It is common for public relations students to be asked to consider the link to propaganda. Many contemporary practitioners and academics seek to distinguish the two, whilst critics of PR, or any particular communications, often use the propaganda label pejoratively.
I am interested in the concept of propaganda in the context of the activities of the Special Operations Executive in the 2nd world war. Today at Beaulieu in the New Forest, I saw an exhibition of the activities of those who attended the SOE “Finishing School” – which is a fascinating insight into the importance of the “black art” at that time.
A link to my own background in motor industry public relations is Maurice Buckmaster, who was involved in the French side of SOE. After the war, Buckmaster became Director of Public Affairs at Ford Motor Company, and was also a Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations (now CIPR) and its President in 1955/6.
Vera Atkins, who is said to have been the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny, worked for Buckmaster in SOE. A lot of very brave women were involved in such war efforts – but it is not clear if any of them subsequently moved into PR , as many men with propaganda experience did.
In tracking the history of British public relations, L’Etang and Pieczka overtly acknowledge the overlap between PR and propaganda in terms of the biographies of men such as Buckmaster, who seemed to be an inspirational character to many subsequent PR practitioners.
Mind you, I’m not sure if the other skills taught at Beaulieu ever proved useful in public relations – such as using “secret inks, coding, clandestine communications and black propaganda, along with such nefarious skills as silent killing, housebreaking, safe-blowing, forgery, unattributable sabotage and survival techniques”.