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?