The Man and Times That Changed PR

2 Feb
If I could work with any PR professional throughout history, it would be the Father of Public Relations himself, Mr. Edward L. Bernays. As he lived a long life (until he was 103!) he was able to live through rich periods of history. In 1990 he was named by Life magazine as one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century.
The nephew of Sigmund Freud launched campaigns from about 1910-1930 that influenced the publicity events of modern PR. My wild imagination both admires and embraces people with the creativity and the larger-than-life ideas of Bernays.
One of my personal favorites of Bernays’ campaigns was the Ballet Russe, a challenge to get Americans interested in a Russian dance amid World War I. Bernays himself was highly uninterested in ballet, and at the time it was a scandalous activity (men in tights???) He organized for the costumes of the ballet to be featured in several popular women’s magazines, and he convinced clothing stores to model designs after the ballet. His goal was to make little American girls dream of becoming ballerinas. According to the Museum of Public Relations, Bernays published a guide directed toward women and men, including a note that said “Are American men ashamed to be graceful?” I would love to have been a part of this campaign because I am so intrigued by the art of ballet, but it is incredible how Bernays could take something that he had no interest in and inspire a new passion in the country.

Image Credits: Dance by Huntstock

His most impressive campaign was the Light’s Golden Jubilee, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the light bulb. For one minute in 1929, the world shut off its power. The global phenomenon inspired later public relations ventures. For example, the Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Research Foundation bathed over 200 famous monuments in pink light, including the Empire State Building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Sydney Opera House.

Glowing Earth bulb by Kazuhiro Tanda

I chose the 1910-1930 campaigns because of the impact they had on PR. Bernays was able to orchestrate events on a global scale, and I am all about being over the top. Someone commented to Bernays that he had so much power, but Bernays never thought of himself as a man with power, just a man with ability. To have the ability to connect with the ballet and fashion and the lights of the entire world in one profession—a dream.

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2 Responses to “The Man and Times That Changed PR”

  1. ertelg February 3, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    I completely agree with your choice of era! I think it is great how much emphasis he put on ballet and expressing your creativity through dance.
    This era was such a great time for experimenting and testing your PR skills through new ideas and innovations!

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