What would Edward Bernays be doing if he were alive today and working in PR?

What would Edward Bernays be doing if he were alive today and working in PR? Bernays is considered the father of modern PR. You can discover more about Bernays here, here, and here.

Bernays often indulged in PR “stunts,” a strategy that I’ve vociferously warned clients not to do. How hard is it to get a PR stunt on the Fox 5 Minute? What long-term value do you get out of that? How many people are going to think about your product or company from a 15-second blip on TV and radio, and maybe a photo online and in the next day’s newspaper.

Yet, like my recent post considering what Thomas Edison would be doing if he were alive and inventing today, I love playing “what if” and thinking about how various historical figures would act/react in modern situations.

Without further ado, here’s what I think Bernays would be doing.

Edward Bernays, father of public relations

1. Social media – Duh, you knew I was going to say that. Bernays would have loved Ashton Kucher’s race to 1 million followers. Because, regardless of what you think of Kutchner, he now has a media platform. An extremely valuable platform as detailed by Jason Calacanis.

I wager that Bernays would have cheered Moonfruit’s Macbook giveaway that made it to the top of Twitter trending topics.

2. Influencer marketing – whether it’s P&G pitching mommy blogs, or software companies targeting key vertical bloggers, Bernays would recognize the impact of influencer marketing on publicizing a product or shifting the conversation both online and off.

3. Politics – Unfortunately, Bernays used his skills at shifting public opinion for some questionable political causes, namely the United States – in conjunction with the United Fruit Company – overthrowing the democratically elected government of Guatemala. I think Bernays would be fascinated and a participant in today’s fast-paced political news cycle.

What do you think Edward Bernays would be doing if he were practicing PR now?

  • Bernays considered a herder, and we were his sheeple. He often referred to the people as “stupid” and “dopey” and got his rush out of manipulating their minds, and by doing so, causing them to make decisions they normally would not make. He made lies seem true and could tell you blue is actually pink. He had no conscience and was loyal to no one except himself. These qualities often caused stress within the Bernays household

    During his fare-well speech Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the increasing power of the Military Industrial Complex and the scientific elite. He was right and I think if Bernays would be living with us today he would be where the money is. Bernays would undoubtedly be working alongside this scientific elite, as he did for the elite during the 20's. The current scientific elite believe that we all owe a debt to nature which should be repaid in the form of a tax, to them. If Bernays were here he would working hard to ensure that all media outlets including Hollywood would embed the underlying mantra “The Earth is dying, because of you” in all productions, as it is happening now. He would link news of current natural disasters to global warming, as it is happening now.

    The goals of Military Industrial Complex is to dominate strategic or resourceful regions worldwide and making a profit while doing it. Countries are bankrupted by the IMF, and when they cannot repay the debt they are forced to let our corporations in and “loot” the country dry. This has seen all over Asia, Africa, the Middle East. When a country refuses to be “looted dry”, like for example Venezuela or Iran, plan B is brought into play. Plan B is the systematic and consistent employment of the media to demonize a country or its leader in order to justify our actions which will lead to the destruction of that country or its leader. By destruction I’m referring to either military intervention or harsh economic sanctions. In order to achieve the above there is a heavy reliance on propaganda and I think a man like Bernays will be THE person constructing and planning these propaganda actions.

    Bernays could, and did not see people as one, but as thousands. It was his fascination and obsession to influence behaviour on a grand scale and therefore I do not think he would personally be busy with Social media, or Influencer Marketing. He would be at the very top of the decision making process together with the business leaders, politicians and CIA.

    Sorry to negativitize your well intended blogpost but I tried to answer your question as best as I could.

  • Tom,

    Thanks for your reply. I'm sure you're right. While Bernays may not be personally dabbling in social media, I think he certainly would have seized on it as another tool in the PR arsenal to influence public opinion.

    I would argue that their are Bernays disciples operating with supreme efficiency now – whether or not they'd own up to that description. One that comes to mind is Steve Jobs. He can conduct a masterful product unveiling, build excitement and conversation to a fever pitch for several months, then sell 300,000 iPads in one day.

  • It is interesting to note that Bernays fell from grace temporarily after the stock market crash of 1929. His philosophy of converting people from doing things based on need to things based on want created his perfect crowd of irrational consumers. These same consumers became empowered stock market dabblers that eventually led to the bubble that threw the world into depression. Some interesting parallel with today. What would of course be interesting is how Bernays would now be helping big business and the banks side step the backlash from government and the consumer. A new model of consumerism may well be around the corner as big business has an insatiable appetite and we are the fodder that feeds it.