Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

Depending upon who you ask, Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee is typically credited as having
11brown-cityroom-articleInline 'invented' modern public relations.

But, if one agrees that the average American believes PR is little more than party planning (and PR Week lends that ersatz supposition credibility by naming Kelly Cutrone to its list of PR's 25 most powerful people), then Isaac H. Brown should be seen as our industry's George Washington.

A fascinating New York Times article says the 339-pound Brown was the original Manhattan party planner. In fact, from 1845 until his death in 1880, Brown was the go-to guy for New York's monied class. He'd plan the most minute details of weddings, parties and must-attend events. A chronicler of the era lauded Brown's “…efficiency and authoritative manner.” I wonder if he screamed at his lackeys and played head games with them a la Ms. Cutrone?

Like Ms. Cutrone and her badly abused minions, Brown knew “…just the right merchants from whom tables, chairs and appropriate linen could be rented.” Man, would the housewives of New York and New Jersey not kill for a party planner like the I-Man?

If we are willing to abdicate the image and reputation of PR to party planners, why not go all the way and create an Isaac H. Brown Society (a la The Arthur Page Society, which honors the legacy of America's first corporate communications executive to serve as officer and member of the Board of a major public corporation.) The Brown Society should be highly selective in its membership criteria, choosing only those party planners who have rammed their Mercedes SUVs into Long Island restaurants, besmirched the image of public relations in a long-running television and movie series (think “Sex and the City”) or publicly berated underperforming employees a la Ms. Cutrone. I'd also limit membership to party planners of 25 years of age, or under (Ms. Cutrone and her ilk would be 'grandfathered' into the Society and be named permanent members of the executive committee). The female gender would constitute 90 percent of the Brown Society's membership. Poor behavior would be encouraged at the annual spring conference and backbiting encouraged throughout the year.

Based upon party planning's meteoric rise, I could see the Isaac H. Brown Society becoming our dominant industry organization. There really would be no need for Page, PRSA, the Counselors Academy or IAB since more and more high school and college students aspire to “…do, like, cool parties and like, um, check in celebrities at black tie events and, um, yeah, cool stuff like that. And, wear, like uber cool clothes and stuff.”

Wherever he is, I'll bet Isaac H. Brown is laughing a hearty, 339-lb belly laugh. Manhattan's original party planner was way, way, way head of his time. And, how sad is that for him, for today's party planners and, for the declining fortunes of PR's overall image and reputation?

5 thoughts on “Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

  1. That’s a really interesting observation, Lunch. The so-called PR power brokers such as Cutrone aren’t counseling CEOs on strategic positioning, crisis containment or best practices for outflanking the competition. Rather, they’re deciding which ‘B’ list celebrities to invite (or uninvite) to the next client shindig. Clients may appreciate their ruthless ways but, like Mr. Brown’s clientele, Ms Cutrone’s patrons may be too busy in Newport, Palm Beach or Beverly Hills to make it to the funeral.

  2. Let’s remember, all those VIP client “relationships,” party invites, other connections, pictures, and news clips you generate for yourself and clients can’t be taken with you when you pass. So my question for Kelly Cutrone and her ilk to ponder: Isn’t interesting to see that none of the socialites that he tended to (fed, party and wedding planned for and helped cross muddy streets by carrying them on his back) failed to attend his funeral?

  3. Spot-on observation as always, Julie. How about starting with a nationwide search for a modern-day Isaac H. Brown? All we’d have to do is piggyback on auditions for ‘The biggest Loser’ to find a 339-lb modern day I-man.

  4. Why have an Isaac H. Brown Society unless there’s a so-called reality TV show to document its dubious behavior, achieve (in)famy, and score a quick buck? Case in point – The “Jersey Shore” cast have endorsement deals and bobble head dolls now…

  5. My understanding is that Brown was the brains behind the first giant twinkie promotion, only to have someone else steal his creative thunder some 140 years later.