Hat's off to Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy for establishing MS&L Group as his global platform to compete with PR heavyweights like Weber Shandwick and Edelman.
MS&L could easily have been a goner, subsumed into the Publicis Consultants banner. Sticking with that name keeps alive the memory of the three MS&L founders, especially James Selvage, one of PR's originals.
Ever wonder how MS&L got all those blue-chip corporate clients? The derring-do of James Selvage, FDR’s arch-rival on the communications front, may have had something to do with it.
Selvage, a press agent during the Great Depression, performed his PR magic as PR director of the National Association of Manufacturers. His job was to sink President Roosevelt's New Deal policies, according to MS&L's corporate profile on Hoover's.
Eddie Bernays, "the father of PR," had nothing over the savvy Selvage. The NAM PR machine created cartoons similar to "Ripley's Believe It or Not" to present amazing facts about U.S. industry, paid college professors to write articles panning the New Deal, published "You and Industry" booklets for schools, produced ten-minute "America Marches On" scripts narrated by Lowell Thomas praising the American industrial system, and created a 15-minute radio show called "The American Family Robinson" that centered on a small industrial town and portrayed businessmen as heroes and labor organizers as skunks.
Selvage viewed his radio work as "industry's effective answer to the utopian promises of theorists and demagogues at present reaching such vast audiences via the radio." He probably had FDR in mind as the president communicated to the nation via his "fireside chats."
Selvage ultimately upped the pressure on FDR, doing press work for the Republican National Committee.
He set up his own PR firm in 1938. Morris Lee, former PR man at International Telephone & Telegraph and info director at NAM, soon joined to establish Selvage & Lee. Farley Manning Associates, which was headed by a veteran of General James Doolittle's Eighth Air Force, merged with S&L in 1972 to create MS&L.
Thanks, Maurice, for keeping the memory of MS&L alive. It's important for PR to remember its roots. A guy like Selvage would be a pretty smooth PR man even today.