In the forthcoming “Art of Perception,” Bob Leaf writes of his first days as a publicist in New York.

During his job interview in 1956, he was told to write some interesting and funny stories about some of the firm’s celebrity clients. That roster included singers Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, jazz musician Eddie Condon and comedian Milton Bearle.

Leaf, left, with Harold Burson in Hong Kong, 1973. Photo: B-M
The firm's owner told Leaf that it didn’t matter if the facts in the stories were true or made-up. He “just wanted to see the style and approach and to estimate our capacity to reach the audiences he was interested in,” wrote Leaf, who went on to build Burson-Marsteller’s international office network.

The owner liked Leaf’s stories and gave him the job. It lasted six weeks. One Friday, the owner told Leaf that he was fired and his replacement was to start Monday.

As a final task, Leaf was told to go to the post office to pick up some stamps. While he was gone, the owner rummaged through Leaf’s desk “apparently thinking that anything I had written while on his payroll was his.”

A few weeks after Leaf left the firm, an item appeared in Robert Sylvester’s column in the New York Daily News about “midnight soirees in Buckingham Palace, where Princess Margaret mainly played Tony Bennett records.”

That was one of the stories that Leaf had made up. “Thus my first professional paying job in PR meant spending each day making up stories about things the clients supposedly said, things they had supposedly done and, in most cases, creating an interesting context for things that they really had said or done,” wrote Leaf.

PR has certainly evolved since those days.