Meet the Father of PR
Edward Louis James Bernays is popularly known as the Father of PR. Though he was born in 1891 at Vienna, Austria, he grew up in New York. The Austrian-American was a master of propaganda and had crafted many highly innovative and effective PR campaigns that made a big impact during his time. He was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine.
He was instrumental from separating PR from the realm of advertising and give it the recognition and position that it truly deserved. He said, “Public relations, effectively used, helps validate an underlying principle of our society — competition in the market place of ideas and things.”
He had an impressive line-up of clients ranging from manufacturers such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and the American Tobacco Company, to media outlets like CBS and even politicians such as Calvin Coolidge.
He had a list of rich and influential clients who came to him for advice in creating a positive impact on the public. These included Presidents Coolidge, Wilson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower besides Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt and the dancer Nijinsky.
He also rejected some notorious clients such as Adolf Hitler, Gen. Francisco Franco, and former Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Hitler had approached him to create a campaign for the German train system.
Some of his ideas were nothing less of sheer genius. When he found there was “sales resistance” to cigarette smoking among women, he came up with an ingenious strategy that caught the imagination of the public. He went ahead and staged a demonstration at the 1929 Easter parade, where he made fashionable young women flaunt their “torches of freedom.” This was instrumental in taking away the taboo associated with women smoking.
Another of his brilliant campaigns was for Procter & Gamble. During that period, kids just hated soap because it got into their eyes and irritated them. What he did was to persuade schools across the country to participate in soap sculpture contests. This transformed the way kids looked at soap, from being a much hated product, it turned into something that they started loving.
Bernays was constantly working throughout his long career to make a difference in what he did. He raised the benchmark and standards of his profession. He gave many lectures on public relations in 1923 at the New York University. These had the distinction of being the first on that subject at a major university. He has authored a wide range of publications in the PR field such as Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), Public Relations (1952), and The Engineering of Consent (1955). These classics are still read by PR students.
Bernays after a fruitful career retired in the early 1960s. However, he continued as a consultant and advocate of public relations well into his 100th year. He was also known as a philanthropist. He served on numerous boards and committees in various fields, and received honorary degrees and many awards for his work. Truly a life lived to the fullest!