Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays – wielding influence through media
When Edward Bernays died in 1995, he was described in his obituary as ‘the father of public relations’, and later named by Life magazine as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century. Much of his renown stems from a book published back in 1923: Crystallizing Public Opinion.
This seminal work on how to shape and create public opinion sets down principles, instruments and techniques that corporations and governments have been wielding ever since.
Influenced by the works of French polymath Gustave Le Bon and of his uncle Sigmund Freud, Bernays worked to demonstrate that the masses are basically irrational and subject to herd instinct. That, through crowd psychology and psychoanalysis, the masses can be influenced and controlled – something Bernays bore witness to not only in his books, but again and again in his venerable career.
One of Bernay’s key focuses is his assertion that good public relations should not only purvey news but create it. Whether it’s newspaper, radio, advertising or cinema, media channels want to capture public attention; if you work in public relations, it is your job to feed these channels of communication the right facts at the right time – helping them to capture public attention, but capturing the right public attention to serve the needs of your company.
This is a book that employs crowd psychology to get to the heart of the masses and show not just that they can be influenced but how they can be influenced. While the blunt concept of crowd manipulation can look crude and, at its most extreme, unethical in today’s world, and while we would not recommend it as a handbook to modern marketers or public relations specialists, there are many subtleties to find and many lessons to be learned in the pages of this historic work.