Fred H. Moonen APR
Vancouver, British Columbia
Fred Moonen is considered a public relations pioneer in British Columbia, having worked 15 years in the telecommunications industry and almost 30 more in the forestry sector.
In 1949, at just 20 years old and fresh out of studies at the University of British Columbia in B.C., Fred joined the British Columbia Telephone Company (later BC Tel and now Telus).
At BC Tel, Fred worked in advertising as well as in the library and archives. He participated in the production of Telephone Talk, a publication first distributed only to employees and later to external audiences. He also wrote news releases for the small B.C. weeklies that took an interest in telecommunication.
Fred was fortunate to find himself in a situation at BC Tel where he got his grounding in public relations principles and practices. At the time, it was one of few companies in the province to have a formal PR department. This was mainly because it was owned by an American parent company.
(Back then, some American companies were being attacked by anti-corporate forces – also known as “trust-busters” in the early 20th century – and responded in recognizing that public opinion was important to its success. This understanding was transferred to BC Tel’s Canadian affiliate, along with the appreciation that the company was technically a visitor in a foreign country and should act accordingly.)
In 1963, Fred joined the Council of Forest Industries of B.C. as vice-president, public relations. The council had been formed in the early 1960s by major forest companies who recognized the need for their voice to be heard in business, government and public affairs. Fred, who had studied political science in university, thrived in this environment.
By the mid-1970s, Fred became vice-president of government affairs at MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., the largest forest company in Canada. He retired in 1992.
Professional and Community Service
- Lifetime Member, Canadian Public Relations Society, Vancouver, 2002
- National President, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1967-68
- Shield of Public Service, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1982
FRED’S REFLECTIONS ON CHANGES IN PRACTICE SINCE 1940
- Board Member, Family Services Agency of Greater Vancouver
- Board Member, Vancouver Board of Trade
- Chair, Ad and Sales Bureau, Vancouver Board of Trade
- Chair, Board of Governors, Simon Fraser University (10 years)
- Chair, Media Subcommittee, BC Centennial, 1971
- Chair, Public Relations, United Way of Vancouver, 1962
- Chair, Presidential Search Committees, Simon Fraser University
- Chair, School/Parish Finance Committee, West Vancouver
- Chair, Simon Fraser University Foundation (three years)
- Chair, various Grey Cup Festival committees
- Director, Cowichan Valley Forest Museum
- Director, Pacific National Exhibition
- Guest Lecturer, Political Science Department, University of British Columbia
- Marriage Preparation Lecturer, Vancouver Archdiocese
- Member, Archdiocesan Papal Visit Committee, 1985
- Member, B.C. & Yukon Region Duke of Edinburgh Awards
- Trustee, St. Paul’s Hospital (seven years)
Changes in Strategic Communications Planning
Strategic planning became more sophisticated as management teams carefully surveyed the landscape before embarking on a new activity or venture. At one time, such plans were presented to an executive committee with forecasts of outside reaction – and often included cocktail party chatter (the first focus groups!).
The introduction of Direct Digit Dialing (DDD) by BC Tel in the early 60s was one outstanding example of new communications techniques in action. Opinion polling indicated the public needed to be prepared and educated to use the new system. Accustomed to placing all their calls through a long-distance operator, DDD allowed customers to dial their own calls using 1+ dialing with area codes – a dramatic change in practice. As the result of advertising and PR programs throughout B.C. that targeted schools and families as well as the general public, use of DDD immediately after the cutover was 96 to 97 per cent compared with 80 per cent for companies that had installed the system in other parts of Canada.
The forest industry has always had unique public relations challenges. When I joined the forest industry in 1963, my experience included part-time work during summer vacations in paper mills and snag-falling stints in the bush in an era when chainsaws were not yet in widespread use.
The forest industry needed to improve its government relations and I was assigned the task of educating the CEO of the member companies of Council of Forest Industries (COFI).
For years, I commuted from my home in West Vancouver and resided in a hotel in Victoria. It was my job to attend public hearings, to open doors for COFI members and to report daily via a private newsletter to the COFI president.
I became a “creative loiterer” in the lobby of the provincial legislature and was one of the hosts of regular dinner meetings held with party caucuses of all parties. These dinners were never criticized by others in the 25 years they were held. In fact, people praised the dinners and enjoyed the fact that all political parties were invited.
My years with COFI covered a period of tremendous growth in the industry and growing concern on the part of U.S. lumber producers – a conflict that to this day is an active irritant.
In the 1960s, it was not easy to work with the B.C. legislature. The legislative compound was off limits to non-MLAs and legislature staff. Access was approved or denied on the Speaker’s authority. Even the public gallery was controlled by the sergeant-at-arms.
Hansard, the official record of the debate which is produced by mid-morning of the day following the session in most legislatures, was not allowed in the B.C. legislature during the 1960s. The alternative was a slim volume called “Votes and Proceedings of The House.”
I sat in the public gallery for three months while attending sessions in the legislature. I rented hotel office space in the Empress Hotel and proceeded to introduce myself to anyone who would listen to the glories of the forests and mills in B.C.
The only way I could keep up with the flow of information was to find a friendly reporter or MLA. Getting information was not nearly as difficult as getting it out of the building. I remember only three pay phones – it was forbidden to take notes while the House was in session.
My office was the public corridors inside the legislature. I did not have access to the MLA’s restaurant, nor could I bring a lunch. Luckily, there were several public washrooms for emergency use.
Casual meetings could result in a wealth of information for me, which I would then convey to my readers – the CEOs representing about 90 per cent of forest production in B.C.
Things have changed in the B.C. legislature. Day-to-day access soon improved considerably to the point that key industry people were sitting down to discuss industry-wide concerns.
Media relations have changed dramatically because of the tremendous growth of communications technology. Gone are the days when news releases were delivered by messenger or in person. First fax, then e-mail and now websites have become responsible for distribution to news media and other audiences. These stakeholders also use the same technology to communicate with organizations. Yet, has the quality of reporting or news organizations improved as a result? No. More is not necessarily better.
Changes in How Public Relations is Practiced
In the late 1940s, public relations in British Columbia was largely a media relations function. Media relationships were often on a personal level and on more than one occasion when calling up a weekly newspaper editor, I sat down at the linotype machine and keyed in the information I had come to hand out. Another time I helped out the editor by working on “the stone” – a bench where metal type was arranged in lines and columns and then set up and locked in metal forms before being put on the press.
Back then, community service was considered part of the PR department’s duties. It served as a means of entrée to a professional relationship during a fundraising campaign or a Grey Cup festival. Company people were encouraged to work with members of local services and clubs. The operative word was work. It was OK to have fun too, but under it all was solid urging from one’s supervisors to make your employer proud.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the workforce faced the daunting need to catch up from the deprivations of the Second World War. The preoccupation with recovery and growth provided innumerable opportunities to public infrastructures, such as hospitals, schools and sports teams. BC Tel was able to provide money and volunteers to help develop this infrastructure.
One of the biggest changes in PR has been its gradual acceptance as a necessary function of modern organizations. In my early days, PR departments did not always report to the CEO. Though ours did (we were one of only a few), we still could not enter the CEO’s office without being summoned. We had no standing unless in company of members of the executive because the PR function just wasn’t widely accepted by managers as a legitimate management function back then.
It was the formation of powerful protest and public lobby groups that helped PR become more important to companies. As television grew, protest and lobby groups learned that news media – especially TV – could be used to connect with supporters, publicize favourite issues and influence public opinion. They could exert pressure on whatever organization they targeted, including government and business.
Targets of these groups, which included the news media, were forced to respond to their critics. This often caused management staff to frequently divert from what they considered their primary role and take a defensive and reactionary approach in dealing with public relations.
Then PR departments started to develop proactive strategies. Communications specialists – often former media members – were hired. Their task was not only to answer critics and media queries but also to pre-empt or head off charges in the court of public opinion based on lack of information or misconceptions. From there, PR evolved into more of a two-way communications function, to include proactive listening as well as talking.
This new emphasis on two-way communications assisted organizations to undertake decisions and activities using solicited feedback. Often these better-informed decisions were more in tune with the interests of stakeholders – not only customers but employees, suppliers, community groups, news media, governments and the public at large.
Feedback allowed organizations to become aware of the needs and preferences of the social, political and economic environment in which they operated. Because executives realized they were more likely to reach their business objectives in a friendly rather than hostile environment, they began using PR techniques to operate their organizations in harmony with their environment.
Advice to People Who Enter the Profession
Learn to spell!
Future of Public Relations
I think there will be more focus on government relations for specific audiences.