Who is Edward Bernays?

Edward Bernays

Edward Louis Bernays (1891-1995) was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations. He was the first practitioner to call himself a counsel on public relations, while prominent communication theorists and practitioners call him the father of public relations.

With his published 15 books, 300 articles and over 125 various reviews, letters and commentaries on the topic of publis relations as a profession, he is also credite with the development of public relations as an academic discipline.

Considered among the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century, Bernays was certainly one of the founders of the modern public relations profession as we know, examine and deal with in the 21st century. In his work, conceiving communication strategies, he combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter, as well as used the psychology of masses and the psychoanalytical ideas of his famous uncle, Sigmund Freud. Bernays started a revolution of sorts by combining the traditional ideas of press agentry with the technologies of psychology and sociology, creating what theorists today call modern public relations. He actively used ideas of psychoanalysis with the aim of maximising commercial effects, and all with the objective of promoting diverse services and products, such as cigarettes, soap and books.

In 1923, he established the first public relations department at New York University. He worked as a consultant for numerous companies, institutions, political officials and public individuals, and among his clients were some of the most famous international companies, such as Procter & Gamble, American Tobacco Company, General Electric, as well as President Calvin Coolidge.

It was his Big Think approach to public relations, as well as the revolutionary ideas on which he based his campaigns that were the main reasons why Edward Bernays University College, with the permission of the Bernays Family, bears his name.

His most famous books:

1923 – Crystallizing Public Opinion – first book in the world dedicated to public relations

1928 – Propaganda

1952 – Public Relations

His most influential compaigns:

1928 – Torches of Freedom – PR campaign to popularise smoking among women at public locations, commissioned by the American Tobacco Company

1929 – Light's Golden Jubilee – PR campaign on the occasion of the anniversary of the invention of the electric lightbulb for General Electric and Westinghouse

1954 – PR engagement for the United Fruit Company and emphasis on the communist threat in Guatemala


From the preface of the Croatian edition of the book by author Larry Tye, Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations:

Edward L. Bernays

For most of his working life, my father worked towards making Public Relations an occupation grounded in professionalism and dependent on certification. He viewed this work as on a par with lawyering. He stressed discipline so that a man or woman could not earn money as a practitioner of public relations without having studied it in a school or college. I know he was disappointed when young people came along and simply decided to “go into public relations” with the same casual attitude and yes, ignorance of the field as someone deciding to walk your dog. He was also disappointed when PR folks exhibited cynical and even dishonest tactics as part of the “game.” His determination to raise standards for the profession did not bear fruit in his lifetime. It seemed as if more and more people equated PR with “spin” (a term my father loathed because doesn’t spin imply lying?). Edward Bernays University College and a number of other institutions, some of them in the United States, have, over the past few years, gone a long way in realizing my father’s dream. I have been to Croatia to see this higher education institution first-hand. I think it is a marvelous enterprise; I wish only that Edward L. Bernays had lived to see it.

Anne Bernays

Edward L. Bernays’ younger daughter


Find out more about Edward L. Bernays in the book by author Larry Tye, Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations, published by Edward Bernays University College.