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The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR

by Larry Tye

book review by John Stauber &
Sheldon Rampton

Today, few people outside the public relations profession recognize the name of Edward L. Bernays. As the year 2000 approaches, however, his name deserves to figure on historians’ lists of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

It is impossible to fundamentally grasp the social, political, economic and cultural developments of the past 100 years without some understanding of Bernays and his professional heirs in the public relations industry. PR is a 20th century phenomenon, and Bernays–widely eulogized as the “father of public relations” at the time of his death in 1995–played a major role in defining the industry’s philosophy and methods.

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Propaganda

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        By Edward Bernays    
       (the Father of SPIN)

One of Bernays’s favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead for his clients’ causes. “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway,” he said. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat hearty breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a hearty breakfast.

Bernays’s clients included President Calvin Coolidge, Procter & Gamble, CBS, the American Tobacco Company, General Electric and Dodge Motors.

Beyond his contributions to these famous and powerful clients, Bernays revolutionized public relations by combining traditional press agentry with the techniques of psychology and sociology to create what one writer has called “the science of ballyhoo.”

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