The Father of Public Relations

Sections of this topic

    The Pioneer of Social Sciences and Psychology in the PR Industry

    Edward Louis Bernays (November 22, 1891 – March 9, 1995)

    Bernays was the nephew of Dr. Sigmund Freud, who dramatically helped shape his psychoanalytic approach to PR. Bernays used manipulation to sway the public’s subconscious mind, and thus, public opinion. Also quite influential in his Public Relations practices were the crowd psychology ideas and beliefs of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter.

    One of the first to use manipulation in PR, Bernays felt that it was absolutely necessary in Society, which he believed was ruled by the ‘herd instinct‘ – irrational and dangerous.

    Psychoanalyst to Troubled Corporations

    According to Irwin Ross, a writer, “Bernays liked to think of himself as a kind of psychoanalyst to troubled corporations.” His famous corporate clients included Procter & Gamble, the American Tobacco Company, Cartier Inc., Best Foods, CBS, the United Fruit Company, General Electric, Dodge Motors, Knox Gelatin, and innumerable others.

    Clearly, his campaigns worked.

    Inventor of the Press Release

    One of Bernays’ most famous campaigns attacked the 1920’s stronghold social taboo of women smoking in public. He shocked the public during the 1929 Easter Day Parade by staging debutantes holding cigarettes. He sent notices out to media and made it news – which legitimized his message in a way that paid advertising just couldn’t.

    Today, more than HALF of what we think of as news is actually initiated by the PR industry.

    Inventor of PR Testimonials

    According to Bernays, “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.” At the time, this was a groundbreaking idea!

    Faced with the challenge of promoting bacon for one of his PR clients, he surveyed physicians. Finding that they recommended people eat a heavy breakfast, he sent the survey results to 5,000 physicians – promoting, of course – bacon and eggs.

    Bernays’ Public Relations Legacy

    Bernays was named one of the 100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century by Life magazine. Although his celebration of propaganda helped define public relations, it didn’t win the PR industry many friends. In a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described Bernays and his associate Ivy Lee as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism and self-interest.”

    (Thanks to Wikipedia for info and references.)

    In your opinion, could psychoanalytic manipulation possibly be extracted from PR today?


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    ABOUT Lisa M. Chapman:

    Ms. Chapman’s new book has a name change! The Net-Powered Entrepreneur – A Step-by-Step Guide will be available very soon. With offices in Nashville Tennessee, but working virtually with international clients, Lisa M. Chapman serves her clients as a business and marketing coach, business planning consultant and social media consultant. As a Founder of iBrand Masters, a social media consulting firm, Lisa Chapman helps clients to establish and enhance their online brand, attract their target market, engage them in meaningful social media conversations, and convert online traffic into revenues. Email: Lisa @