Love him or hate him, Edward Bernays was a key figure
in the development of public relations as a profession.

After posting articles about Arthur Page and Paul Garrett's roles in developing in-house, corporate public relations -- which differs markedly from agency work or external consulting -- it occurred to me that it might be useful to review some of the other founders of our profession.

Edward Bernays, a long-time contender for the title "Father of Public Relations," is probably the best known and most contentious of them. After all, he was a grand self-promoter who lived to be 103 and was working until two days before his death. Both during his lifetime and today, people either loved him or were intensely annoyed by him.

Personally, I don't give him full credit for making public relations a profession. Regardless of what they called it, there were countless other people engaging in various forms of "public relations" long before he was born. I do, however, believe he was instrumental in clarifying and defining these practices, bringing them into the 20th century, and promoting them as a new profession.

Larry Tye who wrote The Father of Spin, a widely acclaimed biography of Bernays, felt the same way. "He was the profession's first philosopher and intellectual," Tye wrote. "He saw the big picture when few others did, and he was the first to appreciate the nexus between theory and practice and between the art of PR and the science."

In addition to being a personal advisor to five U.S. Presidents and one First Lady, Bernays' accomplishments during his almost 80-year career included:

  • making bacon and eggs a popular breakfast;
  • making smoking in public socially acceptable for women;
  • convincing Americans that beer is a "beverage of moderation;"
  • promoting the first NAACP convention in Atlanta;
  • directing publicity for the 1939 World's Fair; and
  • persuading Americans that water fluoridation is safe and beneficial to our health.

That's quite a list of accomplishments, and it only scratches the surface of how well and widely Bernays used public relations. He was indisputably a key figure in the evolving profession and a major contributor to its literature. But, it's up to you whether you see him as the grand patriarch of the profession or as a pompous, over-bearing braggart. Nevertheless, you really should know about him if you're going to practice public relations.
Read more about Edward Bernays.     

 

 
 
This site was initially created to support public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University.
Now it's used as a supplemental text for scores of university courses worldwide. It's also frequently used as a reference/refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

Don't get tunnel vision about
today's headline-making crisis.

Even though sudden twists and turns could put your organization in the midst of what's right now happening to other organizations, it's important to remember that today's headline "crisis du jour" is not the only thing that could befall your organization.

Covid-19, protests decrying systemic racism, bomb threats aimed at schools, and deadly hurricanes dominate today's news, but other crises abound. They're impacting organizations and their publics and demanding immediate response from public relations practitioners.

That's why public relations practitioners, especially aspiring crisis communicators, need to be aware of all the different kinds of crises that strike organizations and the strategies that are most useful to ameliorate their impact. Personally, I've found no better way of doing that than reading the annual crisis reports produced by The Institute for Crisis Management (ICM).

ICM was founded in Louisville, Kentucky in 1990 to help a number of organizations respond to industrial and environmental accidents, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It has since moved to South Bend, Indiana where it provides communications planning, training and consulting services for virtually every type of crisis for clients that range from small, privately-owned companies to multi-billion-dollar global corporations and also include government agencies and educational institutions.

ICM's annual crisis report is usually issued int the spring, but this year's wasn't available until August. It compiled news reports of all crises that occurred during 2021, analyzed them, and then offered a trend assessment that highlights the most-widespread types of crisis and the industries affected by them as well as tips to help you prepare your organization for a crisis.

According to the 2021 report, the most surprising findings were "the eye-popping increases in stories" about crises triggered by class action lawsuits, whistleblower complaints, corporate social activism, and executive departures. Also "stunning" were the deaths ("approximately 10,500) and financial damages caused by weather-related crises Losses from Hurricane Ida alone totaled more than $75 billion.

I urge you to download the current report and read it in its entirety. Then watch for a new one next spring. You can download them free of charge.

Various links about public relations during a crisis.     


Strategic & tactical
PR planning




 
Revised
Covid-19 must now be
part of all PR plans.



Public relations
during a crisis




 
Online readings in
public relations




 
Recent reads
in public relations




 
How-to tips
for public relations



Syllabus for teaching
Intro to PR




 
Ethics in public relations



Current site users

 

Making a video isn't the best way
to approach every issue.

Video and other audiovisual productions are incredibly seductive. That's why so many are posted on YouTube every day.

Whether they're broadcast over the air, streamed online, or played in an auditorium or conference room, it's great to sit back and watch a video or listen to a recording you've helped produce. Each viewing/listening refreshes your sense of satisfaction, and if your boss or company executives, or your clients, or even your co-workers praise you for producing it, there's a natural desire to want to do it again, and again, and again to earn more praise.

The same is true for organizations. If your department or your company receives rave reviews for a new product promotional video it produces and shows at one trade show, the powers that be are likely to want a similar video for the next trade show. They won't want to tamper with success. Instead, they're likely to want the same thing next time, and the time after that, and ...

It happens all the time. Once an organization has produced a video that fills one need, it's tempted to try using videos to meet every need. Just like a five-year-old with a hammer who sees everything as a nail that needs to be pounded, organizations with video production units often see every situation as needing a video response.

  • Need an in-store point of purchase display? - Set up a continuously-looping video.
  • Need instructions for DYI installation? - Include a video in every package.
  • Need to explain the new features of an improved product? - Produce a video to show the sales force.
  • Need to explain cash flow at the annual meeting? - Try an animated video with dancing dollar signs and graphics...

The problem with this is: it completely ignores the fundamental and absolutely critical questions that need to be addressed:

  • How can we best deal with this situation?
  • What do we need to say? To whom?
  • Who should speak for us? and
  • What is the best medium for our message?

By getting answers to these questions first, and honestly, you'll be able to design a response that truly fits the situation and the people involved. And, that's the best, and the most successful, way to practice public relations.

Read more about the "getting started" questions that should be asked.     

NOTE TO PHONE USERS: This is the only page on this site formatted for easy reading on a phone-sized screen. The rest of the site is best viewed on a desktop or full-sized laptop.
Corrected: 10/28/2022