C. Edmund Murray APR, FCPRS(H)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Edmund Murray began his public relations career in the mid-1950s as an undergraduate at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. At school, he did publicity and promotional campaigns for amateur theatre productions. His part-time work for CBC as a studio guide gave him his first taste of media relations.
After doing graduate studies at Boston University’s College of Communication in Boston in1957-58, Edmund was hired on contract to handle the Halifax-Dartmouth United Appeal.
He moved to the CBC in 1958 where he handled media relations in the Maritimes for 10 years. His work included publicity for programming as well as the technical, administrative and corporate releases. Ironically, Edmund was working in radio and TV and doing media relations with print media.
In the late 1960s, Edmund joined the federal government and first worked for the Unemployment Service Commission in Moncton, N.B. Then in the early 1970s, Edmund became the first public relations manager for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO), located in Dartmouth, N.S.
At the time, the BIO was essentially operating like a (scientific) monastery – the work they did was off the media radar and that’s what was preferred. To improve the BIO’s public and media relations, Edmund developed a communications strategy and an awareness campaign (on a year-to-year basis using students and temporary contracts) that was accepted by senior management. As a result of the plan, journalists and members of the public began to visit.
The BIO’s silence barrier breakthrough was a great accomplishment and it became part of Edmund’s CPRS accreditation work sample.
Edmund left the BIO in the mid-1980s, moving on to Human Resources Development Canada.
EDMUND’S REFLECTIONS ON CHANGES IN PRACTICE SINCE THE 1960s
Changes in Strategic Communications Planning
- Lamp of Service, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1986
- Lifetime Member, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1986
- Merit Award, Government of Canada
- National President, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1978-79 (the first national president to come from Nova Scotia, and from the public service)
- Past President’s Medal, Canadian Public Relations Society
- President’s Medal, Canadian Public Relations Society, Nova Scotia
- President and founding member, Atlantic Public Relations Society (the predecessor to CPRS-NS), late 50s and early 60s
In the early days, a lot of the work was done “flying by the seat of your pants.” There was none of this planning work done on a week-to-week, month-to-month or even year-to-year basis with results. Because a lot of public relations people came out of publicity mills or journalism, it was matter of media, media, media . . . other equally important elements to awareness or strategic campaigns were really ignored.
In today’s PR practices, it seems the personal touch is gone, especially on a one-to-one and one-to-group basis because of the many electronic and technological advances. A lot of folks say, “It’s in the computer and I push the button, (then) it’s gone out electronically. That’s all I have to do.” There’s more to it than just that.
I always defined public relations as reputation – it is integral to the practitioner, to his/her clients and to the people served. Good public relations is not something you can market, deceive people about or that you can advertise. It’s something that you earn.
Changes in How Public Relations is Practiced
On media tours in the 1960s, I would spend weeks on the road visiting media reps in all the regions, dropping in to touch base with editors in TV and radio newsrooms. I was not doing so to peddle stories, but just to stop by and chat.
The personal touch is still valuable, but it is being put aside and ignored in this “rush rush” day of technology. There is still a need to put in the occasional phone call to people you are dealing with and to follow-up on media releases you are handling.
The media has also become monolithic. There are very few individual or independent parts of the media because it’s all huge corporate areas on radio and television. You can’t even find a newsroom in radio; it seems there is no such thing because everything is computerized, which is a concern.
The science editors that I dealt with in the scientific community knew their beat and kept on top of what was happening in the scientific community. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been properly prepared for related interviews and storylines. Today, the quality of editors and journalists is still there but some need to go back and learn the language.
Internal communications were still evolving in the 1960s and 70s. There was a great chasm between senior management and the unions, so basically labour relations had to have strength in that area. Since the early 1980s, management has been more cognizant of the importance of the employee and there have been great strides in that area. In the public sector, some departments are excellent at internal communications whereas others couldn’t really care less.
I always hoped there would be some kind of communications training focus within the public service. I believe the Government of Canada should have a public relations and communications specialty, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Public relations research is critical. In the 1960s at the CBC, I was able to gauge interest levels through phone calls and letters on a daily basis. Later, working with other government departments, I used more sophisticated methods, including focus group testing with ad agencies on some of the messages for the larger campaigns they worked on. Research is so important that even if you can’t afford a huge survey, you can certainly get a question dropped in to a broader survey to find out what’s happening.
There has been a misunderstanding about the terminology of public relations. In the early days, it was considered flackery – an evil and dishonest thing. When I was teaching public relations, students would say, “I just think you are a professional liar.” So I used to respond by saying, “No way. If you lie, if you deceive, that’s it – you’re finished in your whole career.”
CPRS, with its educational programs, and the IABC and PRSA (which the CPRS has had great liaison with over the years), have reinforced the fact that professional development in public relations is an ongoing learning experience.
Favourite Public Relations Achievement
When I went to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO), it was Canada’s best kept secret. There was a terrible embargo regarding the public. It was like a monastery, only scientific. The staff felt they were cut off from the public but they didn’t seem to mind much about it because that was just the way it was.
Ultimately, I developed a communications strategy and had it accepted by senior management. I knew at that time I was on the right track and fortunately, was able to stick around long enough to see the strategy in practice, with large numbers of visitors arriving at the Institute and VIPs being treated to trips on research vessels.
Worst Moment in Public Relations
In the mid-1980s, a brilliant scientist was going public with information a little too often. Ultimately, he went national with some outrageous statements regarding military cold war situations involved with his research. I was able to quell rumours in Newfoundland where the scientist had made the statements before Canadian Press picked it up; however, he wasn’t quick enough to prevent everyone from getting wind of the story. It turned out a stringer for CBC’s “As It Happens” got the story and there was panic in trying to lessen the scientist’s and the scientific community’s embarrassment.
Advice to People who Enter the Profession
It’s an exciting field. You get out of it what you put into it. If you have a reputation and/or you are starting out in PR as a student, you can build up your reputation. Then as your career progresses and develops, you can take that reputation with you no matter where you go.
Future of Public Relations
I believe the field is still evolving and that as training, awareness and research evolve, the profession will ultimately arrive at some kind of licensing. Public relations people have been talking about that for 30 years and it’s been a thorny subject. Other professions, from chiropractors to social workers, have their bylaws and their code of ethics and their licenses. It’s bound to happen for public relations at some point too.