Over the years, Team HMA has celebrated Fathers’ Day here on the blog by sharing lessons we’ve learned from our dads; lessons we’ve learned from our readers’ dads; and even insights into our own journalistically inclined family trees.
So, as we all prepare to celebrate all things dad this weekend, we thought it might be fun to celebrate one “father” we’ve yet to write about – Edward “The Father of Public Relations” Bernays.
This nephew of Sigmund Freud (yes, that Sigmund Freud) was born in 1891 and is considered by most as the father of modern public relations. (Also of spin…and propaganda. Yuck.)
His initial field of study – agriculture. In fact, he graduated with a degree in agriculture from Cornell University in 1912. But, once he graduated, he actually worked for a bit in writing before taking a job with the Committee on Public Information under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Here, he would get his first real taste of influencing the popular opinion – as well as the idea that “the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy.” (Again, king of yuck).
Bernays would go on to popularize the use of the “press release” and then write both Crystallizing Public Opinion and A Public Relations Counsel, as well as Propaganda (triple yuck) in the 1920s. Given his family roots in psychology (understatement), he lived for researching the public psyche and determining methods to influence it one way or the other.
And while it seems pretty gross (and very Olivia Pope) that he outwardly advocated the use of psychology and strategic communications to “manipulate” people into supporting wars, big business and even the cigarette industry, he also used it – and inspired others to use it – to help improve social services, education and (the big one for me) women’s rights.
When I think about Bernays, I imagine a “Wild, Wild West” version of our industry. Today, we have a code of ethics, an accreditation process and (hopefully) consciences that keep us from going to the dark “spin side” we are so often ridiculed for in movies and TV shows.
But, without Bernays – and his good, bad and very yuck approach – the industry would not be what it is today.
Happy Fathers’ Day, Bernays. And THANK YOU to PRSA for continuing to move the profession far beyond Bernay’s wildest dreams…for helping to make us legitimate communicators with a seat at the head table for many of today’s most respected and beloved brands.