By Maria Alana Brinker >>
One of the places I was determined to visit during my trip to the United States was The Museum of Public Relations. I admit that I expected to find some pictures, books and objects of the first public relation professionals in the world there – because Public Relations was born in New York – but I did not expect to learn so much history.
The museum is on New York’s Financial District, more precisely on Broadway, 61, almost in front of the famous Wall Street bull. But there are plans to transfer it to New York University (NYU) soon and make it closer and more accessible to students.
WHY WAS THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COURSE CREATED?
Arriving there, I talked to the creator of the museum and professor at NYU too, Shelley Spector, and her assistant Julie Dowsett. They talked about Edward Louis Bernays, the father of Public Relations. But… wait a minute. What about Ivy Lee? Why do we, here in Brazil, study more about Lee at the university and we regard him as the father of Public Relations? Why don’t we study about Bernays?
Lee was one of Bernays’ pupils and was very important in recognizing the role of PRs in the business world, which made him famous worldwide. We know that his first big case was advising John D. Rockefeller on how to improve his image. Historical records also show that the famous Rockefeller Center only has such name because of Lee’s insistence. He convinced his client to put his surname in the enterprise. Quite influential, no? Still, Lee is the second father of Public Relations, because the first is the Austrian Bernays.
According to Shelley, Bernays went to live in the United States when he was one year old. There, influenced by his uncle and friend Sigmund Freud (Yes, the famous Freud!), he realized the importance of the public opinion to mass communication. He related ideas by Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter about psychology and behavior of the masses with his uncle’s psychoanalytical ideas, and that combination made PR become established and recognized as a profession. He also taught in the first PR course in the world, at NYU, contributing to its creation.
After listening to that, it becomes much easier to understand why Public Relations was created and what is its function, isn’t it? Precisely so that Communications has a branch, say, that is not only responsible for promoting (Advertising) and informing (Journalism), but also for understanding how to establish better relations and to do directed communications (Public Relations).
AMERICANS ENJOY DANCING BECAUSE OF A PR!
The importance of Public Relations is well illustrated when we learn what Bernays did in
1915, when, without understanding anything about dance, he began advising the Ballet Russes Diaghlev on its tour. Problem: Americans, including himself, were not interested in dancing and did not like to see men in this activity – which was and still is quite common in Russian ballet. The solution was to positively influence public opinion. How? Using four strategies.
The first strategy was to promote ballet as an attraction that combined several forms of art; the second, to disseminate it among different groups of people with higher level of education; the third, to show its direct impact in North-American lifestyle, through the designs and colors brought by the spectacles; and the fourth, make dancers into celebrities, spreading their stories (Storytelling!).
For newspapers, Bernays developed a four-page newsletter, with photos and stories of dancers, costumes and composers. The articles were directed to his four themes (strategies) and audiences. For example, the pages for women featured articles about costumes, fabrics and fashion design; the Sunday supplements featured color photos. Because of the censorship of that time, Bernays had to retouch photos in which men appeared with skirts above their knees, adapting to its audiences’ needs. Then, he also influenced entrepreneurs to manufacture products inspired by the colors and designs of dancers’ clothes.
With this example you can see how directed communication – largely used by PRs – helped make dance a part of North American culture. Knowing about Americans’ passion for dance in Broadway shows and other world famous shows, there is no doubt the strategy was a success.
In this post I wanted to share with you a litte about what I learned during this visit. It was exciting to know that I was in the same building in which Ivy Lee had his office (Yes, he worked on 61 Broadway!). When I left, I thought about how many times he, and perhaps Bernays, Rockefeller and other personalities went through the same doors. If only emotions could be felt by the computer...
PS: I thank Shelley and Julie for all the knowledge they shared!