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By Edward L. Bernays
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 1952 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
Public Relations Today
THE TERM "public relations" as used in this book has three meanings: (1) information given to the public, (2) persuasion directed at the public to modify attitudes and actions, and (3) efforts to integrate attitudes and actions of an institution with its publics and of publics with that institution.
As in the case of every important activity in our complex life, there is a philosophical reason for the existence of public relations, a broad general abstraction, an underlying truth.
Public relations is vitally important today because modern social science has found that the adjustment of individuals, groups, and institutions to life is necessary for the well-being of all.
The conscious or professional direction of public relations is needed today more than ever. Society has become more complex and its processes have been speeded up over the last few centuries. The rate of progress of the many forces that make up society has been uneven, with consequently increased maladjustment and tension. Because technology has advanced more rapidly than human relations, society has been unable to cope with accelerated technological advances—the atom bomb, for example.
There are many reasons for the rise of the new profession of adjustment. Among these are the growing complexity of society, the technical improvement of media, increased education and literacy, accelerated transportation and communication, which have widened the market for ideas and things, the development and acceptance of the social sciences, the substitution of persuasion and suggestion for threat, intimidation, and force, and the extension of the right to vote. Other reasons are the growing movement toward equalitarianism, general support for the concept that private and public interest must coincide, a greater dependence on central government, and dependence of the government on mass support.
For public relations all this means that policies and practices in dealing with the public must be predicated on a joining of the private and the public interest.
As long ago as 1934, Harold Lasswell made this distinction in his definition of the public relations counsel in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences:
The public relations counsel is no mere errand boy who discharges quantities of mimeographed releases in all directions the moment his client pays him a retainer. He may interact profoundly with the policy determiners of a given enterprise, and extensive effects may result. No detail of operation (communications appeal, market policy, credit practice) is immune from review and criticism by an expert objectively engaged in discovering a profitable sphere of activity for a client. That propagandists have induced important policy changes is well known, but what is unknown is whether the usual effort of those who specialize in assessing currents of public favor and disfavor is to make clear to determiners of business policy the advisability of adopting broad interpretations of self-interest.
The highest level of adjustment is reached at the point of enlightened self-interest. The public relations counsel must ensure that such enlightenment prevails. When self-interest was the dominating factor in most of the causes that sought public interest, press agents and publicity men could follow a function of one-way interpretation to the public, but as times changed and the concept of social responsibility was advanced by group pressure for reform, the field of public relations widened and broadened.
It is true that society thus far has developed no legal sanctions to safeguard itself against the uninformed or unethical or antisocial counsel on public relations—only against the man who breaks the law. But the competence of leaders in actual activity in the field defines and validates the term. This is made evident by the position the counsel on public relations occupies today in the three fields of communication, mass persuasion, and the ability to integrate publics with institutions and institutions with publics—his area of competence. By definition and in actuality, he is a practicing social scientist, qualified to give advice to management on policy, to give advice on human relations, and to interpret his clients to the public and the public to his clients. His competence is like that of the industrial engineer, the management engineer, or the investment counselor in their respective fields.
Obviously, public relations is not an exact science. But the approach to the problems encountered can be scientific—social engineering, the engineering of consent, humanics, human relations, or whatever term we wish to give it. There is, of course, a recognizable goal in public relations activities—good will. Good will is at once the most tangible and the most intangible asset of people and organizations. Good will depends upon the integration of an institution or individual with its publics.
It is necessary here to differentiate between publicity and public relations. Publicity is a one-way street; public relations, a two-way street. The modern public relations man owes his being to the destruction of laissez-faire in the early twentieth century; he owes it to the muckrakers of that period, the Square Deal, the New Freedom, and the New Deal.
Public relations activities are now generally accepted; but unfortunately, as so often happens with any new discipline, their acceptance does not always mean acceptance in their true meaning. This is true, too, of psychiatry and investment counseling. Many capitalize on the interest in a new field without regard to the verities. In our society the marginal man looking for speedy earnings attempts to capitalize on the good name of others and the ignorance of the public in any new area. In public relations, for instance, men from as varied fields as bookselling to association promoting have tried to turn a quick dollar by cashing in on the interest in public relations. Press agents and printers have called themselves public relations counsels. But then, even after two thousand years, quacks exist among doctors and shysters among lawyers. Yet both these fields have acquired legal sanctions against abuse. The state has enforced licensing qualifications of education and character for centuries. That some men practice deception rather than truth, use undesirable methods rather than desirable ones, is part of the pattern of the greater society of which all of us are a part. As society improves, so will it make demands upon all men to improve.
It has often been recommended that society surround the person who calls himself a public relations counsel with sanctions comparable to those with which it surrounds lawyers and doctors. Even setting up specific requirements will not prevent malefactors from cheating or chiseling as "counsel on public relations" or under some other name. But certainly it would speed up the elimination of antisocial deviants in the field.
A heartening factor is this: every new professional field in the United States has experienced the kind of development public relations is now experiencing. First, there was the need for the specialist. When he made his success, others crowded in. As public knowledge of the field grew, the demand for the competent professional was greater than the supply. Fakers called themselves by the same name. They did not deliver. The public reacted unfavorably to everyone in the field.
Then a process of cleaning up took place. The marginal professional was eliminated by economic law or through the voluntary joining together of a number of men in the field to drive him out when excesses became too great. Men set up standards and criteria and tried to enforce them. Public opinion supported them in their activity. Then law sanctioned the criteria and standards that had been set up. This is no novel problem. In my estimation it applies to the field of counsel on public relations. Government should now step in and apply sanctions that will help this new profession in its high duty and function of integrating society and thus attempting to make a better world for all of us.CHAPTER 2
Why Public Relations Knowledge Is Vital Today
PUBLIC RELATIONS is a vital tool of adjustment, interpretation, and integration between individuals, groups, and society. Public understanding and support is basic to existence in our competitive system. To know how to get along with the public is important for everyone.
We are enmeshed with our world through a two-way process. Publics we come into personal contact with—friends, customers, purveyors—affect our attitudes and actions; and publics we never meet affect us through symbols—words and pictures in newspapers, books, magazines, radio, television, motion pictures, lecture platforms, and other communications media. Through this process, we come to understand or misunderstand the world around us. And through it we are understood or misunderstood. Since we are dependent on others and want to be understood, it is important that our conduct, attitudes, and expressions be guided by a consciousness of our public relations.
Public relations activity makes competition, another factor of our society, more efficient and effective. Things and ideas compete for public interest and support, to fasten people to existing beliefs or actions, to convert or negate them. The Bill of Rights by implication endorses competition as an essential part of our democracy in the field of ideas, for it guarantees us freedom of speech, press, petition, assembly, and religion—all of which encourage the principle of freedom of choice. In totalitarian regimes competition does not exist. Government control enforces a monopoly of both ideas and things.
Two wise men, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert M. MacIver, professor of sociology in Columbia University, have expressed this thought very effectively.
"When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths," Justice Holmes has said, "they may come to believe, even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct, that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas, that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and the truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out."
And Robert M. Maclver has written in his book, The Web of Government: "The rule of opinion differs from all other kinds of rule in that it requires the continuous coexistence of opposing opinions, hence it avoids the most deadly sort of dogmatism, the dogmatism that crushes by violence other faiths in the certainty of its own righteousness. In a democracy men still cherish their dogmas, but not to the extent of destroying other men for their contrary dogmatism."
Public relations is an implementing factor in the many and varied competitive battles for public support in our country. Political parties use it when they compete for the public's vote, and so do labor unions when they compete for membership and jurisdiction. Management competes with management, industry with industry, company with company, product with product. Farmers compete for land, markets, government support, and the consumer's dollar; farm product competes with farm product. Social, educational, sport, entertainment, and church groups compete with one another for public favor and support.
The needs of our society demand competition, but the interest of a group should not, in its competitive striving, be permitted to run counter, as sometimes happens, to society as a whole. Society must, through government, ensure that a balance between the private and the public interest is maintained.
Public relations enables groups or individuals to cope more effectively with the speeded-up transportation and communication that have increased the complexity of our life. People are now more interdependent because the world is smaller. Our daily life is affected by what people think of us, near and far away. Public relations evaluates the potential impacts of public opinion and can act to meet the given situation.
Through public relations, an individual or group can ensure that public decisions are based on knowledge and understanding. The public makes vital decisions at the ballot box and the counter. People get their information in great part from the mass media that serve as a source for attitudes and actions. Such knowledge is a prerequisite to sound decisions.
Public relations enables individuals and groups on a broad basis to apply findings of the social sciences to achieve better understanding and integration with their publics. Application of this knowledge is important to the preservation and development of our society. The public relations man, as a specialist, attempts to apply the findings of social science as an engineer applies the laws of physics or a doctor the findings of medical research.
Public relations facilitates adjustment and accommodation to the times. Men and institutions often lag behind contemporary public opinion. "The difference between evolution and revolution is the rate of change," said Charles Merriam of the University of Chicago. The objective-minded public relations man helps his client adjust to the contemporary situation, or helps the public adjust to it.
Public relations activity brings to human maladjustments the skill and point of view of a technician with expert knowledge of how human relationships function. Maladjustments in many fields—commerce, industry, religion, and government—are based on the misunderstanding of realities and communications processes. Conflict based on differing values is part of our competitive system. Conflict that is based on misunderstanding, ignorance, and apathy is unnecessary and wasteful.
Public relations provides a potent tool in the promotion of a better understanding of democracy. In the battle of ideologies that rages today between democracy and communism, the United States is an open forum for conflicting views. That very fact carries with it the obligation to rally the American people dynamically behind democracy.
Public relations counteracts the tyranny of the majority and helps re-establish the inherent pluralism of America. Majority ideas often begin as minority ideas. Both are important. The Bill of Rights protects the right to freedom of expression for every individual and group.
Long ago, John Stuart Mill described the importance of minority opinion to society as follows:
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to its owner, if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on him; but the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation, those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it.
Majority opinions must further be evaluated, for majority itself may obscure the fact that it is composed of diverse opinions. When a public opinion poll results in 52 per cent for one side of a question and 48 per cent for the other, little attention is paid to the component parts in each side.
Progressive laws regarding child labor, working hours, wages, and women suffrage were brought about by effective public relations activities, which won the support of people who were passive or opposed to such laws. Small groups have worked effectively for the social interest by application of public relations research, strategy, and tactics.
Public relations provides the knowledge and the techniques that enable leaders to be more effective. In a democracy, leadership is dependent on understanding the public and knowing how to reach it.
To citizens in general, public relations is important because it helps them to understand the society of which we are all a part, to know and evaluate the viewpoints of others, to exert leadership in modifying conditions that affect us, to evaluate efforts being made by others, and to persuade or suggest courses of action.
To the businessman, public relations is also vital because he deals with many publics— with purveyors, workers, customers, government, community, retailers, wholesalers, stockholders, sources of credit, and the like. Each of these publics plays its part in the life of an individual business. Insensitivity to any of these publics may affect the total relationships, for the delicate adjustments and relationships with the public do not depend only on what is actually done: they also depend on what members of any of these publics think has been done or not done.
Excerpted from Public Relations by Edward L. Bernays. Copyright © 1952 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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