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Crystallizing Public Opinion
By Edward L. Bernays
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1951 Edward Bernays
All rights reserved.
THE SCOPE OF THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL
A new phrase has come into the language—counsel on public relations. What does it mean?
As a matter of fact, the actual phrase is completely understood by only a few, and those only the people intimately associated with the work itself. But despite this, the activities of the public relations counsel affect the daily life of the entire population in one form or another.
Because of the recent extraordinary growth of the profession of public relations counsel and the lack of available information concerning it, an air of mystery has surrounded its scope and functions. To the average person, this profession is still unexplained, both in its operation and actual accomplishment. Perhaps the most definite picture is that of a man who somehow or other produces that vaguely defined evil, "propaganda," which spreads an impression that colors the mind of the public concerning actresses, governments, railroads. And yet, as will be pointed out shortly, there is probably no single profession which within the last ten years has extended its field of usefulness more remarkably and touched upon intimate and important aspects of the everyday life of the world more significantly than the profession of public relations counsel.
There is not event any one name by which the new profession is characterized by others. To some the public relations counsel is known by the term "propagandist." Others still call him press agent or publicity man. Writing even within the last few years, John L. Given, the author of an excellent textbook on journalism, does not mention the public relations counsel. He limits his reference to the old-time press agent. Many organizations simply do not bother about an individual name or assign to an existing officer the duties of the public relations counsel. One bank's vice-president is its recognized public relations counsel. Some dismiss the subject or condemn the entire profession generally and all its members individually.
Slight examination into the grounds for this disapproval readily reveals that it is based on nothing more substantial than vague impressions.
Indeed, it is probably true that the very men who are themselves engaged in the profession are as little ready or able to define their work as is the general public itself. Undoubtedly this is due, in some measure, to the fact that the profession is a new one. Much more important than that, however, is the fact that most human activities are based on experience rather than analysis.
Judge Cardozo of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York finds the same absence of functional definition in the judicial mind. "The work of deciding cases," he says, "goes on every day in hundreds of courts throughout the land. Any judge, one might suppose, would find it easy to describe the process which he had followed a thousand times and more. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let some intelligent layman ask him to explain. He will not go very far before taking refuge in the excuse that the language of craftsmen is unintelligible to those untutored in the craft. Such an excuse may cover with a semblance of respectability an otherwise ignominious retreat. It will hardly serve to still the prick of curiosity and conscience. In moments of introspection, when there is no longer a necessity of putting off with a show of wisdom the uninitiated interlocutor, the troublesome problem will recur and press for a solution: What is it that I do when I decide a case?"
From my own records and from current history still fresh in the public mind, I have selected a few instances which only in a limited measure give some idea of the variety of the public relations counsel's work and of the type of problem which he attempts to solve.
These examples show him in his position as one who directs and supervises the activities of his clients wherever they impinge upon the daily life of the public. He interprets the client to the public, which he is enabled to do in part because he interprets the public to the client. His advice is given on all occasions on which his client appears before the public, whether it be in concrete form or as an idea. His advice is given not only on actions which take place, but also on the use of mediums which bring these actions to the public it is desired to reach, no matter whether these mediums be the printed, the spoken or the visualized word—that is, advertising, lectures, the stage, the pulpit, the newspaper, the photograph, the wireless, the mail or any other form of thought communication.
A nationally famous New York hotel found that its business was falling off at an alarming rate because of a rumor that it was shortly going to close and that the site upon which it was located would be occupied by a department store. Few things are more mysterious than the origins of rumors, or the credence which they manage to obtain. Reservations at this hotel for weeks and months ahead were being canceled by persons who had heard the rumor and accepted it implicitly.
The problem of meeting this rumor (which like many rumors had no foundation in fact) was not only a difficult but a serious one. Mere denial, of course, no matter how vigorous or how widely disseminated, would accomplish little.
The mere statement of the problem made it clear to the public relations counsel who was retained by the hotel that the only way to overcome the rumor was to give the public some positive evidence of the intention of the hotel to remain in business. It happened that the maitre d'hotel was about as well known as the hotel itself. His contract was about to expire. The public relations counsel suggested a very simple device.
"Renew his engagement immediately for a term of years," he said. "Then make public announcement of the fact. Nobody who hears of the renewal or the amount of money involved will believe for a moment that you intend to go out of business." The maitre d'hotel was called in and offered a five-year engagement. His salary was one which many bank presidents might envy. Public announcement of his engagement was made. The maitre d'hotel was himself something of a national figure. The salary stipulated was not without popular interest from both points of view. The story was one which immediately interested the newspapers. A national press service took up the story and sent it out to all its subscribers. The cancellation of reservations stopped and the rumor disappeared.
A nationally known magazine was ambitious to increase its prestige among a more influential group of advertisers. It had never made any effort to reach this public except through its own direct circulation. The consultant who was retained by the magazine quickly discovered that much valuable editorial material appearing in the magazine was allowed to go to waste. Features of interest to thousands of potential readers were never called to their attention unless they happened accidentally to be readers of the magazine.
The public relations counsel showed how to extend the field of their appeal. He chose for his first work an extremely interesting article by a well-known physician, written about the interesting thesis that "the pace that kills" is the slow, deadly dull routine pace and not the pace of life under high pressure, based on work which interests and excites. The consultant arranged to have the thesis of the article made the basis of an inquiry among business and professional men throughout the country by another physician associated with a medical journal. Hundreds of members of "the quality public," as they are known to advertisers, had their attention focused on the article, and the magazine which the consultant was engaged in counseling on its public relations.
The answers from these leading men of the country were collated, analyzed, and the resulting abstract furnished gratuitously to newspapers, magazines and class journals, which published them widely. Organizations of business and professional men reprinted the symposium by the thousands and distributed it free of charge, doing so because the material contained in the symposium was of great interest. A distinguished visitor from abroad, Lord Leverhulme, became interested in the question while in this country and made the magazine and the article the basis of an address before a large and influential conference in England. Nationally and internationally the magazine was called to the attention of a public which had, up to that time, considered it perhaps a publication of no serious social significance.
Still working with the same magazine, the publicity consultant advised it how to widen its influence with another public on quite a different issue. He took as his subject an article by Sir Philip Gibbs, "The Madonna of the Hungry Child," dealing with the famine situation in Europe and the necessity for its prompt alleviation. The article was brought to the attention of Herbert Hoover. Mr. Hoover was so impressed by the article that he sent the magazine a letter of commendation for publishing it. He also sent a copy of the article to members of his relief committees throughout the country. The latter, in turn, used the article to obtain support and contributions for relief work. Thus, while an important humanitarian project was being materially assisted, the magazine in question was adding to its own influence and standing.
Now, the interesting thing about this work is that whereas the public relations counsel added nothing to the contents of the magazine, which had for years been publishing material of this nature, he did make its importance felt and appreciated.
A large packing house was faced with the problem of increasing the sale of its particular brand of bacon. It already dominated the market in its field; the problem was therefore one of increasing the consumption of bacon generally, for its dominance of the market would naturally continue. The public relations counsel, realizing that hearty breakfasts were dietetically sound, suggested that a physician undertake a survey to make this medical truth articulate. He realized that the demand for bacon as a breakfast food would naturally be increased by the wide dissemination of this truth. This is exactly what happened.
A hair-net company had to solve the problem created by the increasing vogue of bobbed hair. Bobbed hair was eliminating the use of the hair-net. The public relations counsel, after investigation, advised that the opinions of club women as leaders of the women of the country should be made articulate on the question. Their expressed opinion, he believed, would definitely modify the bobbed hair vogue. A leading artist was interested in the subject and undertook a survey among the club women leaders of the country. The resultant responses confirmed the public relations counsel's judgment. The opinions of these women were given to the public and helped to arouse what had evidently been a latent opinion on the question. Long hair was made socially more acceptable than bobbed hair and the vogue for the latter was thereby partially checked.
A real estate corporation on Long Island was interested in selling cooperative apartments to a high-class clientele. In order to do this, it realized that it had to impress upon the public the fact that this community, within easy reach of Manhattan, was socially, economically, artistically and morally desirable. On the advice of its public relations counsel, instead of merely proclaiming itself as such a community, it proved its contentions dramatically by making itself an active center for all kinds of community manifestations.
When it opened its first post office, for instance, it made this local event nationally interesting. The opening was a formal one. National figures became interested in what might have been merely a local event.
The reverses which the Italians suffered on the Piave in 1918 were dangerous to Italian and Allied morale. One of the results was the awakening of a distrust among Italians as to the sincerely of American promises of military, financial and moral support for the Italian cause.
It became imperative vividly to dramatize for Italy the reality of American cooperation. As one of the means to this end the Committee on Public Relations Information decided that the naming of a recently completed American ship should be made the occasion for a demonstration of friendship which could be reflected in every possible way to the Italians.
Prominent Italians in America were invited by the public relations counsel to participate in the launching of the Piave. Motion and still pictures were taken of the event. The news of the launching and its significance to Americans was telegraphed to Italian newspapers. At the same time a message from Italian-Americans was transmitted to Italy expressing their confidence in America's assistance of the Italian cause. Enrico Caruso, Gatti-Casazza, director of the Metropolitan Opera, and others highly regarded by their countrymen in Italy, sent inspiriting telegrams which had a decided effect in raising Italian morale, so far as it depended upon the assurance of American cooperation. Other means employed to disseminate information of this event had the same effect.
The next incident that I have selected is one which conforms more closely than some of the others to the popular conception of the work of the public relations counsel. In the spring and summer of 1919 the problem of fitting ex-service men into the ordinary life of America was serious and difficult. Thousands of men just back from abroad were having a trying time finding work. After their experience in the war it was not surprising that they should be extremely ready to feel bitter against the Government and against those Americans who for one reason or another had not been in any branch of the service during the war.
The War Department under Colonel Arthur Woods, assistant to the Secretary of War, instituted a nation-wide campaign to assist those men to obtain employment, and more than that, to manifest to them as concretely as it could that the Government continued its interest in their welfare. The incident to which I refer occurred during this campaign.
In July of 1919 there was such a shortage of labor in Kansas that it was feared a large proportion of the wheat crop could not possibly be harvested. The activities of the War Department in the reemployment of ex-service men had already received wide publicity, and the Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City appealed directly to the War Department at Washington, after its own efforts in many other directions had failed, for a supply of men who would assist in the harvesting of the wheat crop. The public relations counsel prepared a statement of this opportunity for employment in Kansas and distributed it to the public through the newspapers throughout the country. The Associated Press sent the statement over its wires as a news dispatch. Within four days the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce wired to the War Department that enough labor had been secured to harvest the wheat crop, and asked the War Department to announce that fact as publicly as it had first announced the need for labor.
By contrast with this last instance, and as an illustration of a type of work less well understood by the public, I cite another incident from the same campaign for the reestablishment of ex-service men to normal economic and social relations. The problem of reemployment was, of course, the crux of the difficulty. Various measures were adopted to obtain the cooperation of business men in extending employment opportunities to ex-members of the Army, Navy and Marines. One of these devices appealed to the personal and local pride of American businessmen, and stressed their obligation of honor to reemploy their former employees upon release from Government service.
A citation was prepared, signed by the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy and the Assistant to the Secretary of War for display in the stores and factories of employers who assured the War and Navy Departments that they would reemploy their ex-service men. Simultaneous display of these citations was arranged for Bastille Day, July 14, 1919, by members of the Fifth Avenue Association.
The Fifth Avenue Association of New York City, an influential group of business men, was perhaps the first to cooperate as a body in this important campaign for the reemployment of ex-service men. Concerted action on a subject which was as much in the public mind as the reemployment of ex-service men was particularly interesting. The story of what these leaders in American business had undertaken to do went out to the country by mail, by word of mouth, by newspaper comment. Their example was potent in obtaining the cooperation of business men thoroughout the land. An appeal based on this action and capitalizing it was sent to thousands of individual business men and employers throughout the country. It was effective.
Excerpted from Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward L. Bernays. Copyright © 1951 Edward Bernays. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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