"PRopaganda" is online

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Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays (1891-1995), father of modern PR

I was thrilled to see that the Museum of Public Relations (yes, there is one and it’s in Manhattan–more on that later) posted a Facebook link to a book titled “Propaganda” which was written by the father of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, and published in 1928. I had never read it.

And what a fascinating book it is! Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a former employee of the Creel Committee which rallied public support for World War I, laid the groundwork for public relations as we now know it. In fact, much of the book’s content could have been written today; just replace the much-demonized word “propaganda” with “public relations” and read this sampling:

“From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public questions; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time.”

“This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving picture, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president.”

“No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.”

Bernays’ writings and teachings were prophetic, including mentions (in 1928!) of the just-invented television as a means “to approach the public mind.” He understood that to move people to action you have to appeal to their most basic needs and emotions. We in PR could still learn a thing or two from Edwards Bernays. I can’t wait to read more. Your thoughts?

P.S. Hofstra’s PRSSA will be hosting a trip to the Museum of PR on March 20.  Look for details online.

35 thoughts on “"PRopaganda" is online

  1. Jazmin Corrine Quinci

    Edward Bernays’ idea to use the television as a tool to reach audiences and appealing to emotions and needs makes him a true visionary in the 1920’s. What I learned about him in later blog posts made me think of him as a “Black Swan”. He managed to create a new profession (really an empire) outside the confines of tradition (i.e. staging an event for promotion versus using print advertisements).

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  2. Deana Meccariello

    This is a very interesting post. Last semester I wrote a paper on Bernay’s and am happy to see that he continues to stay relevant today.

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  3. Michele Colletti

    I think that Bernay’s writings and teachings from 1928 are extremely interesting and it is captivating as to how much it relates to modern public relations. As we discussed in class the best way to get through to your consumer is to understand not just who you are reaching out to but their basic needs as well, the needs explained and outlined in Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, which is also explained in the last paragraph. I found it very interesting that Bernay even predicted that the public may not always agree with the publicity methods. As years go by and more technology is being created media has many different outlets to rely on and at first many of the older generations didn’t understand it. This doesn’t mean that public relations professionals are not upholding the same goals; they are just using a different medium, as Bernay would say, to connect with the consumer.

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  4. Priyanka Singh

    “No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership.” This section struck me the most out of the excerpt, because the public still behaves in this manner. I took a marketing management class over the winter session and part of the discussion was around the consumer and the consumer’s needs, even though many times, they don’t necessarily know what exactly their needs are. It’s our jobs as professionals to pave the way for them and appeal to those basic human necessities and remind what they are. Immediately I think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In a way, I think communications, whether it be journalism or public relations, has an artistic quality to it, because we have to find a way to segment our public and see where they stand on the hierarchy. What is going to really grab their attention and keep it? What is going to create desire and turn a latent public into an active one? How do we get them to care? Everyone feels some type of way about something, but finding a way to really make an impression comes from the basics.
    One of my journalism professors told us that we are constantly assaulted by so many triggers that are battling for our attention, and out of the thousands, we focus on only a handful. That’s because we are attracted to that specific need that we desire the most. It’s just fascinating how we live in such a complex world with so many options and variety, but when it comes to our decision-making process, we are brought back to the basics of being human.

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  5. Andrew Manning

    I almost purchased this book recently, thinking it’d be interesting to see what I imagined would be an “outdated” perspective by this point. But these three quotes alone proved my assumption wrong: this seems like a very forward-thinking work which still holds up to some extent today. I’ll make sure I read it now, and keep an open mind.

    I love the way he describes “creating pictures in the minds of millions”. Personally I think framing a narrative is the most powerful way to convey a message, and often a simple image can embody a whole story.

    Bernays also seems to be relatively optimistic about this “modern instrument”, pointing out how it can be used for a greater good – which is more of an ideal rather than a reality. But he also has a very objective understanding of people, and how they will respond to very a basic appeals.

    -Andrew Manning

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  6. elizah9

    I must say that I am quite excited that there is a public relations museum in New York City. I think this museum would be a great place to visit when wanting to learn more about the history behind the profession. Moreover, I find it very interesting how a book written about public relations so many years ago can still be relevant to the field today. Although the world of public relations has changed, the fundamentals of the profession have managed to stay the same. It is refreshing to know that new media hasn’t completely changed the way that public relations is viewed in the modern age. Lastly, I am so excited to take a trip down to the city in March to see this unique and fascinating museum.

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  7. Cheyenne Padgett

    It’s very interesting to see how the word propaganda has changed in connotation since Hitler. I think a trip to the PR Museum sound like a fun time!

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  8. Dan Schaefer

    Professor Morosoff:
    Reading Bernay’s thoughts on appealing to the concerns of individuals in the final paragraph of the excerpt was especially interesting based on the pyramid we reviewed at the end of class today. I believe that the media world has been effected much more than it is given credit for due to new technologies. Yet, this piece shows that even though the mediums may have changed, the basic proceedings and goals of members of the media have remained the same. It is a strange status-quo in an ever-changing society.

    Dan Schaefer

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  9. Jess Hershman

    It is interesting to see how Bernays’ teachings remained relevant over time, even through the numerous changes in how we communicate and technology. Although propaganda has a negative connotation nowadays, the way Bernays uses the word makes it seem very similar to modern public relations.

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  10. Taylla Smith

    “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” I find that quote so inspiring and relevant even after all of these years. Though, in class we discussed that the word propaganda is now considered a dirty word; I find that this context would be helpful for all people working in PR. I think that this advice from Edward Bernays will be helpful for current and future PR practitioners.

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  11. Chris Hoffman

    What’s sort of interesting is that my parents and other people have remarked that PR is sort of a new thing- not that it didn’t exist before, but that it was much less prevalent. Seeing these thoughts that were conveyed in 1928 is really cool because it makes you realize that the same thoughts and conventions have existed for almost 90 years, and the only thing that changes is how those thoughts, conventions, and practices are applied to the current technology and situations today.

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  12. Taylor Lawrence

    It always interests me to see how much has changed over the years but also how little. People always recognized that what you portray to others can truly sway their opinions. Back then there was a much more negative outlook on it then today, but people have clearly warmed up to the idea. I enjoy his enlightenment and his ability to be so ahead of his time.
    Taylor Lawrence

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  13. Marc Carganilla

    Bernays was truly a man ahead of his time she really was accurate with his commentary on society and what we crave in amusement and such. He would make a great ethicist. His writings were from 1928 yet sounded as if they were written yesterday in the New Yorker. Truly he was a prophet foreseeing the future of public relations. In this world obsessed with social media all this statements revert back to the influence and notoriety of the public.

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  14. Karisa Newkirk

    Edward Bernays is truly amazing and interesting, and I say this because of his work of when he organized a walk of women smoking in the streets (in public) and made what was at first not lady like, to a norm! It was unbelievable. And just like everyone else, I am also intrigued that the way Propaganda was back then in the late 20’s is still being used in public relations. And good thing too because it’s a great tactic.

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  15. gafinlayson

    Professor Morosoff

    I was interested by the fact that Bernays understood that the public had a say in how their everyday lives were run. He knew even in 1928 that the public has questions on how their leaders were leading or if the businesses they spent money at were ethical. My favorite quote is “propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends.” Public Relations plays an incredible role in making sure every industry, government, and public figures are as productive as they can be. The public now and then know the importance of keeping up an industries productivity. It plays an even more important role today because people will not trust or give their business to people that are not productive or chaotic.

    -Gracie Finlayson

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  16. Christina Michael

    It is interesting to see how th necessity for public relations has been important even back in the 1920’s when this was written. Society always looks towards celebrities, politicians, and other public figures for entertainment or leadership so PR plays a key role in maintaining a strong public image for people in the spoitlight.

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  17. Heather Lanci

    I found the selection by Bernays very relevant to today’s society. It’s interesting that public relations (propaganda) was just as important in the past as it is today. I always see PR as a somewhat new method of shaping people’s views, and it’s different to see that it was necessary then too.

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  18. Ashley Fazio

    The fact that what Edward Bernays said in 1928 still for the most part holds true today is what I love most about this. It is fascinating to see that even over the years some things will never change. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Bernays says “No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” These are all things that the Public Relations profession will always rely on.

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  19. Nicholas Taddeo

    I find it remarkable that Mr. Edwards Bernays’ teachings were powerful (and true) enough to stand the test of time. But with an uncle like Sigmund Freud, I can only guess where that intelligence comes from…Table talk must have been interesting!

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  20. afairc1

    Even though Bernays wrote this book back in the late 1920s his words still ring true today. The public is very cynical about publicity methods and yet we still crave more knowledge, especially when it comes to entertainment stars or others that are in the lime light. We constantly what to know what these actors are doing with their lives when they aren’t on the big screen. This thirst for knowledge of their lives can also lead to helping other organizations given good publicity. If someone famous is participating in a cancer walk or a charity basketball game tons of fans would come out to the event in hopes to meet this person while supporting a good cause which can help get the word out even more.

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  21. Maria Emlano

    I find it interesting how advanced Edward Bernays’s ideas were in 1928. I do agree that “propaganda” could have easily been replaced with “public relations” after reading the quotes, however, I feel as if today, the word “propaganda” has more of a negative connotation associated with it. On the other hand, when I think of public relations, I don’t think of persuasion as much as I associate the term with building positive relationships.

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  22. Ariana Queenan

    I want to get me hands on this book! My favorite quote from the sampling is “No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership.” For me this quote begs the question, “Does human nature change?” Even though this book was written in 1928 many of the concepts and strategies mentioned in the sampling are relevant today! I cannot wait to learn more about public relations!

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  23. Mike Cox

    I enjoyed the quotes from the book titled “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays. It is very interesting to think that throughout the last century all that has changed in our everyday lives, compared to back when Bernays published the book in 1928. Technology and the media have conformed to our modern ways but it seems nothing can truly change the way we practice public relations. That is because in the end it all comes back to our basic human nature.

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  24. carsoncuevas

    Professor Morosoff,

    It is evident that the fundamental processes and ideas behind the practice of Public Relations have not significantly changed since 1928, meaning that this field is somewhat timeless. The role of public relations in society has remained consistent as the text states:
    “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” While our current society has tools unique to our generation in comparison to previous ones, it has not changed the practice itself, nor the need that exists for the publics to receive PR communications/messages.

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  25. nmromeo

    Professor Morosoff,

    This was quite an interesting blog post I must say. I loved the fact that there is actually a museum dedicated to the history of public relations which allows its viewers to go back in history and witness what went on in those days and how people dealt with certain situations. Furthermore, I enjoyed how even in the 1900’s events during that time can be so easily related to events happening this very day. From reading this post I started to realize that we has humans lust for amusement and excitement in our lives which goes to show that our behavior from the 1900’s to present day has not changed.

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  26. Emily Walsh

    Professor Morosoff:

    I found the sample from the book “Propoganda” very interesting. It truly shows how public relations was just as important back in 1928 as it is now. Even though technology and the environment in which many work continuously changes, the core of public relations has changed very little over the past decades. Freud makes the clear point that PR is necessary to the world. I adore the ending quote, “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” This summarizes how public relations is needed for many companies and people to be successful.

    I would also love the chance to go and see the Museum of Public Relations. It seems like an amazing place to learn even more about the profession I love!

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  27. Tamara Russo

    It is fascinating how concepts of the early 1900s can be relevant and hold truth in modern times. While reading the sampling, I was saying to myself, “Yes yes yes!” My favorite line is “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” because it really captures the essence of public relations. I can’t wait to learn more about this field and take a trip to the museum!

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  28. jheiden1

    I love this! I find it so interesting that public relations has had such a negative history, but has steadily become recognized as a crucial piece of every day life. It seems like people always dislike what they don’t understand. I find that so many people today have no idea what PR truly is.

    On a side note, I’m very excited to visit the museum!

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  29. Jennifer Pizzurro

    Professor Morosoff,

    I personally found this post very interesting and would love to take a look at “Propaganda”. It is fascinating that even though technology has changed Bernays’s shows that the ideas from back in the 1920’s are still the building blocks on our modern ideas. The second quote stands out to me due to my professional background in Television. All day long there are constant examples of this quote on news stations across this nation. Whether it is “endowing a university” or “electing a president”, the media is constantly appealing to your average Joe and is finding more ways than ever for a message to reach the receiver. I look forward to learning more about Bernays’s writing on the subject.

    -Jenn Pizzurro

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  30. Rebecca Costa

    My favorite part of this post was the third quote,”…it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership.” These things are all basic human needs that we strive to reach as public relations professionals. Although much has changed in the world of public relations, the idea of appealing to basic human needs has not changed much since 1928, and most likely won’t change any time soon.

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  31. Daylen Orlick

    Professor Morosoff:
    The examples that you chose from the text truly help illustrate that the concepts, and ideas, of Public Relations haven’t differed much from the time period in which “Propaganda” was written. A lot of the concepts are applicable to the usage of Public relations today. For example, in the last sentence of the third sample of Bernays’s writing, he states, “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” We can still apply this to modern day cases. Whether it’s the chaos with the “Deflategate” scandal or something else PR has truly help bring order, and understanding, out of it. I think it’s astonishing how even though “Propaganda” was written in 1928 it is still applicable to modern day, and shows that Bernays was ahead of his time in the world of Public Relations.

    -Daylen Orlick

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  32. Kimberly Minto

    Professor Morosoff:
    I love the third quote because his point of view never crossed my mind. He is right, once the campaign appeals to our basic needs we can’t ignore it regardless of how much we try. Society will always see it, always have an opinion about it, always be impacted by it. All of this is based on one simple reason, we crave amusement as he stated, among many other things. We like to think that we are complex creatures, but Brernays somehow knew that we are really creatures of habit and that has not changed since the book was written. I would love to read his book to discover his other thoughts on the matter.

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  33. Nicholas Mazzarella

    Professor Morosoff:

    The sampling does a great job of conveying your idea that many core principles of public relations haven’t changed since “Propaganda” was written. I like how Edward Bernays highlights the notion that there are norms by which we abide when it comes to just about everything. Because of this, PR practitioners are empowered because, for the most part, they can anticipate how the public is going to respond in a given situation. Therefore, our being creatures of habit works to PR practitioners’ advantage.

    These ideas can be applied to journalism as well. For example, although the field is changing (i.e., the increased role of social media), telling a story is still of utmost importance after so many years – now there are just more ways to do so.

    -Nick Mazzarella

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