• Sergio Benitez

The Legacy of the Father of Public Relations Lives On

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

How Edward Bernays has left a long-lasting impact on public relations and advertising

By Sergio Benitez

A photograph of Edward Bernays

Imagine being the father of two, but being called father by millions. That was the life of Edward Bernays, the end. Just kidding! There’s a reason why Bernays was called the father of public relations. I mean, people don’t call someone father just for fun. It can really scare some guys, but Bernays wasn’t scared of anything. No literally. Not one thing. The professions of public relations and advertising have been changed thanks to our father, I mean Edward Bernays. His legacy and work are still subject of discussion today and an influence to many. Spin is used by many brands and politicians, like President Donald Trump.

Life of Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays was known for his work in public relations, which started when he opened his own PR firm and worked with clients, such as the U.S. War Department. Bernays went on to participate in several PR campaigns in which he was able to influence the attitudes and opinions of others. Bernays is famously known for “Torches of Freedom,” a PR stunt that symbolized the freedom of women through the act of smoking cigarettes, which was looked down upon at the time. His stunt resulted in success when the sales made to women increased. It was even copied by other cigarette companies who began targeting women in their advertisements.

Women and Cigarettes

Six women marching at the 1929 New York Easter Parade in protest while smoking cigarettes

Marlboro cigarettes are a popular brand with a significant history. Who would have thought such a masculine brand got its popularity as a women’s cigarette? This is thanks to Bernays. In 1929, Bernays organized a protest in which he gathered debutantes to march the streets with lit cigarettes. The protest was all over the news and publications, bringing publicity to the brand. During the 1920s women smoking cigarettes was a form of rebellion. This rebellion represented women’s freedom to do whatever they wanted, even if it was against society’s values. The women who participated in the protest were doing something that society looked down upon. Over time and after Bernays protest, the brand shifted to depict women smoking as glamorous. Bernays’ work with Marlboro changed the brand in the years to come as seen here.

Spin and Propaganda Today

Bernays provided various insights into the world of public relations and advertising. Having worked on many PR campaigns, Bernays developed ways to persuade the public into changing their attitudes. In Crystallizing Public Relations, he wrote, “Public relations, effectively used, helps validate an underlying principle of our society - competition in the marketplace of ideas and things.”

Spin and propaganda have been a part of politics for years. In today’s society, spin is used by politicians, like President Donald Trump. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are subject to Trumps denial and misunderstanding of the virus when talking about it. Trump once stated the U.S. was doing very well in response to the pandemic. Such statement can portray that things are getting better, when in reality the U.S. at the time had 25 percent of global deaths from COVID-19. Spin is all about influencing the public opinion. This form of propaganda was heavily praised by Bernays and used by others. Aside from our current politicians, spin is seen in advertisements and social media. These current examples show how such a simple concept is still being used today.

It’s no secret that the legacy of Edward Bernays lives on. He paved the way for public relations and advertising. Most importantly he brought to light the importance of communication with the public. If it weren’t for Bernays’ take on spin and propaganda, brands would have a hard time appealing to society


About the Author:

Sergio Benitez is currently a senior at the University of North Texas where he is majoring in journalism with a focus in public relations and minoring in marketing. Sergio hopes to begin his career as a PR professional upon graduating in May 2021.