Desde el principio, su principal objetivo era convertirse en el monopolio de la telefonía y para ello utilizó una estrategia basada en los medios de información, la publicidad y, por primera vez, la atención al cliente. Esta estrategia se desarrolló primero a través de una agencia de comunicación y después contratando al director de la cuenta en la agencia como director de comunicación. Su presidente Theodore Newton Vail fue un pionero en incorporar la comunicación como un elemento estratégico en la empresa y los resultados para la empresa fueron muy buenos.
A continuación viene el texto original en inglés (páginas 84-101).
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Theodore Newton Vail, who, starting in 1907, was president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). More than any other corporate chieftain of his era, Vail approximated the vision of business leadership that Lee conjured up in his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations in 1915.
To some extent, the link between AT&T and public relations strategy predated Vail’s presidency. From the beginning of the century while most corporations paid little attention to the temperature of public opinion -unique exigencies impelled the Bell System, as it was called, to look upon “public relations” as a vital element of its corporate policy.
By the turn of the century, the AT&T leadership was already committed to establishing a privately owned, nationwide monopoly over an important new public service, the telephone. This objective was set in the midst of a society in which anticorporate, antimonopoly sentiments -calls for governmental regulation and governmental ownership of public utilities- were approaching their zenith. To reach the objective of a Bell System monopoly over all wire communication in the United States, company leaders reasoned, the public had to be diverted -at least in respect to AT&T- from its general distrust of big business. With this, the wheels of an innovative public relations – one that continues to operate at full speed- began to turn.
The establishment of a Bell System monopoly faced acute challenges from two general directions. From one side, there were widespread calls for governmental ownership of telephone service, an approach that was taking hold in Europe and elsewhere. Many argued that phone service -drawing an analogy from the U.S. Post Office’s jurisdiction over written and printed communications- should be “postalized,” government run.
AT&T also faced headstrong competition from numerous localized independent phone companies. In a society in which huge national corporations were commonly despised and relatively few individuals yet required frequent access to long-distance phone services, a number of local telephone companies possessed “sentimental” advantages over AT&T and enjoyed a great deal of public support.
Confronted by these threats, AT&T, in 1903, engaged the services of a recently founded enterprise known as the Publicity Bureau, located in Boston. The Publicity Bureau, a partnership of experienced former newspaper men, was already achieving a reputation for being able to place prepackaged news items in papers around the country and Frederick P. Fish, president of AT&T believed that this know-how might be serviceable in the defense of the Bell System’s corporate game plan.
James T. Ellsworth, a seasoned journalist with the Bureau, was given the job of steering the AT&T account. One of the first things to happen under Ellsworth’s guidance was the decision to jettison all corporate use of the expression “Bell System.” “It seemed injudicious to use the term Bell System,” he would later explain, because this phraseology “suggested a trust.” With this, a new public identity was ushered in -“the Bell Companies”- a designation more in tune with the anticorporate spirit of the time, one that suggested a loose federation of localized businesses.
Beyond this early example of corporate image management, Ellsworth methodically generated public relations pieces -crafted to read like impartial feature articles- for syndication to newspapers around the country. He also assumed the task of promoting friendly relationships with editors and publishers around the country particularly in those territories where competition from “the independents” or antitrust sentiments posed particular problems for AT&T interests. In 1903, for example, regional phone companies posed a problem for AT&T in Kansas City, which had recently granted a franchise to an independent, and in Milwaukee, which seemed to be on the brink of doing so. “These two cities being considered in a critical condition at the time the publicity work started,” Ellsworth later recalled, he “w¡as sent to survey the ground.”
What he found was daunting. AT&T interests were under fire, and the corporation had few opportunities to defend itself. “At Kansas City,” Ellsworth remembered, “the newspaper situation was so antagonistic that the local Bell Company -the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company- had no means of presenting its facts to the public.” Adding to this problem, there was little practical PR wisdom for him to fall back on during those early years; “organized publicity was little more than a theory and practically no one knew how to practice it.”
Developing a strategy out of his firsthand journalistic experience, Ellsworth took a first step, which was based on his understanding of newspaper economies. By 1900, advertising -not circulation- was already the prime source of income for most newspapers, and Ellsworth fully comprehended the unspoken power that advertisers
could exert over editorial policy and content. AT&T’s publicity work in Kansas City, therefore, began by directing significant advertising revenues toward a number of local newspapers.
These economic seedlings soon bore fruit. With the lubricant of advertising dollars, Ellsworth was soon providing suddenly compliant editors with a diverse range of packaged articles, already typeset and ready to be placed. Ad revenues, Ellsworth recounted, “broke the ice” with these newspapers, and the Missouri and Kansas Bell company was “given access to the news columns of the several papers in Kansas City and had an opportunity to make itself better understood.”
In a 1904 memorandum to AT&T executives, the Publicity Bureau was already boasting that it had “disabused the public mind” of the “Twenty Million Dollar Trust Myth” that had surrounded the Missouri and Kansas Bell company. Milwaukee, the Bureau reported, would soon be theirs.
Internally, AT&T was pleased with the Bureau’s work. Walter S. Allen, AT&T’s corporate liaison with the Publicity Bureau, reported to President Fish that it should become increasingly easy to get pro-AT&T articles published. In a memo that reflected the increasingly sophisticated sensitivity of the newspaper as a communications environment, Allen asserted that the key to maintaining friendly relations with newspapers was to continue paying for advertising. Publicity articles, he cautioned, must appear to remain on the “news” side of the stylistic border that separates journalism from overt salesmanship. Though articles might be promotions for AT&T, they should not appear to be so. “Each new story presented,” Allen explained, “can be made more and more frankly a Bell advertisement, but it can not be allowed to degenerate into material which will be considered by the editors of such a nature as to justify them in charging for it as paid reading matter at the standard rate of one dollar per line.” To maintain this fine distinction, he continued, AT&T must ensure that publicity articles would be written only by experienced “newspaper writers”.
In time, Allen believed, these crack news writers would be skillful enough to translate the long-range intention of AT&T -to establish unchallenged control of all telephone communications in the United States- into a journalistic idiom that would be acceptable to a public that was generally hostile to monopoly. In a July 1904 letter to Fish, Allen elaborated:
The objective point of the policy of this company, as I understand it, is. . . to secure as complete a system throughout the country as is possible, and to that end everything which educates the public in the use of the telephone is of ultimate advantage to this company. The work of this Bureau seems to me well adapted to interest the public, and as the foothold becomes more secure in newspaper circles it will in all probability be possible to lead many of them to the point we desire to reach, namely, the education of the public to the belief that the telephone system is necessarily national in character.
While these documents reveal that AT&T’s corporate leadership was, early on, paying exceptional attention to public relations concerns, the particular PR strategy being described was not that exceptional. Though on a grander and more credible scale than that employed by other companies, it was still predominantly press agentry. Farmed out to an independent contractor, public relations was not yet a part of the corporate fabric.
Initial enthusiasm for the Publicity Bureau’s work soon proved premature. Despite the agency’s earlier proclamations of triumph, by 1906 “the state of public opinion concerning large corporations” had deteriorated considerably, as had AT&T’s public reputation in relation to independent regional phone companies. Writing again to Fish, in October of 1906, Allen complained that “much talk of the independents as to the Bell methods and the Bell theories passes muster with the mass of people . . . as being true.”
In an ambience of escalating crisis, AT&T’s leaders began to entertain the need for “radical change” in their effort to generate more amicable public relations. “It seems to me essential,” wrote Allen to Fish, “that if this company is to secure the co-operation of the public, a more aggressive position as regards the presentation of its claims to the consideration of the public must be taken.”
It was at this decisive moment, that AT&T moved toward Lee’s fantasy of proper public relations. In 1907, AT&T took its public relations activities out of the hands of the Publicity Bureau and placed them under the direct supervision of a new chief executive, Theodore Newton Vail, a man who had been employed by the Bell System in years past. Tb assist him, Vail hired Ellsworth away from the Publicity Bureau and placed him at the head of the newly created AT&T Information Department.
Vail was, for his era, an unusual kind of corporate chief. Unlike most business leaders of the time -who kept a deliberate distance from public view- Vail saw public relations as a key ingredient of corporate leadership in the twentieth century. In this sense, his elevation to the presidency of AT&T constituted a dramatic rejoinder to the philosophy of men like John D. Rockefeller and others who rated the appellation robber baron. Vail was a quintessential “corporate liberal.” In his desire to curry favorable public opinion and in his multilevel campaign to project and nurture an altruistic corporate identity, he embodied a business-oriented variant of the Progressive impulse.
As president of a privately held public utility, Vail was in a unique position to appreciate the delicate balance between the interests of a large corporation and a middle-class public that was expected to purchase its services or invest in its stock. From this vantage point, Vail demonstrated a business class consciousness that was rare among his peers. Within an often bitter anticorporate milieu, he cultivated a conciliatory style of leadership, predicated on the belief that conventional business practices -unless modified- posed a threat not only to the interests of privately owned utilities, but to the viability of corporate capitalism in general.
There was “danger, grave danger,” Vail forecast, if business continued to choose the incentive of short-term profit over the more strategic question of long-term survival.
Our personal rights will not amount to much if they come in conflict with public greed or selfishness, or with public prejudice. For this reason and these reasons, and for the preservation of society such as we can live under, it is necessary that we subordinate our personal and selfish desires to what is best for all, and keep alive in the minds of the public the necessity of this subordination.
In its sense of imminent peril, Vail’s worldview was remarkably close to that of Walter Lippmann in Drift and Mastery. Like Lippmann, Vail believed that the flammable alliance of corporate arrogance from above and radical forces from below was propelling society toward chaos. Echoing familiar middle-class anxieties, Vail was troubled by a vast population of impoverished immigrants who, as they transfigured American society, presented a mounting threat to the social order.
Millions of immigrants. . . with no realization of any difference between liberty and license, were cut loose from the restraint imposed upon them by custom and tradition, and without education or ideas of public obligations were put on a political equality in every respect with those who by experience and generations of education were prepared for all the rights of higher citizenship.
These “discontented forces,” Vail continued, were being incited by agitators who were forging them into “an influence in the politics of this country that must be reckoned with. Decrying a distending tide of democracy, Vail asserted that social progress could not be achieved at the expense of social distinction.
No matter what may be the future of “uplift” or development some conditions will never change. . . . [S]ome must bear the physical burden, some the mental, and some the financial. There must be mutual concession and subordination of the individual to the comfort of all. There must be leaders and followers, for without organization there can only be chaos.
Like Lippmann, Vail also believed that the middle-class public was being misguided by “utopian” theorists and the general ambience of recrimination they were fomenting. Persisting habits of corporate greed, he allowed, contributed a kernel of truth to the accusations.
The public have been educated entirely by those whose entire capital is in exciting class prejudice and class feeling. Mis- management and unprincipled promotion and combination have furnished the agitators with some material, which freely coupled with misstatements, misinformation and misinterpretation of rightfull things. . . have produced deplorable results.
Against these false prophets and their teachings, Vail contended, corporations must furnish an alternative truth. “The only thing to bring about a millennium, is to be as active in giving correct information, and in upsetting of heresies and delusions, as others have been in cultivating them.” As the “private rights” of corporation are dependent on “public acquiescence,” the public must be “educated”towards a greater understanding of these rights
Vail’s commitment to “educating” the public was a critical piece within a sophisticated political outlook. Consistent with the thinking of the Progressives, his notion of “the public” was emphatically middle class; Vail’s commitment to the practice of corporate public relations was rooted in the conviction that if educated to be more sympathetic toward business, this public might serve as a buffer against the greater threats that lurked below.
Against the danger of chaos from below and to nullify public “delusions,” Vail formulated a far-ranging public relations strategy aimed at convincing the middle class that their interests and the interests of the Bell Companies were congenial. More than press agentry Vail’s PR, policy was planned to provide middle-class phone subscribers with tangible proof that AT&T’s corporate policies were responsive to the needs of an anxious public.
Phone rates were established to project this priority. At a time when long-distance service was used, for the most part, by businesses, AT&T regional companies inflated long-distance telephone costs to subsidize their local phone rates. With the Bell Companies offering the only comprehensive national telephone service, businesses engaged in interstate commerce had little choice but to go with AT&T. Meanwhile, the surcharge levied on business users permitted AT&T to provide local service at a price that was affordable to most middle-class subscribers, people who only rarely relied on long-distance lines.
Other policies were more semiotic in nature. Though AT&T was controlled exclusively by a male hierarchy, a conscious decision was made to give the direct link between the public and the corporation -the telephone operator- a woman’s voice. The employment of female operators, who would begin each phone transaction with a courteous “Number please?” established AT&T as a prescient innovator of the “user-friendly inteface.”
At a time when there was was widespread middle-class unease over exploitative working conditions, AT&T advertised internal labor policies designed to encourage “esprit de corps . . . morale” among employees. For AT&T’s primarily Anglo-Saxon workforce, Vail promised wages scaled to match “the very highest that are paid for any similar class of work” and an unprecedented employee health program to provide “benefits for sickness and disability.”
Ultimately, AT&T’s success rested on its ability to project a sympathetic corporate personality. Vail insisted that this required a sure understanding of the public mind; the “whole question of public relations” was increasingly conceived in terms of the company’s ability to present itself “through the eyes of the public.” This objective demanded new ways of thinking. As never before, company executives were encouraged to become students of public attitudes and opinions, to familiarize themselves with the public’s point of view on a range of relevant issues. Though this idea is a cliché of public relations today, at the time it constituted a dramatic break from the disdainful short- sightedness of the past, a move toward a more socially conscious style of corporate behavior.
“Get the public’s view point,” said E. K. Hall, Vail’s vice president, to a meeting of his New England managers; “see if you can work out the problem from that basis.”
Don’t bristle at the man who makes a complaint, but make him feel that he is doing you a favor. Most people are reasonable, and if you take this point of view you can make him not only reform his opinion of your company, but respect you as an individual.
All these strategies -cut rate local phone bills, the friendly greetings of Ma Bell, employee esprit de corps programs, presenting things through the public’s eyes- were essentials in Vail’s innovative effort to defend AT&T against a “curse of bigness.” Yet it was his effort to place an altruistic spin on the idea of an AT&T telephone monopoly that occupied the core of his PR, endeavors. This was the company’s underlying corporate objective, and a contentious political climate required that it be adroitly pursued.
Vail’s campaign to ennoble the concept of an AT&T telephone monopoly confronted difficult obstacles. In a nation in which the fear of “bigness” was widespread and most people still lived a more or less localized existence, provincialism had buttressed public loyalty to regional phone companies. In the face of this hurdle, AT&T’s Information Department worked to advance the oracle of a different America, an America to come, in which people’s lives-following the lead of the modern business system-would take on an increasingly national and cosmopolitan character. Within such a world, the limits of regional phone service would become clear.
It was the nervous public that provided VaiI with the basic ingredient of his PR, strategy. In a world where rapid change and a sense of drift were often dismaying facts of life, Vail’s public relations was calculated to provide Americans with a consoling picture of the people they were in the process of becoming. Remarkably attuned to the nationalization of social and economic life that was rapidly taking place, his platform was founded on the majestic promise of “universal service.”
People would be more dispersed yet more connected. Beyond claims of high-quality phone service, Bell public relations continually portrayed the ordinary phone subscriber as a person requiring contact with a wider world. “When you lift the Bell receiver,” the company repeatedly announced, “you are in contact with the world.”
As president, Vail dramatically increased corporate funding for publicity matters and launched -for the first time in the company’s history- an illustrated institutional advertising campaign, touting the “Bell System” as a service benefiting “all the people all the time.” Vail personally approved “every piece of copy and made many suggestions.”
Proclaiming that “every Bell Telephone is the Center of the System,” these ads encouraged telephone users to view the company not as a dark monopolistic leviathan, but as a beneficent mother figure who would make each and every one of them the center of her attentions. At the bottom of each ad stood AT&T’s oath of infinite and equitable access: “One System, One Policy, Universal Service.” The deftness of this strategy was its unprecedented openness. Rather than hide from AT&T’s conspicuous size or its monopolistic ambitions, Vail energetically transformed these often maligned characteristics into pure and simple virtues.
Building on preexisting patterns of publicity, AT&T, under Vail’s leadership, also expanded the bulk of materials produced and sent out to news services and newspapers. Beyond articles responding directly or implicitly to those hostile to an AT&T monopoly, many of these pieces were of a human-interest variety designed to portray the tele- phone in general, and AT&T in particular as the glue that holds a modern society together.
Vail personally prepared “a syllabus on the life history of the telephone” for publication in magazines, and other articles featured telephone etiquette; “girl” switchboard operators; and the role of the telephone in suburban life, in church life, in the wilderness, in the law, in the army, and so forth. In each story the telephone was the star; the Bell System supplied the mis-en-scéne that made the drama possible.
While magazine and newspaper publishers criticized many companies for attempts to secure “free publicity” in their pages, AT&T’s self-conscious mix of paid advertising and packaged news items gained publishers’ approval and often their active collaboration with AT&T’s corporate goals.
This collaboration is apparent in a 1909 letter from H. W Pool, advertising manager of Moody’s Magazine, to Ellsworth. Pool was writing to offer the company advertising space on “the outside back cover” of an upcoming issue of the magazine for a fee of seventy-five dollars. “This issue,” Pool continued, “will contain an exhaustive article of your company written by Mr. John Moody which is highly complimentary to your company.” The exchange between favorable editorial coverage and advertising revenues was unabashedly affirmed as Pool inserted: “We believe that support from you from an advertising standpoint world prove mutually advantageous.”‘e
The amalgam of syndicated public relations articles and paid institutional advertising -a mix that was cementing relations with editors even before Vail took over- continued to reap benefits for AT&T. In confidential meetings, regional directors of Bell Companies would swap detailed stories of how they had secured desirable press connections.
At a June 1914 meeting of the Bell Companies, Mr. Fortier of Bell of Canada, reported to his corporate associates that “the relations of our Local Manager with the newspapers are such I think that any news story that is deserving of insertion, they will find no difficulty having it published in the papers. There are papers that we are on such exceptional terms with,” Fortier continued, “that they will print practically anything within reason.”
On the same occasion Mr. Sullivan, of Southwestern Bell, painted a graphic picture of friendships being cultivated to serve corporate interests. He explained:
We have in each General Manager’s division a publicity agent. . . . [I]t is his business to know personally and intimately every newspaper reporter, newspaper man, and newspaper owner personally. One man in particular has succeeded in being intimately acquainted and being a friend of 98% of the editors and owners in his State. That friendship is played up in different ways; by calling on them once, twice, three or four times a year, by meeting with them at their conventions, and by assisting to entertain them. . . .
These activities, however do not fully reveal the nature of AT&T’s Information Department (or, as it was later renamed, the Public Relations Bureau). More than simply producing and disseminating materials for publication, Vail’s public relations operation also engaged in a continuous and detailed analysis of public opinion insofar as it related to AT&T’s far-flung interests. Proceeding along terrain mapped -at least theoretically- by Gabriel Tarde, Vail intuited that the grooves of borrowed thought embraced complex networks of human interaction.
Beyond the authority of journalistic materials, there was a diverse range of other opinion shapers that influenced attitudes, that shaped conversations, in America. To be fully informed about relevant currents of popular thought, Vail surmised, it was essential to keep a corporate ear close to the ground. Toward this purpose, the Information Department, and later the Public Relations Bureau, deployed an intricate intelligence-gathering-and-surveillance apparatus, designed to provide the corporation with an ongoing profile of its adversaries.
AT&T’s reconnaissance chores included the methodical collecting and clipping of newspapers, magazines, books, and “ephemeral pamphlets” from around the country on an¡’thing that appertained to the Bell System’s corporate situation. Proposed legislation, as well, and even the spoken utterances of college professors, students, “radical politicians and progressive editors” were painstakingly monitored, to pinpoint potential sources of opposition and to provide an up-to-the- minute picture of “the general trend of public sentiment.”
Assembled from the findings of field operatives, weekly intelligence summaries were distributed to all AT&T executive officers and to executives and attorneys in the field. The purpose behind these exhaustive activities was simple: to permit AT&T to prepare for and “meet actual situations as they arise in advance of general public clamor.” Transcending the ex post facto strategies of “damage control” that marked most corporate PR, of the period, AT&T’s operations were designed to forecast and defuse problems before they arose.
At times this meant shadowing people whose public statements were felt to endanger company interests. In 1913, for example, David J. Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, was barn- storming local organizations, calling for a government takeover of telephone service. To AT&T’s Public Relations Bureau, Lewis’s “speeches before economic, civic and business societies throughout the country and particularly before the Granges. . . constituted an appreciable form of publicity,” one that demanded a corporate response.
Ellsworth, speaking at a confidential public relations meeting in 1914, addressed the Lewis problem directly. “‘We have had the occasion to sort of keep tab on him and follow him around,” he reported. This gumshoe behavior, he explained, was enacted to undermine Lewis before he could arrive to deliver a speech.
It has been our idea that it was a good thing to find out where he was going, and if possible to secure a list of the people or members of the Grange or Association or Society he was going to speak before, and circularize them before he got there. In some instances we found this was impossible because they would smell a rat and would not let us have the list of names till after he came around, but in every instance we have found we could get to people either before or after.
To offset the impact of men like Lewis, the company also arranged public debates on the question of governmental ownership or other thorny issues. Pro-AT&T speakers -drawn ideally from the community- were furnished with debating kits, indexes of relevant issues, and other ammunition with which to mount an effective response. As never before, local forums of public discussion were being infused with scripted lines.
Guiding these activities was Vail, a new breed of businessman who -more than any corporate leader of the period- appreciated the importance that public relations would assume in twentieth-century American life. Along the way, Vail catapulted the telephone giant toward the forefront of modern public relations thinking and toward achieving the monopoly it so forcibly pursued.
At the center of Vail’s managerial vision was his commitment to the idea of “education,” his obsessional quest to convince Americans that the AT&T catechism of “One System, One Policy, Universal Service” would provide them with an interconnected future and a quality and efficiency of service that no other system could match.
Amid the often intense pandemonium of antimonopoly sentiment, Vail -an unflinching proponent of corporate progressivism- was convinced that proving AT&T’s case was simply a matter of appealing to people’s common sense through the presentation of facts, assisted by the agency of public reason. “Educate the public,” he exhorted his executive corps in 1913. Their job, he continued was to present the public with those facts and arguments necessary for them to see AT&T’s ambitions as conforming to their sense of their own best interests.
It is you who must do it. . . . If you can impress upon . . . the public, the fact that we can give them better service than could be obtained under government ownership, and that a monopoly does not necessarily mean public disadvantage, the time will come. Before we can accomplish our plan for a universal. . . system, the public mind must be thoroughly imbued with its economies and advantages.
Responding to an onrush of social agitation in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt had cautioned that “unless there is a readjustment” in the conduct of business in the United States, “there will come a riotous wicked, murderous day of atonement.” The survival of capitalism, he believed, demanded a more comprehensive social vision on the part of businessmen. While most corporate leaders ignored this admonition, Vail was articulating a new vision of publicly engaged corporate management. The hidebound secrecy that had escorted earlier industrial development was now being challenged by a public relations-oriented conception of enlightened self-interest -an approach to corporate leadership that, in years to come, would gain a widening circle of disciples.
The distinction between a man like Vail and a man like Rockefeller cannot be understood simply in the terms provided by muckrakers’ morality plays, dramas pitting the forces of good against the forces of evil. Neither can the differences between the two men be reduced to a matter of different temperaments. Whatever personal genius stood behind Vail’s innovations, they were also framed by the particular exigencies of the industry over which he presided: tele- phone service.
Rockefeller had been part of a generation of industrialists and financiers who had assembled America’s industrial base. Barons of finance, transportation, capital-goods production, coal, and petroleum, these men controlled large-scale industries in which direct contact with the public or the need for public approval had seemed relatively minimal. Their activities were, for the most part, shielded from the middle-class public by a vast layer of local middlemen who had little power to influence the policies of large-scale industry and finance. Only on rare occasions, usually at moments of crisis, had these early captains of industry felt obliged to explain themselves.
Vail, on the other hand, oversaw a corporation that dealt directly with middle-class Americans. Its product-person-to-person tele- phone communication-was a fundamental component in the evolution and assembling of a modern public of consumers. This historical proximity to the emerging consumer culture demanded that Vail’s vision move beyond that of preceding industrial barons. The public and its problems stood unavoidably at the center of AT&T’s long-term ability to achieve its corporate goals.
There is another factor that may have contributed to Vail’s aptitude for public relations. It emanates from the changing choreography of public life itself and from Vail’s particular vantage point on those changes.
In 1898 Tarde had depicted his contemporary “public” as “one which never ceases to grow and whose indefinite extension is one of the most clearly marked traits of our period.” Just as newspapers had abetted a mode of public life that could “extend indefinitely,” telephones were also inseminating that indefinite extension into the realm of people’s private existence. Complimenting the development of newspapers and other mass media as the connective tissue of public life in the modern age, AT&T -in its vision of One System, One Policy, Universal Service- was engaged in the development of a pervasive network that would help connect private existence to that increasingly vaporous public realm.
When Edward A. Ross wrote of newspapers that “mental touch is no longer bound up with physical proximity” and that in the modern era “remote people are brought, as it were, into one another’s presence,” he might just as well have been describing the telephone. Both the newspaper and the telephone were engaged in reshaping the terms of public interaction.
Vail’s insights into the architecture of a modern public and the importance of public relations echoed the perception of contemporary social thinkers, journalists, and others who were in positions that permitted them to witness a new consumerist way of life unfolding. All had an understanding that a “different public,” as Tarde had described it, was in the process of being formed. This public consisted of individual consumers bound together not by the tendrils of kinship and community, but by modern instruments of communication. Vail’s recognition of this new public’s existence and the pathways by which it was informed also suggested the means by which those outlooks might be influenced. While many businessmen continued to disregard the terms of their world, public relations was an idea whose time had come.