Edward Bernays, Father of Public Relations

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Back in 1990 I was attending a social meeting of some kind, organized by Harvard, in Cambridge, MA. In those years being Russian at Harvard was not too common and lots of locals struck conversations with me about Gorbachev, perestroika and so on. At one point, I found myself chatting with a diminutive man of advanced age. He introduced himself as Edward Bernays, said he was almost 100 years old and, besides, was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. I knew who Freud was, so I got interested. As a matter of fact, I later found the man to be far more interesting that Mr. Freud himself.

You can read all about Edward Bernays, who is often called the father of public relations, in encyclopedias and books, so heres is only what he told me during our several private meetings in Cambridge. Again, these are common facts, I guess.

The first thing he said about himself: I’ve taught women to smoke. Indeed, Mr. Bernays organized a news event in New York involving beautiful women smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes. That was way back in the late 1920s and women were rarely seen smoking in public and probably not many of them smoked anyway. Tobacco companies were not happy that half of the population were non-smokers, so they hired Mr. Bernays. In the process, he discovered one unquestionable truth: a news event is better than plain vanilla PR.

In the late 1930s, Mr. Bernays told me, he received a request from Hitler to help him organize a world-wide propaganda campaign in support of the Nazi party and big money was offered. “No way”, replied Mr. Bernays, “I won’t do for money what I wouldn’t have done for free”.