Edward Bernays- The Father of PR

Today I have decided to write about the person considered to be the most important in the history of communications – the father of Public Relations. Some of you might be interested in the history of the subject and curious about why PR came to be known as PR, and why a different expression, such as Press Professional did not become the widely accepted form of expression. Let’s take a deeper look at these questions.

Edward Bernays and ‘’Torches of Freedom’’

bernaysEdward Bernays (22 November 1891 – 9 March 1995) was involved with several campaigns that remain memorable and worthy of discussion even decades later. He successfully blended advertising with political campaigns to create ‘’Torches of freedom’’, widely regarded as his most famous advertising campaign. This was way back in 1929 when he became aware of the fact that an idea was needed, which would have the power to influence public perceptions. This was the era of suffragettes and women’s rights movement. Women were demanding equal rights in society and wanting to be seen as independent beings just as capable as men. Bernays cleverly utilised the general public mood of the period and he convinced women to smoke. The simple act of smoking would project the idea of freedom being expressed through the simple act of smoking. He organised a parade with beautiful ladies smoking cigarettes. The parade implied empowerment and emancipation. Overall, he was excellent at manufacturing consent, changing people’s opinions and perceptions of a subject.

How was he able to do this? Well, here I need to mention one very interesting fact about him – he was the nephew of renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. To be able to create such a campaign using propaganda, you need to understand people in ways that goes much deeper than a friend understanding a friend. He used his uncle’s famous psychoanalysis theories and he was convinced that to make people act irrationally, you have to create an emotional connection between them and a product. The same way he connected the women’s empowerment with cigarettes. And of course, he succeeded – smoking was considered fashionable among the ladies.

Propaganda vs PR

In terms of its meaning, propaganda was at the receiving end of much negative coverage especially in reference to how the term was used by the German Nazi regime during the Second World War. Bernays coined the term Public Relations as there was a need for something rather more sophisticated, something appropriate for post-war use, untarnished by connections to right-wing politics.

Nowadays, PR is still different from propaganda. While propaganda is, according to the dictionary, ‘’information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view’’, PR is, according to PRSA, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” These definitions developed over time, however, we need to appreciate the fine minds such as Edward Bernays, who created the basic platform and ideas for today’s thousands of PR professionals working globally.

If you want to find out more about Edward Bernays watch The Century of the Self!