Cover of "PR! - A Social History of Spin&...

Cover of PR! – A Social History of Spin

Chapter 1 – Visiting Edward Bernays

         Stuart Ewen begins his book, PR! A Social History of Spin, with the interview of one of the most important agents of public relations in history, Edward Bernays. Known to many as the Father of Public Relations, Bernays was an intriguing character. Bernays described to Ewen his take on the public relations, and how the term is often abused, overused, and misused. Bernays explains to Ewen how a young woman handing out flyers is not public relations, the term is much more narrow than that. There are only an “intelligent few” who hold responsibility for considering and influencing history and how it should be perceived in the public eye; these people are in public relations – the influencers. The rest of the world is to listen to the intelligent few, and respond to history without any deep thought behind it – they are the influenced. The influenced believe what they see and hear according to the second-hand accounts they receive from the PR industry.

Bernays described public relations as “a response to transhistoric concern: the requirement, for those people in power, to shape the attitudes of the general population.”

Not only does Bernays describe the way in which a PR agent should influence the public within the realm of a natural historic event. Bernays explains that more importantly, a PR agent should create –or advise one’s client to create – a historic event. In other words, a PR agent must be able to create a man-made historic event to grab the eye of the public, ”interrupting the continuity of life in some way to bring about a response.”

Public Relations Expert Edward Bernays

“An innovator and artiste of modern public relations” – Ewen on Bernays

One of Bernays’ most well known PR feats was his ability to influence women to smoke, and the public to allow for it – for some time at least. In the 1920’s, women had finally gained the power to vote, run for governor (some states), and more were attending universities. At the same time, cigarette use was on the rise. George Washington Hill, President of the American Tobacco Company, saw an opportunity. Hill hired Bernays to entice woman to smoke in public, broadening the cigarette market.

Torches of Freedom

Torches of Freedom

At the time, almost all woman smokers only did so in privacy. Bernays utilized the suffrage movement in his advertisements to influence women. He labeled cigarettes as “Torches of Freedom”. He turned a simple product into a symbol in the eye of the public. The campaign became a national news story in a plethora of papers. Bernays turned the cigarette into a representation of gender equality, stirring response everywhere.