Arthur Page or Edward Bernays?
My observation is that PR practitioners generally sort themselves into one of two camps – whether they realize it or not. Let’s call them Pagers and Bernaysians.
Pagers follow the way of Arthur Page, the long-time head of PR for AT&T in the 20s through 40s. Mr. Page, to judge by some of the comments attributed to him by the Arthur Page Society and the Musuem of Public Relations (who knew?), generally espoused a kind of sweet, “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach to public relations:
‘The public relations job of this, as of other businesses, is to earn a good reputation with the public, to establish itself in the public mind as an institution of character and one which functions in the public interest…The theory is that the greater the public knowledge of a business the greater the public’s understanding of the business and the greater the use of its goods and services.”
Kinda makes you all warm and fuzzy doesn’t it? If Yoda had been a PR guy instead of a Jedi, he would have been a Pager.
Bernaysians, on the other hand, pay tribute to a somewhat different god. Edward Bernays self-promoted himself in the title of “father of public relations” based on a body of work for some of America’s largest corporations. According to the NY Times obit on him, he flogged cigarettes for American Tobacco and dictatorships for United Fruit, among others including Procter & Gamble; Continental Baking Company; General Electric; General Motors; Westinghouse; Time; CBS, and NBC. He also handled publicity for Clare Boothe Luce and Samuel Goldwyn.
Bernays emphatically did not believe in the warm and fuzzy. Bernays believed in manipulating public opinion to achieve specific results.
When hairnets began to lose fashion (go figure), he sent industrial experts around the country to argue that women with unnetted hair were at risk of being sucked into giant pulping, crushing machines at every turn. When soap sales flagged, he organized soap carving competitions. In order to jack up sales of cigarettes to women, he tied the act of smoking to female emancipation in the 1920s and organized “spontaneous’ demonstrations in which women would proudly light up their “torches of freedom” (you can’t make this shit up).
PR, according to Bernays, was an essential part of democracy:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. … We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Darth Vader, safe to say, would have been a Bernaysian.
These days, it’s politically correct to be a Pager, just as it was once politically correct to support the Jedi. But, if we look at ourselves hard in the mirror, I think most of us would see a little more Bernays than we might want to admit in polite company.
We’re far from polite in this crowd, so I put it to you to fess up: which path do you follow and why? Can you be a Bernaysian and be ethical? A Pager and effective? Why did Anakin’s eyes turn orange?