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The founding fathers of PR: Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays

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Historians of PR will often say that public relations has been around for hundreds of years, claiming Julius Caesar to being a PR innovator, and the Bayeux Tapestry to be some form of public relations.  However, there are two men who are acclaimed with the title of making PR a respectable profession, and who are often called the founding fathers of modern public relations; Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays.

Lee’s development of public relations began earlier than Bernays’, and he is credited with making US businessmen more communicative about their businesses.  To do this, he used press releases, where he provided more information rather than less, and listened to the opinion of the press and the public, which no one had really done before. However, Lee’s reputation as a professional was somewhat tarnished shortly after the Nazi regime began in Germany.  Shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933, Lee went to Germany to try and improve US-German relations.  However, it is said that he was a Nazi sympathiser after he met with top Nazi officials, including Adolf Hitler.

Lee also made his declaration of PR principles: “This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency…Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied promptly, and any editor will be assisted most cheerfully in verifying directly any statement of fact. In brief, our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of the business concerns and public institutions, to supply to the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning  subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”

Edward Bernays, who was the nephew of the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, is often described as the ‘father of public relations’.  He applied his uncle’s theories of mass psychology to the practice of corporate and political persuasion, and started the first public relations course in the 1920s at New York University.

However, it is thought Bernays associated public relations with propaganda after the First World War, and praised it in his 1928 book titled ‘Propaganda‘.  In his book, he says: “Propaganda will never die out.  Intelligent men must realise that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends to bring order out of chaos”.

Edward Bernays

Ivy Lee


Written by nathanedgedmu

May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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