September 20, 2011

Edward Bernays; The First Spinner

Who's your daddy PR? Who is it? Edward Bernays! Yeah!
A brief look at one of the key figures who shaped what we know as modern Public Relations - Edward Louis Bernays. Not only will this post give you a bit of knowledge of Bernays, it will link you up with two fantastic CreComm students, Chantal Verrier and Corinne Rikkleman for parts two and three of the history lesson.

Credited as being the father of modern public relations, Austrian-American Edward Louis Bernays was born in 1891. The double nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud, he combined the emerging field of psychology with advertising to create persuasive, targeted “public relations” campaigns on behalf of his clients.

Bernays' father was the brother of Freud's wife. Bernays' mother was Freud's sister.
You can bet that came up in therapy.
Bernays had been engaged by the Woodrow Wilson administration’s Committee on Public Information, tasked with convincing the world that America’s primary goal in World War I was “bringing democracy to all of Europe.” Drawing on the teachings of his famous uncle, as well as the crowd psychology studies of Gustave LeBon and Wilfred Trotter, the “democracy” campaign succeeded beyond Bernays’ expectations. He pondered the application of his technique during peacetime, believing the public to be a “herd” in need of guidance; rather than use the term propaganda, now tainted by its association with the German war effort, Bernays coined the term “public relations.”

Bernays was the originator of the Press Release (staging scripted events for the benefit of free media coverage) and Third Party Advocacy (obtaining unpaid product endorsement from community leaders and professionals). His notable campaigns include convincing magazines to write articles promoting ballet as fun (on behalf of the 1915 Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes American tour), promoting the idea of African-Americans as important community contributors in the deeply racist southern states (for the NAACP’s 1920 Atlanta Convention), holding soap-carving and soap-floating contests (for Ivory Soap), promoting the idea that only disposable cups were sanitary (on behalf of Dixie Cup) and branding democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman a dangerous communist (on behalf of United Fruit Company’s efforts to overthrow that leader).

Part Two - The Torches of Freedom Campaign
Part Three - The Green Ball Campaign


  1. You know, with such a luxurious mustache - it's a wonder that Bernays has no eyebrows. Am I the only one to notice that?

  2. Clearly an eyebrow to nasal septum transplant.

  3. Edward L. Bernays: Real Man of Genius.

  4. Announcer: Today we salute you Mister Father of Modern Public Relations

    (Singer: MisterFatherofModernPublicRel-aaaations)

    Announcer: Before anyone knew what spin was, you'd already gotten it a celebrity endorsement. You spread good news and united the people - the stupid, gullible, sheep-like people.

    (Singer: Baa baa baa)

    So what if you staged events and twisted the truth? Even the earth occasionally spins.

    (Singer: Planet PR)

    So crack open an ice-cold one, oh Prince of the Press Release. Because you can't spell "belief" without sneaking in a little lie.