Public Relations Tips from Edward Bernays, the father of PR

Some years ago, I was privileged to attend a presentation by Edward Bernays, widely regarded as the father of public relations. His presentation focused on “how to approach a new client or new project.”   Although he started is own firm in 1919, it’s surprising how well his recommendations stand up in our communications milieu.  Here are his recommendations:

 1. When you get a new client or project, call a university professor for the best and latest books on the industry or subject. (Search engines and Amazon may have outdated this suggestion!)

2. Check out the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov), Library Journal (www.libraryjournal.com)

 3. Start where somebody left off, instead of trying to invent a program.

 4. Ask the client, chairman, or president to send out a letter introducing you and asking for cooperation from his employees and contacts.

 5. Develop a plan.  (He called public relations the engineering of consent and called consent a Jeffersonian concept.)

 Define your goal. (Use research to find out if and how the goal is reachable.)

  • Develop a strategy that involves the 4Ms:  mindpower, manpower, mechanics and money.
  • Use psychological themes and appeals:  self-preservation, parental love, social mobility, taste, smell, hearing, love, emotions, nationalism, etc.
  • Use impartial authorities — research scientists, academicians, doctors, government officials, journalists – to tell your story.  Bernays explained that PR was more like billiards than pool.  “”If you assert yourself directly on the various elements of society, as one directly hits another in pool, you will be labeled a propagandist by those whose attitudes and actions you are attempting to modify. … However, if you have independent sources deliver your message indirectly, as a billiard shot uses a cushion before hitting its target, you are more likely to gain acceptance and achieve the desire social ends.”
  • Find topics that serve the public interest.
  • Think Big.  Reach for the unreachable. Start, however, with what you think is reachable.
  • Consider the timing and planning of tactics.

 6.  Always ask to be paid quarterly in advance.

 Bernays died in 1995 at the age of 103. His Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) is the seminal work on the strategic use of mass communications to influence attitudes and behavior. His later works, Public Relations (1952) and The Engineering of Consent (1955), are considered classics as well.  Life Magazine in 1990 listed him among the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th century.”

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