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Who is Edward L. Bernays?

22 Dec

Who is Edward L. Bernays?

EDWARD L. BERNAYS – The Father of Public Relations
(1891 – 1995)

Edward Bernays is regarded by many as the “father of public relations,” although some people believe that title properly belongs to some other early PR practitioner, such as Ivy Lee.

Born in Vienna, Bernays was both a blood nephew and a nephew-in-law to Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and Bernays`s public relations efforts helped popularize Freud`s theories in the United States. Bernays also pioneered the PR industry`s use of psychology and other social sciences to design its public persuasion campaigns. The early days of Bernays`s career are spent as a Broadway press agent, which eventually brings him together with leaders of the arts and entertainment communities including notables Enrico Caruso, Florenz Ziegfeld and Nijinsky.

One of Bernays`s favorite techniques for engineering of consent was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead for his clients` causes. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat hearty breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a hearty breakfast.

Bernays`s clients included President Calvin Coolidge, Procter & Gamble, CBS, the American Tobacco Company, General Electric, Dodge Motors, and the fluoridationists of the Public Health Service. Bernays`s early successes enable him to build a clientele. By 1931, the fast-growing business bills nearly $100,000 ($1.15 million in 1995 dollars) with profits exceeding $60,000 (more than $700,000 in 1995 dollars).

Bernays defined the profession of “public relations counsel” as a “practicing social scientist” whose “competence is like that of the industrial engineer, the management engineer, or the investment counselor in their respective fields.” To assist clients, PR counselors used “understanding of the behavioral sciences and applying them—sociology, social psychology, anthropology, history, etc.” In Propaganda, his most important book, Bernays argued that the scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in society:

In his autobiography, titled “Biography of an Idea”, Bernays recalls a dinner at his home in 1933 where Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, an old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power. Bernays spent many years trying to have the vocation of public relations licensed, elevating it, in his words, “to the level of a profession.” The bill he introduced to establish registration and licensing in 1992, when Bernays was 100, did not pass, yet the controversy over licensing continues. In his letter to colleagues, where he urged PR practitioners to review his proposed bill, he asked for the readers` conclusions, be they positive or negative. These suggestions were to help him in drafting another bill he would present in the hope it would pass. Bernays died before he could continue his campaign.

Bernays is held in high regard by some and thoroughly despised by others even today, and was even named as one of the 100 most influential people of all time. It is impossible to fundamentally grasp the social, political, economic and cultural developments of the past 100 years without some understanding of Bernays and his professional heirs in the public relations industry. PR is a 20th century phenomenon, and Bernays–widely eulogized as the “father of public relations” at the time of his death in 1995–played a major role in defining the industry`s philosophy and methods.

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Posted by on December 22, 2000 in Uncategorized

 

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