Edwards Bernays is often referred to as the “father of modern public relations” with good reason. A nephew of the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, Bernays was also an observer of human behavior. He understood early on that words and images could be used to persuade attitudes, publishing landmark books on PR including “Crystallizing Public Opinion” in 1923 and “Propaganda” in 1928. In 1923 at New York University, Bernays taught the very first public relations course. He planned and staged numerous events and campaigns on behalf of a wide variety of clients, and worked with several 20th century presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan.
A chance meeting became a 10-year friendship between Edward Bernays and Shelley Zuckerman Spector, an award-winning public relations executive and faculty member at Baruch College. Professor Spector documented Bernays’ career through a series of videotaped interviews she conducted at his home. When Bernays died in 1995 at age 103, she gathered and preserved many of his books and artifacts. Her devotion to PR history led to the creation of the Museum of Public Relations in 1997, which found a new home just six months ago at the Baruch College library in Manhattan. The museum contains historical items from Bernays and the PR field’s most important pioneers and campaigns.
Twenty Hofstra students and I experienced the Museum of Public Relations last Friday and I urge all students and practitioners of PR to visit. Hearing and seeing Bernays talk about his life, touching artifacts from communication history (newspapers from the early 19th century, a telegraph, an Edison phonograph cylinder, a turn-of the century telephone and typewriter, books by PR trailblazer Ivy Lee, and much more) made PR’s past come alive for these 21st century students. Oohs, ahhs and wows filled the room as students touched and felt history in their hands.
Kudos to Shelley Spector for her labor of love. She’s preserving a one-of-a-kind time capsule that will ensure PR’s history endures. See the PR museum when you can. Learning history is the best way to learn about the future. Your thoughts?
When learning the 20th century history of public relations, we often focus on Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. Lee’s 1906 “Declaration of Principles” and Bernays’ 1923 book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” had profound impact on the growth and understanding of the profession. Students of PR history should also know Arthur Page, who built on their early efforts and helped shaped public relations as we know it today.
Page, who served as vice president of public relations for AT&T from 1927-1946, created the “Seven Principles of Public Relations Management.” They are as relevant now as they were nearly a century ago. Here’s a slightly edited version:
- Tell the truth. Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of the company’s character, ideals and practices.
- Prove it with action. Public perception of an organization is determined 90 percent by what it does and ten percent by what it says.
- Listen to the customer. To serve the company well, understand what the public wants and needs. Keep top decision makers and other employees informed.
- Manage for tomorrow. Anticipate public reaction and eliminate practices that create difficulties. Generate goodwill.
- Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it. No corporate strategy should be implemented without considering its impact on the public. The public relations professional is a policy maker capable of handling a wide range of corporate communications activities.
- Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions — good or bad — about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. Corporate communications must support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador.
- Remain calm, patient and good-humored. When a crisis arises, remember that cool heads communicate best.
When a 21st century PR practitioner is performing skillfully, ethically and effectively, there’s little question that Page’s principles have greatly influenced their actions. Students of PR–and PR professionals on the front lines every day–must remember to embrace Page’s sage advice. His tenants are what makes our profession uniquely necessary in our world of constant communication. Your thoughts?