Now somewhat forgotten outside of university textbooks, Edward Bernays was once named “one of the 100 most influential Americans of the twentieth century” by Life Magazine. I happen to believe Bernays was the most important. It was only after a lengthy study of his past work that I truly began to understand the secretive and nefarious ways in which my chosen field is often utilized. For instance, it was Bernays who sold America on entering World War I and the later acceptance of women smoking. Bernays continued to work and keep his name out there until his death in 1985 at 104. The cunning old man had been a guest on the David Letterman show only one year prior. Watch Dr. Bernays in action HERE
Another early Public Relations Pioneer was Ivy Lee. Lee is credited with coining the term “Public Relations” and for inventing the press release as a tool for corporate and government spin. “Lee advised major industrial corporations, including steel, automobile, tobacco, meat packing, and rubber, as well as public utilities, banks, and even foreign governments.”
Now better-understanding the nefarious origin and historical application of Public Relations by corporations and government, I prefer to not use the term. However, one must sometimes employ it simply because this is the term the public best knows. Today, when people ask me, “What do you do?” I tell them “I manage public opinion” and a nice conversation often begins.
I no longer work for large multinational corporations because of an epiphany in 1984 while working for Prudential Bache Securities, then a very lucrative client. I was working in the Executive Suite in the downtown Los Angeles offices of “Pru” when I began to question what the financial giant was by plan and in practice, routinely doing to cook the books on some enormous stock offerings. After being told, “We’re paying you to make it look good, not to crunch the goddamn numbers!” I quietly resigned the account and moved to Honolulu where I later watched the total collapse of the once-mighty financial giant.
(above) An award-winning financial reporter tells the story of the massive securities fraud perpetuated by Prudential Bache in the 1980s, revealing key players in a story of kickbacks, payoffs, and shady deals that caused thousands to lose enormous sums.
After my experience with Prudential, I was forced to ask myself how I could continue to make a living? Progressive causes didn’t have near the budgets I once employed and I had to carefully examine and retrofit my communications model in order for it to somehow function without such massive resources. Suffice to say, it is possible and the personal gratification I have found in efficiently and effectively managing public opinion in order to make a positive difference in society has had many rewards. For me, it’s all balanced out. I’ve made a fair living, I sleep well, and have maintained my self respect in the process. “Go thou and do likewise.”
The 2008 implosion of America’s, and indeed the world’s most powerful financial institutions and the ensuing economic mess in which we still find ourselves could have come as no great surprise to anyone paying attention. How could it have ended otherwise? Many have watched this very sort of massive corporate fraud and self-serving government political responses occur time and time again through the years. Personally, I keep wondering if and when the general public would one-day begin to “get it.” While one might think this time everyone has finally “got it,” most flounder around wondering what we can “do” about it.
I’m here to tell you that one can change things for the better! It indeed takes a lot of work, time, and patience — which I’m convinced cannot be taught. Everyone must somehow find their own path to learning two vital ingredients; patience and collaboration. The creation of award-winning movies, broadway shows, videos and music as well as canny product development and marketing decisions are made using a collaborative process. When a group of creative people work together, collaborate, they just might come up with another Star Wars movie, Iphone or “Things Go Better With Coke!”.
Many of my communication model’s techniques and best practices are applicable to advertising and marketing goods & services. I truly love the challenges involved in creative product design, marketing, and brand development. However, the real pleasure is in changing public policy that somehow improves our society. One can change city hall.
I’ve been fortunate to have studied at the foot of some of the true masters of advertising & marketing, including my mentor, the late Marion Harper, “The man who changed Madison Avenue.” Marion gave me two pieces of advice when I decided to move to LA in 1982 from my home of 42 years in Oklahoma City. Marion told me, “When you get to LA, buy a PC and a database program” — and “Don’t ever open an ad agency!” I indeed took Marion’s advice on both counts. Buying my first PC and that first crude shareware dbase program indeed changed my career and my life forever. Aside, I do believe that Marion would have approved of my later becoming a Mac user.
For my money, the true Master of the Universe in political campaigning was my mentor and friend of 15 years, the late Joe Napolitan. I was privileged to collaborate with Joe on three campaigns for Governor of Hawai`i and we remained in touch long after. If you view this short video, You will be learning some “inside” political campaign history directly from the legend who helped make it, including John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Campaign for President.
I didn’t personally know the late Peter Drucker, “the man who invented management” but I have studied his writing and lectures on business management for over 40 years and his 1954 “bible,” The Practice of Management remains a classic reference. After nearly 60 years, most if not all of Mr. Drucker’s pull quotes on corporations and the industrial society remain relevant and are well-worth a read for anyone wanting to improve their own management skills or to better-understand how to set about improving their personal productivity and work environment. The technology may change, but basic human nature and the psychology of the matter does not — as Edward Bernays’ work demonstrated. In 1942, Drucker wrote in his “The Future of Industrial Man, ”In the modern corporation the decisive power, that of the managers, is derived from no one but the managers themselves controlled by nobody and nothing and responsible to no one. It is in the most literal sense unfounded, unjustified, uncontrolled and irresponsible power.” And here we are.
Here’s a short slide show I created about the evolution of technology. Some have found informative and amusing. Watch Technology & Design with your speakers on HERE.
The development of the vast array of communications technologies since the introduction of the PC in 1981 has of course greatly changed our work, but the techniques and best practices I routinely employ have not much changed; those that involve the psychology of managing public opinion. This, combined with the intuitive “gut” feelings based on experience and a little luck has produced our many success stories.
It all begins with the research needed to understand the nuance of often-complicated issues and a client’s circumstances, and of course with one’s writing skills. If you have no interest in writing or improving your writing skills, I might suggest here that you read no further and consider another field. Writing is hard work and good writing is indeed tedious. I often tell my associates and clients that “good writers are not born, they create themselves by doing the hard work of just writing” and it’s been gratifying to see many of them develop into truly exceptional writers.
People tend to hire me because of my personal relationships and demonstrated track record. I do no advertising because my business has all come from word-of-mouth — which remains the most efficient and effective form of advertising. All you need is one or two wins and people will begin to take notice.
The traditional news vehicles the PR professional once worked so hard to engage and the personal relationships we once cultivated with newspaper and magazine staff are disappearing with once-proud newsrooms cut to the core or completely gone as the survivors continue to try and somehow identify, create and somehow monetize their new models. Sadly, the consolidations of America’s television stations has similarly decimated once admirable newsrooms.
Much has been and continues to be written about how and where people are receiving their “news.” This is all moving too fast for me to comment much more here but I will say this; technologies such as FaceBook, Twitter, Google and the other “social media” technologies offer many advantages and I use them all when and where applicable. I look into every new etool that comes along. Some I find useful, others not. One thing is for certain, your use of technology is not an option and one might only guess what new marvel will emerge. Be curious about it all because the next big thing could change your life. After a recent evening with a group of young technology wizards discussing this evolution, I was quietly relieved to hear them expressing their own dismay at how quickly the changes are indeed taking place so you are far from being alone in trying to get a handle on it all.
I must say, there’s often a disconnect between some of the younger masters of the technology and the effective use of the technology. While one may have the technical know-how, using it as an effective political tool is quite another matter. You will have to wait for my book to read about how it can all be made to work together like a fine swiss watch.
SUGGESTED REFERENCES ON THE ART OF MANAGING PUBLIC OPINION
The Century of The Self
View the acclaimed 4-hour documentary by filmmaker Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self, on YouTube HERE. Released in 2002, the series follows Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays’ creation of Public Relations and its international use by corporate and government from World War I in 1918, through Nazi Germany and World War II, and its evolution and application through the election of President William Jefferson Clinton in 1992. While the entire 4-hour series is poorly presented on YouTube, it’s available on DvD at Amazon and on some audio books. I highly recommend this modest investment if you are seriously interested in learning this craft and having a better understanding what powerful, albeit seemingly benign forces are working against us all on a daily basis.
1891 – March 9, 1995
The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations
by Larry Tye
Henry Holt & Company
PR! A Social History of Spin
By Stuart Ewen
The Museum of Public Relations
The Museum of Public Relations was established in 1997 and “is the place to go to learn about how ideas are developed for industry, education, and government, and how they have been applied to successful public relations programs since the PR industry was born.”
Statesman & Political Philosopher
“No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”
“The oldest military treatise in the world” Translated from Chinese By Lionel Giles, M.A.(1910)
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
by Charles MacKay
“Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies–only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the ’80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the ’90s are peculiarly twentieth century aberrations, but Mackay’s classic–first published in 1841–shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating and entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naïveté. Essential reading for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.”
The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Gustave Le Bon
THE MACMILLAN CO.
Courtesy of the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
“The following work is devoted to an account of the characteristics of crowds. The whole of the common characteristics with which heredity endows the individuals of a race constitute the genius of the race. When, however, a certain number of these individuals are gathered together in a crowd for purposes of action, observation proves that, from the mere fact of their being assembled, there results certain new psychological characteristics, which are added to the racial characteristics and differ from them at times to a very considerable degree. Organized crowds have always played an important part in the life of peoples, but this part has never been of such moment as at present. The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age.” Read it on line HERE