“...in the normal course of events I don't expect I will ever be a pioneer.”
—Arthur W. Page, October 27, 1944
How wrong he was. From the Progressive Era to the Eisenhower years, Arthur W. Page's thoughts, his philosophies, his principles and most importantly his words would change public relations from "press agentry" into an integral fabric of American corporations.
During Page's early years, he perfected his writing skills with publishing house Doubleday, Page and Co., where from 1905 to 1927 he served as editor of the World's Work and later as vice president of the company. His influential years as vice president of AT&T shaped a profession and his later involvement in World War II, including the development of the Marshall Plan and Radio Free Europe, would have a profound effect on the world.
"Public relations is far more than handling the press. It is a away of life."
Doubleday Page & Company
Upon his graduation from Harvard in 1905, Page went to work for the World's Work, a magazine published by Doubleday, Page and Co., a company founded in 1899 by his father Walter and F.N. Doubleday. This experience would have a great effect not only on his writing, but also on his social ties and development. His work at the magazine allowed him to come into contact with the likes of James Garfield, the Wright brothers, President Theodore Roosevelt and a vast number of high profile and influential people.
Beginning as a proofreader, Page quickly moved into a writing position, concentrating primarily on issues affecting government and business. It was at Doubleday that he would begin to write persuasively, learning what it would take to motivate the public into action. Later on, this skill would greatly contribute to his success as a public relations counselor.
In 1913, when his father was named ambassador to England, Page became editor of the magazine and used it as a vehicle to campaign for American intervention on the side of the allies during WWI.
In July 1918, Arthur went to England to bring his father home. His father was exhausted. During this period, his brother Frank, as a propaganda officer, produced leaflets for delivery over the enemy lines, and Arthur went to France. He was back home by mid-January 1919, returning to his work at Doubleday, where he sought to remain aware of every aspect of the War. Realizing the U.S. Department of State had no formal plan to keep its overseas representatives aware of American business, politics or sentiment, Page would write long letters to his father, keeping him abreast of the goings-on in America. Later, other representatives would come to rely on these letters for information also. This was the beginning of Page's long and successful relationship with the U.S. government.
His relationship with the U.S. government started when he was a reporter for the World's Work. It progressed through his father's role in the Wilson administration. What really got it started, though, was his friendship with his Long Island neighbor, Henry L. Stimson. Even while a student at Harvard, he staged a dinner for the governors of Virginia and Massachusetts and attended Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration in 1904.
Page was named editor of the World's Work in 1913, and a vice president in 1916, two years before his father's death in late 1918. In 1926 Page's partner F.N. Doubleday wanted to capitalize on a new trend in magazines and insisted on making the World's Work more of a picture book. Angered and insulted by the idea, Page wanted out of the company. In late 1926 he got his chance. Walter Gifford, president of American Telephone & Telegraph Company and a former Harvard classmate offered Page a job as vice president of public relations. Page accepted the position on the condition that he would have a say in the development of company policy; he did not want to be just a figurehead. And, as the story goes, he wasn't...
AT&T Years 1927–1946
In 1927 Page became the first person to hold the title of vice president of public relations for AT&T. Publicity and advertising functions had previously been handled by others throughout the company including a group headed by the president. Page brought important staff functions to the company: the counseling of management on how to react to public opinion and the ability to communicate persuasively on behalf of the company.
On October 20, 1927 AT&T president Walter Gifford delivered a speech before the National Association of Railroad and Utilities Commissioners in Dallas. The speech defined the company's policies and objectives; AT&T would provide their customers with the best possible service at the lowest cost consistent with financial safety. This message would become the bedrock of AT&T's public relations efforts to this day; the responsibility of the pr staff was to ensure that this promise was kept.
Page's contributions to AT&T's pr philosophy included the idea that the public relations staff must act as the conscience of the corporation and that the pr practitioner was to convince all employees that public relations was everybody's job and not just a staff function. Page addressed this issue in a speech he delivered at a public relations conference in 1939 where he stated, "Public relations, therefore, is not publicity only, not management only; it is what everybody in the business from top to bottom says and does when in contact with the public."
"Page brought important staff functions to AT&T: counseling of management on how to react to public opinion, and communicating persuasively on the company's behalf."
One of Page's first endeavors at AT&T was to increase the use of institutional ads and sales advertising. AT&T institutional ads, begun with Theodore Vail in 1908 and placed under the aegis of Jim Ellsworth, Page's ads emphasized the sale of extensions. A stress on sales would make the company more aware of and responsive to the customers desires. He also believed that employees that were encouraged to sell would have to be kind to their customers and that this in turn would create customer good will. During these early years Page also helped develop AT&T's stockholder policies. He served as president of the Bell Telephone Securities Co., a subsidiary formed to encourage ownership of AT&T securities.
The FCC Investigation
Page faced one of his biggest pr challenges at AT&T in 1935 when the company came under heavy scrutinization by the U.S. government. Congress passed the Communication Act of 1934, which in turn created the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC was given the power to regulate telephone, broadcasting and other communications companies. What started as a simple investigation into their advertising and sales practices soon became what had been described at the time as a "witch hunt." Page was credited with helping AT&T emerge from the investigation with little incidence because he had developed what the San Antonio News had described as "a beautiful system of public relations."
Between 1941 and 1946 Page would continue his pr duties with AT&T, but much of his attention would turn towards a much bigger issue, World War II.
WWII and the years following
Early in his publishing career Page had forged what would be a life-long friendship with American statesman Henry Stimson. As Secretary of War during WWII, Stimson asked Page to serve as the head of the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, an organization that supervised military troop information. This was only the beginning of Page's involvement with the War.
In 1945 Page wrote what would probably be his most widely read words ever. On August 6 at 11:00 a.m., President Harry S. Truman announced, "Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British 'Grand Slam' which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare."
"Stimson needed someone to talk to about the use of the [atomic bomb] during the war."
His involvement with the Manhattan Project came to be after he was asked to reorganize the Army's Bureau of Public Relations. He completed the task but was asked to stay on because as he came to realize, Stimson needed someone to talk to about the use of these new weapons during the war. According to Page, 'He had a great conscience about whether he should use this doggoned thing or not, and if so, how.'
The U.S. Government awarded Page the Medal of Merit for his wartime service.
In the late 1940's Page became very involved in providing assistance to European countries that were ravaged during the War. He was a member of the Stimson Committee, a group of influential men that were lobbying for the passage of the Marshall Plan, a European recovery program developed by Secretary of State George Marshall. The Marshall Plan was signed into law in 1948, and by 1952 the U.S. had channeled millions of dollars in economic aid to 16 countries.
"Instead of retaliating, Page simply offered to provide Lewis with any information he wanted."
In 1949 Page helped organize the National Committee for a Free Europe. According to Noel Griese, Public Relation s Quarterly, Fall 1976, the organization was, "A 'black propaganda' organization supposedly funded by the contributions of American citizens but in reality a Central Intelligence Agency front company." The committee's goal was aimed at both foiling communism and furnishing democracy in Eastern European countries. In 1953 he became Chairman of the Executive Committee and in the following years used his public relations know-how to find influential people that would also hold this position. The list of followers is impressive and includes such notables as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry Ford II and General Lucius Clay.
When the Committee and its associated agencies, i.e. Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom, came under attack by syndicated columnist and radio personality Fulton Lewis, Jr., Page used his public relations talents to thwart the situation. Lewis claimed that the entire committee was a group of "misguided souls." Instead of retaliating Page simply offered to provide Lewis with any information he wanted about the group and even offered to meet with him at any time to discuss their goals and achievements. By the time it was over the Committee had emerged unscathed; in fact, the tables seemed to have turned on Lewis who came out looking like he was carrying out an unjustified vendetta. Until his death in 1960, Page contributed large amounts of time and money to the Free Europe Committee.
Page took a special interest in the 1952 presidential election. He devoted a lot of time and energy towards the nomination and election of Eisenhower. Rather than being part of the campaign, he chose to focus his efforts on his own influential friends and acquaintances. Page took Eisenhower's thoughts and words from previous speeches and wartime talks and applied them to the issues of the day. By communicating these ideas to his chosen audience, he was successful in gathering ample support for the election.
To Page the most important message he could convey to the public would be the importance of freedom in American society. Nowhere was this more evident than in his establishment of the Center for the Study of the History of Liberty in America at Harvard in 1958. Funded by a $400,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation (he was a trustee), the center published more than 20 major works including two that earned Pulitzer Prizes. When fellow public relations counselor Earl Newsom asked Page why he became involved with this project, he replied,"...It seemed to me that something ought to be done about the teaching of history in our colleges. So I set about trying to do something. That is the tale."