social aspects of PR and tells the story of how it has become a lucrative career within political and corporate life today.

Ewen’s writing becomes quite intense as the book furthers, and less informal from the personal chapters seen previously. He gives a descriptive analysis of the corporate world, and uses theoretical sources to reflect the unsettled business environment within the 19th and 20th century. It makes the reader need to concentrate fully in order to understand the depth of how much public relations has shaped society and grown from being the role of ‘muckraking’ journalists.

In conclusion it a succinct and well written book that focuses on all aspects of the growth of public relations within the industrious and political world. It gives an insight using previously confidential sources like the interview with Bernays, and shows the change from the public relations previously practiced to how it is today.

Tags: corporate history pr spin

Image of Ewen, S., PR! A Social History of Spin
Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

Book Review: PR! A Social History of Spin

PR! A History of Spin, studies the changes through history of Public Relations through both Stewart Ewan personal experiences and knowledge and examples through time. He critically analyses and explains the theory behind spin and how it brought about changes in Public Relations, and the reception of this by the public through time.

The book is opened with an interview with Edward Bernays, someone who Ewan obviously holds in high respect calling him '... one of the most influential pioneers of American Public Relations . . . left a deep mark on the configuration of our world.' Discussing the uses of mass media, using visual symbols and the meaning of public relations and how the public perceived it.

Showing examples of Spin and how the techniques and conventions work that he had talked about previously, Ewen goes on to tell of an experiment that him and his class did to see whether they could get a news reporter to write a positive article about their class. This leads in to the beginning of 'Progressive Politics' and ‘‘the truth of an idea''.

Not only does he use his own personal research but he also delves in to the studies of many other theorists including Edward Bernays, Gustave Le Bon and Walter Lipmann. Discussing the ''Public Agenda'' and introduction of social surveys and changes in the classes. Also showing the early importance of newspapers, and how this was influenced by the 'status' that early readers of newspapers were given, causing many early PR people to begin their careers here.

Next he goes on to talk about the importance of publicity and one of the first PR campaigns by a company; 'AT&T' and the importance of what Vail did, introducing the ''user friendly interface'. Stating the importance of the phone and newspaper in shaping the terms of public interaction, and how the public witnessed the new consumerist way of life.

Later in the book it talks about PR and democracy and the introduction of propaganda specialists, and the mistrust between the public and PR, how it differed from time to time and how things had to be re-packaged and brought out in different ways to attract new audiences.

''Demographics is a powerful tool of divide and rule. To combat it we need to rediscover a sense of social connectedness.''

Finally at the end of the book saying how the media techniques need to be learnt to eradicate the distinctions between '.... publicist and citizen, author and reader...'

''It can enlarge the circle of who is permitted- and who will be able - to interpret and make sense of the world.''

Although the book only goes up to around 1950 it provides a good insight into examples, techniques and conventions of early spin and PR, of which most can still be seen today.

Tags: media-conflict-power

Image of Ewen, S., PR! A Social History of Spin
Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

Interesting and a Great Place to Start with the History of PR

PR! A Social History of Spin is an interesting read, as long as it is read critically. It is written in quite a relaxed style which careful moves through the history of public relations, whilst at the same time relating examples from Stuart Ewen’s personal experiences and historical examples to help explain the theory behind spin.

During the first chapter Ewen tells us about his motivation to examine the social and historical roots which explain the enormous role that public relations now has in the world today. He then moves on to describe his visit to Edward Bernays, one of the most influential pioneers of American public relations. Ewen outlines how Bernays combined Le Bon's fear of the masses with the theories of Freud concerning the subconscious, irrational motivations of human behaviour. It is really interesting to see how PR as we know it today was formed. For example Bernays defined public relations as an "applied social science" which society's masters could use to manage the human herd.

Another chapter is devoted to George Creel who directed U.S. efforts to mobilize the public in support of World War I. Creel's Committee on Public Information served as a training-ground for many of the PR industry's early leaders, perfecting many of the techniques of mass manipulation that are commonplace today including; mass distribution of news releases, sentimental appeals through advertising and motion pictures, targeted recruitment of local "opinion leaders,". What is particularly interesting is that many of these techniques are still employed today in corporate America's for example the use of “astroturf? "grassroots organisations" which are used to ‘represent’ general public opinion.

Unfortunately, PR! offers an incomplete "social history of spin," partially because it ends around the year 1950. It would be more accurate to characterize it as a history of the public relations industry during that period. Ewen also fails to address the light-hearted way in which people can respond to PR in their everyday lives. It could be said that Ewen implies that the public is completely compliant to all PR marketing which is a psychological model quite similar to PR's own vision of the public. However these minor gripes do not take anything away from the book. "PR!" is a fascinating account of the social and historical forces that created the ‘virtual reality’ in which we now live.

Tags: media-conflict-power

Image of Ewen, S., PR! A Social History of Spin
Ewen, Stuart, 1996. PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: BasicBooks

Essential reading

Stuart Ewen was one of the first US academics to focus a critical eye upon the world of advertising and PR with his publication of ‘Captains of Consciousness’ in 1976. ‘PR! A Social History of Spin’ (1996) is a masterful survey of the subtle shifts in the assumptions made about ‘the public’ and mass communication that underlie developments in corporate public relations. These assumptions have had a radical influence not only on advertising but on a huge range of media forms and institutions, including the popular press, radio, television, cinema, government ‘public information’ campaigns and so on.

Ewen traces the roots of contemporary media theory and advertising practice back to the work of theoretical pioneers such as Edward Bernays, Gustave Le Bon and Walter Lipmann. Examining early PR campaigns - such as that by AT&T persuading a sceptical public of the benefits of a national telephone monopoly, or of the Committee for Public Information’s (CPI) hugely effective propaganda campaign to support the US First World War effort, Ewen shows how the sophisticated use of images, emotional appeals and other techniques for ‘manufacturing consent’ were developed and refined into the armory of marketing and consciousness-shaping strategies at the disposal of the enormous PR industry today. Authoritative, powerfully written and essential reading.

Tags: advertising corporate history media-democracy-power power pr spin