The Wisdom of Edward Bernays

Little aphorisms from Edward Bernays, who could of invented stand-up comedy as well as public relations. This is from Larry Tye’s great biography of him, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations:

Not all of Bernays’s writing was that high-minded, although much of it was equally prophetic. Often he zeroed in on practical issues, sharing lessons he’d learned during his many years on the job. He broke his advice down into easy-to-swallow maxims, many of which have become part of the American lexicon.

There was this on politics: In most elections you can count on 40 percent of voters siding with you and 40 against; what counts is the 20 percent in the middle. Winning over the undecided 20 percent is what public relations is all about. And, to Tip O’Neill’s contention that all politics is local, Bernays added that all PR is too.

He said any PR strategy must address the four M‘s: mind power, manpower, mechanics, and money.

He had a theory on stubbornness: “It is sometimes possible to change the attitudes of millions but impossible to change the attitude of one man.”

On how to justify high fees: “On the basis of a Latin phrase, quantum meruit [as much as one deserves], the man or the corporation is much more likely to do what you suggest if you charge a high fee than if you charge very little.”

On a person’s age:  There are, he’d read and believed, five of them—chronological, mental, societal, physiological, and emotional. And they don’t always match. When he was ninety-two, for instance, Bernays insisted that his physiological functions worked as well as those of a sixty-three-year-old, and he said he had a report from his doctor to prove it.

On why thank-you notes still are a good idea: The fact that most people no longer write them is all the more reason to write them. Doing so makes you special and makes the recipient remember you.

On the effectiveness of telegrams: “Everyone over thirty remembers the telegram was a message of some big or important news, and a great many of us are still under its tyranny.”

On why he read Playboy: “For the same reason I read National Geographic, I like to see places that I will never visit.”

On the best way to win someone over: It’s easier to gain acceptance for your viewpoint by quoting respected authorities, outlining the reasons for your outlook, and referring to tradition than by telling someone he’s wrong.

The best way to land a job: Analyze the field, narrow your choices to one or two firms, draft a blueprint for increasing their business, present the plan to a top executive, and write enough letters to make that person remember you, but not enough to make him want to forget you. Ask for the salary you think you’re worth, and remember, you’re not just looking for any job, you’re looking for a career.

The best press releases:  Each sentence should have no more than sixteen words and just one idea.

The best place to find things: the public library.

The best defense against propaganda:  more propaganda.

On the finesse needed to practice PR: It’s like shooting billiards, where you bounce the ball off cushions, as opposed to pool, where you aim directly for the pockets.

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