“If you don’t learn your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”
This quote rings true, as the topic for this blog revolves around none other than Edward Bernays: The Father of PR (Sorry Ivy, we’ll talk about you in another blog post). Edward Bernays should be known by all budding public relations practitioners and at least mentioned once in their blogs.
Bernays is regarded the Father of PR for many reasons. To only list a few, he helped form the perception of what we do as a profession, the psychology behind public opinion (one of his psychological inspirations is Sigmund Freud, go figure…) and established the ethics of what we do (he didn’t exactly practice what he preached, but hey, we’re all human, right?).
His famous works include “Crystallizing Public Opinion” and “Propaganda”, among others. To really establish where he comes from, it’s always nice to have a little blast from the past.
Edward Louis Bernays hails from Vienna and was born in 1891. He is the double nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays later moved to New York City with his family in 1892. 1912 was his graduation year from Cornell University, with a degree in… agriculture? Strange, but nonetheless, we all know where his true career aspirations eventually led him.
Bernays would soon go on throughout the years to establish his name, his philosophy and his work. He worked primarily in the liberal arts area, such as theaters, ballets and concerts. He worked with Woodrow Wilson on the Committee on Public Information during World War I, worked with Walter Lippman extensively (a famous political columnist) and is even quoted in his books, and was the public relations practitioner for a number of famous clients, such as: Dodge Motors, President Calvin Coolidge, CBS, Procter & Gamble, and more.
Now back to the present.
Edward Bernays can be a man of heavy criticism, no doubt. His famous smoking campaign for women, “Torches of Freedom” in the 1920s, comes to mind. (Interestingly enough though, in the 1960s while in retirement, Bernays helped form anti-smoking campaigns with various groups). He also had quite the ego; we call him “America’s No. 1 Publicist” because he gave himself this title: How’s that for modesty?
Despite the criticism, people cannot, in my opinion, ignore the extensive knowledge of group psychology and public opinion that Bernays knew. The people that helped contribute to Bernays’ philosophies are Walter Lippman, Sigmund Freud and Gustave LeBon, the man who established “crowd psychology.”
Through his own knowledge, experience and the philosophies of these people, Edward Bernays established public relations and enlightened the public as to what a public relations practitioner does and why the public relations profession is so important and crucial to our society.
Regarding the quote stated above, I think it is important to not agree line-for-line Bernays’ philosophies. For one thing, Bernays did not live up to his reputation regarding ethical practices, and his arrogance is certainly not a good reputation for our profession. I was once told the best practitioners are the ones hardly noticed, but control everything that happens behind the scenes. We are the masters of persuasion.
Take the rewards and fall-outs of our “predecessors” and learn from them, do better from them.
“Edward Bernays, ‘Father of Public Relations’ And Leader in Opinion Making, Dies at 103.” The New York Times 10 Mar. 1995. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/16/specials/bernays-obit.html>.
Bernays, Edward L. Crystallizing Public Opinion. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing, 1923. N. pag. Print.
Bernays, Edward L. Propaganda. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing, 1928. N. pag. Print.
“Edward Bernays.” NNDB. Soylent Communications, 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nndb.com/people/802/000113463/>.