#PRinHistory: The Villain of PR

Some time ago we talked about Ivy Lee as the grandfather of news releases and modern-day PR. He was focused on getting in front of a story, and so the media would fill in the news with his client’s story rather than making sh!t up. That is how the actual press release was born,

Well if Ivy was Batman than Edward Bernays was the Joker.

Unfortunately, some people in the industry refer to Bernays as the “father of PR,” but that is not something we acknowledge here at JoTo PR.

While I don’t like spending a lot of time giving him the light of day, this is a good time to tie it back to what PR ISN’T.

Edward Bernays described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct—and outlined how practitioners could use “crowd psychology” and “psychoanalysis” to control them. This is not PR.

Edward is a product of the Creel Commission1, an independent agency in charge of influencing the public opinion of Americans in the early 1900s to build up acceptance of World War I. This was done using propaganda, which was something that Bernays was a master of. In only 26 months he was able to work with the Creel Commission to create enthusiasm for the war effort on every single medium available. Anyone that uses propaganda to get people to be enthusiastic about war is insane, to me. He felt people were irrational, insane, and deserved no self-determinism, so it was OK to use “propaganda techniques” on others.

Later he published a book complementing the “lessons” of World War I and how propaganda is the secret sauce to controlling people. Wow.

One of his biggest actions, which put him in the spot light, was how he got women to smoke.2 He used, common to us today, every tactic in the book by getting models and movie star women to smoke to make it look accepted. With that kind of “key opinion leader” support it became mainstream to the point where it is today.

What PR Really Is

PR is about publicizing good works and making someone or a company well known so that they can increase market share to help more people.  It is not about manipulation, lying and covering crap up – nor about treating people with “herd mentality” to incite them to do something. PR is about true understanding and developing relations with disparate groups to get them into communication in order to understand each other better and work together. Understanding equates to goodwill. Goodwill equates to money (in business) – and more people more interested and more comfortable in doing business with you.

Real PR is not manipulation, lying and making people do things they normally would not do in their right minds.

Move over Ed, you’re no hero to us.

1 Rachel Botsman, Roo Rogers, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (NY: HarperCollins, 2010), 21

2 Edward Bernays “History as a Weapon”, Book