The LGBTQ Experience In Public Relations

Today, The Museum of Public Relations organized first of its kind event titled ‘The LGBTQ Experience in Public Relations: Stories that Shaped Our Profession, Our Values, and Our Future’ in honor of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall Uprising. The event that took place at Wells Fargo had the panel explores how PR was utilized to frame the narrative and drive action in the gay right’s movement over the last half century while also addressing how far the industry has to go to protect gay and lesbian professionals from being discriminated at work place.

Stonewall Uprising, also known as the Stonewall Riots was a series of riots between the New York City police and the Stonewall Inn gay bar patrons that began on June 28th, 1969. Fighting the stigma behind LGBTQ and the community’s prolonged unjust treatment, the riots which were a response to police’s raid on the gay club, paved way to many others in United States and from around the world joining the fight and eventually, the formation of Gay Liberation Front: group that advocated for equal gay community. On riot’s one year anniversary, June 28th 1967, the first gay parade was organized and eversince, the gay right’s movement is honored. And this year, The Museum of Public Relations, brought an exclusive panel discussion that forwarded Stonewall Uprising’s mission of uplifting the LGBTQ community.

In her report, “We are people, not transactions”: Trust as a precursor to dialogue with LGBTQ publics, Erica Ciszeck, stated how despite 10 million American adults identify as LGBTQ, and LGBTQ millennials rising from 7.3% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018, organizations still need to figure out how to talk to LGBTQ customers. Erica, who would attend the event, said, “The need of the hour is to make the PR industry more inclusive and encourage a conducive environment for the LGBTQ community.”

In his speech, Scott Widmeyer added that “Today and in the near future, our sector in PR and communications can make a huge difference in helping thought leaders, pharma, government communicating important messages about their products and their and issues that are inclusive, that are thoughtful and that are progressive.”

The panelists, who themselves faced challenges as LGBTQ professionals, highlighted how bias still exist in the public relations industry despite its drive to achieve greater diversity. The panel composed of PR professionals from a wide range of generations, ethnic backgrounds and geographies. Following the keynote speaker: Scott Widmeyer, Chief Strategy Officer, Finn Partners, the panelists who took the discussion forward were: Troy Blackwell, director, PRSA-NY Big Apple Awards, Chiqui Cartagena, author, former senior vice president, Political and Advocacy, Univision, Del Galloway (host and master of ceremonies), vice president, Communications, Wells Fargo, Jim Joseph, global president, Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Drew McCaskill, senior vice president, Global Communications, Nielsen, Cathy Renna, managing partner, Target Cue, Bob Witeck, founder and president, Witeck Communications, Dr. Brenda Wrigley, associate professor, Curry College and Emerson College.

Post learning from the experiences and never told before personal stories of the above mentioned distinguished leaders and hearing their views on the topic, the attendees got the opportunity to engage in a networking reception.

Thank you everyone who attended and also ones who watched the event live on Facebook. Here are the pictures from the event:

Thank You for visiting

We thank you all for visiting the Museum:

It was great having Michael Diamond visit the Museum, where he spent several minutes today carefully poring over the pages of "Mr. Lee's Publicity Book," the unpublished manuscript written by Ivy Lee in 1928. Diamond is finishing his first year as academic director of NYU's Masters programs in PR and Integrated Communications. This manuscript is from the archives of Ray Hiebert, biographer of Ivy Lee. Dr.Hiebert so generously donated to the Museum his archives from “Courtier to the Crowd,” the quintessential life story of Ivy Lee, published in 1966 and reprinted in 2017.

Honeywell PR team joined us at the Museum to learn about the century-old ad / PR campaigns of their multiple consumer brands. (Women can not only make a great soufflé. They can also set the thermostat! How the heck will we figure out electronic mail? Who was Miss Robot of 1968?) — @Jane Khodos. The vintage Honeywell ads from the Sixties were a big hit.

Thank you to Nancy Weindruch Nilson, and her wonderful PR team from the DC-based Council of Responsible Nutrition. Here Nancy reads a letter from Western Union, written to Edward Bernays in 1923, thanking him for his suggestion on how the brand could stand out in the increasingly crowded telegram market.

When Chris Ribot learned his Mom was coming up to NYC from Puerto Rico, he made plans to bring her to a "surprise" destination, one that would have special meaning for this 70-year-old PR student in Puerto Rico. As soon as they got to the Museum window, and Soraida could see the old typewriter, stereogram and Edison light bulb, Soraida broke into happy tears. "I wanted to find someplace special to bring my Mom," said Chris. "She loves public relations so much!"

Thanks to Prof. Jeff Morosoff and Prof. Peter Gershon, and their terrific students from The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, who visited the Museum today as part of the NYC intensive this week. Their favorites: Arthur Page's pipe, Ed Bernays's in box, Ivy Lee's 1928 manuscript, and my father's still camera from the late 1950s.

The PRMuseum is the client this summer for these NYU students enrolled in the Practicum course. Their task: develop plans to create PR museums in different parts of the world

Sally Susman: Reflections On Fifty Years of Pride

Fifty years ago, the Stonewall uprising began when a transgender woman of color tossed a garbage can through a plate glass window of the Greenwich Village bar in response to police brutality, setting off five nights of rioting that galvanized the gay rights movement.

When a young woman from the Midwest came out to her family over a decade later, many attitudes hadn’t changed. Her influential father worried that she would never have a career, spouse, or family of her own—an appraisal that set in motion “a life plan I didn’t even realize was a life plan. But I wasn’t going to be held back,” says Sally Susman, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer.

History affirms she has defied each of her father’s fears. In a big way.

After decades of organizing and activism, the movement sparked by that broken window at Stonewall has helped crack the glass ceiling that LGBTQ people faced in government, society, and the boardroom.

Sally, who was recently named the top in-house PR person of the last 20 years by PRWeek, sat down with us to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and its impact on the industry and her career.

MP: Has your understanding of Stonewall changed over the years? 
My view of Stonewall—the concept, the moment, the place—has evolved over the decades with increasingly positive feelings. When I first moved to New York in 1990, I went to Christopher Street to see Stonewall itself. It seemed a bit foreboding. I wasn’t sure how I related to those moments of rebellion. But over the years, I have become more grateful to the people who came before me and more impressed by their bravery, which was a hundred times our bravery. Stonewall is a concept and a word that continues to take on new luster in my mind and I’m so happy that we’re celebrating 50 years of gay pride.

MP: You’ve always been very open about who you are. Did you have a role model for how to be an out woman in business?
I had what I call “role friends.” I came out in the early ‘80s in Washington, D.C., with friends like [Ad Council President and CEO] Lisa Sherman and Hilary Rosen. We were all coming out at the same time. We had each other for support. If someone’s family was unable to accept them, one of us would take them home for holidays. If someone was fearful about a situation at work, we would counsel each other. We were activists and we wanted to change the world. We’d stay up all night dreaming of things that seemed impossible at the time. Things like marriage and children. This was the creation of what I call my posse—a strong group of friends who feel like family.

MP: How has the Corporate Affairs practice impacted the fight for equality and human rights?
The various elements of Corporate Affairs (public relations, government relations, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy) have come together over the last several decades to create powerful departments within companies. Departments that focus on bridge-building between the company and people in the humanitarian space: employees, environmentalists and, for Pfizer, patients.

One of my earliest memories of activism, humanitarian work and communications coming together, was in the mid-80s when young men were contracting a mysterious illness, just as people were starting to come out of the closet. I was living in Washington, D.C., and had recently graduated from college. We were scared. Many of these sick, young men would go to the Whitman Walker clinic because their family doctors wouldn’t see them, and many subsequently passed away from AIDS.

I was so impressed by the strength of the community and their ability to articulate a message and advocate for themselves. They came out of the shadows and made a national campaign for saving their own lives. “Silence = Death” was one of the most brilliant pieces of branding I’ve ever seen. I think it’s what prompted me to begin linking communication, action and change.

MP: What challenges facing this generation of young people concern you most?
This generation appears to be suffering from an epidemic of anxiety. They are unable to cope and feel as if they’re drowning. And it’s a tough economy. I was very lucky. When I graduated from college the economy was good and the expectation was you’d graduate and you’d find an entry-level job. Now the struggle for young people in this economy is intense, and more and more people can’t make the break from home and are living with their families. I think these two things come together to make this a difficult time for young people.

MP: You’ve recently stepped into a leadership position on the board of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Will you tell us about your involvement?
I first became involved with the IRC because Tom Schick, my former boss at American Express, encouraged me to get involved. I don’t have a personal refugee past—although we all do at some level—but it wasn’t part of my family narrative. I joined the IRC along with several other organizations, but one by one the other causes have fallen away while the IRC has become closer and closer to my heart.

The IRC was founded by Albert Einstein after WWII because of the fate of people forced from their homes with nowhere to land. And we are seeing it again. I have a lot of respect for CEO David Miliband and in his book he says, “When we save the refugee, we are saving ourselves.” If we don’t reach out our hands to help, what does that say about who we are? And these people are not victims. They’ve moved to save their families, fleeing violence, and war. They’re actually heroes.

That’s how I feel about the LGBTQ community as well. We’ve risked everything—our families, our futures—and landed on our feet. And we are stronger and purpose driven because of it


Today's Reading List

1928-- PR Pioneer Ivy Lee publishes an account of his ten-day trip to Russia in "Present-Day Russia." Now, 90 years later, Lee's observations are finally available in Russian, thanks to Prof. Asya Veksler, from the School of Integrated Communications at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Ray Hiebert, Lee's biographer, ("Courtier to the Crowd") wrote the Foreword to the new edition. (Sheila Gibbons Hiebert) To read Lee's book in its original, see.

"In his 85th year of life," wrote DePaul Sophomore, Allegro Acosta, "DiFrisco maintained his title as one of the titans of public relations in the Midwest, while serving as a spokesman for the Italian American community in the city he helped flourish." Thanks to Prof. Ron Culp for publishing this tribute, about a man who needs to be recognized by the industry and remembered for all he accomplished. Read it here.

Journalism History Podcast by Prof. Terri Finneman

In this Journalism History podcast, hosted by Prof. Terri Finneman of the Univ. of Kansas, Prof. Denise Hill of Elon Univ. describes the stories of some of the "Hidden Figures" of PR History. She also explains the need for a more "inclusive" telling of our field's history, one that features the many African Americans, Latinos and women who played such an important role in the history of the profession, and those writers, like Ida B. Wells, who used public relations strategies in advocating for social justice. 

Listen or read the transcript here.

PC: Journalism History


Our happy visitors

We sincerely thank all our visitors:

It was Great to host London PR pro David Fraser today at the Museum. Fraser is founder of Ready10, winner of PRCA's Small Consultancy of the Year award, among other distinctions.  Also pictured is the hand of Barry Spector, pointing out for David an original photo of Edward Bernays's grandmother.

Thanks to Larry Parnell's terrific students at The George Washington University for visiting the Museum on Friday. The students spent the afternoon exploring original artifacts of PR pioneers like Inez Kaiser (Rick Kaiser), Ofield Dukes (Roxi Victorian), Edward Bernays, Arthur Page and Ivy Lee. They also got a chance to explore media technologies of the past, like a stereogram, an Edison cylinder record and a 1904 candlestick phone, and leafed through PR books from Russia, Brazil and Croatia.

On May 6th, we welcomed the great students from the London College of Communications and their wonderful professor, Adrian Crookes. Prof. Crookes has brought his students to the Museum for the past 5 years as part of his annual Spring trip to NYC. The students got to hear Bernays's case studies directly from Bernays, and had a "hands-on history" experience with artifacts from PR and media history. They read the original text of Ivy Lee's 1928 manuscript, "Mr. Lee's Publicity Book," the book that went unpublished, unseen and unread until only last year. Thanks to the generosity of Ray and Sheila Gibbons Hiebert, who donated Lee's archives to the Museum, and to Burton St. John, who brought the writings to life, "Mr. Lee's Publicity Book" is now available in printed form through Amazon.

The Triple-Paneled Disney Press Kit

1941-- Disney releases an animated movie about a young circus elephant named Dumbo, and the launch is supported by a highly integrated, interactive promotional/publicity/advertising campaign. The triple-paneled press kit, when fully opened, is the length of a modern office desk. In one of the three sleeves is an 8-page "publicity and features" supplement, with ready-to-use "mat" stories from every possible angle for local news editors and the movie trades. These include articles about the film's production; a section for kids, filled with movie characters to color; and an entire Women's Page, featuring a young female illustrator "inking in" a cartoon clown featured in the film.

This press kit was sent to the Museum by a woman in Austin, whose mother was working for the vp of Paramount Pictures Art Department in the 1940s. In her letter included with the press kit, she wrote "...knowing that the materials will have a continuing life among researchers is very rewarding."

The press kit and all its contents will be on display at the Museum starting tomorrow.

Learning the importance of work/life balance from Greg Tarmin

Historically, when we've talked about the need for "work/life balance," the PR industry, like other industries, have focused on the needs and challenges of working mothers. In this podcast from the PR Council, Greg Tarmin, a single father who heads the Padilla office in NYC, talks about the issues he's been facing, as well as the importance of a culture that supports "work/life" balance for all employees.

Conducting the interview is PR Council president Kim Sample. Listen to it here.

PC: PR Council blog

PC: PR Council blog

Betsy Plank: a stand-out PR leader

In an age when just a handful of women were able to work as professionals in PR, Betsy Plank was a stand-out PR leader, paving the way for thousands of women who came after her.

We’d revisit her firsts. Wondering how one person achieved so many "firsts" for women in public relations? Learn the inspiring life story of Betsy Plank and why she's called the "First Lady of PR." She accomplished more for women, students and education than probably any other single person in the history of the #PublicRelations industry.