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Edward Bernays: Public Relations Counsel

Edward L. Bernays was a tireless promoter of public relations, and of himself. In tracing the arc of his career, it is sometimes difficult to separate the achievements of Bernays from the residues of his own self-promotion. In spite of this, Bernays left an extensive archive of material that reveals his attempt to craft a new kind of political work while, at the same time, establishing his credentials as a professional. Bernays believed that the key to effective propaganda was to identify the distinct social, economic, and racial groups in society, their prejudices and affiliations, and the symbols, words, and emotional appeals that could attract attention and elicit support. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, this approach to political campaigns required a fair degree of salesmanship, something Bernays was well equipped to provide. To that end, Bernays worked hard to convince potential clients and the larger public that his techniques were ideally suited to the conditions of a modern society. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays drew upon his uncle’s fame to build up his own reputation as an expert in mass psychology. At the same time, Bernays used advances in the social sciences to acquire a novel set of tools and a valuable set of allies as he staked out his professional claims over the conduct of political work.

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