Historical Identity: Jack Daniel’s

In honor of Halloween here in the United States (U.S.), I’m focusing this week on a gothic novel that features a public relations professional.

In The Resurrectionist: A Novel, Dr. Jacob Thacker is an interim public relations professional for the fictional South Carolina Medical College. A dual narrative juxtaposes Jacob’s efforts to overcome his personal demons with the college’s just-discovered connection to the U.S. slave trade.

Complete transparency is rarely an option in corporate public relations, but for Jacob, transparency becomes a personal proposition. His decision on whether to protect the college’s legacy or advocate for the local community is directly linked to his career prospects. Jacob grapples with the implications of information disclosure throughout the novel.

What could compel an organization to willfully disclose ties to this ugly chapter of American history? In the case of Jack Daniel’s, company representatives did so to correct the historical record. As part of its 150-year anniversary announcement this summer, Jack Daniel’s revealed that the original Jack Daniel learned about distilling from an enslaved man. By making this disclosure, the company turned a potential crisis into an opportunity for introspection.

Rightly or wrongly, people make value judgments about organizations (and individuals) based on past mistakes as well as current actions. Organizational publics include employees, suppliers, customers, interest groups, and at all times, the news media. In The Resurrectionist: A Novel,  Jacob Thacker eventually demonstrates his ability to negotiate the needs of multiple publics.

Readers looking for a positive representation of public relations could come away disappointed with this novel. Jacob holds little credibility at the outset because of personal struggles that have hindered his professional capabilities. What readers will find in The Resurrectionist: A Novel is compelling insights about historical identity versus public image from the perspective of a flawed individual seeking redemption.

—Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D.

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