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The evolution of an idea: Charting the early public relations ideology of Edward L. Bernays

Burton St. John III (Communication and Theatre Arts Department, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)
Margot Opdycke Lamme (Department of Advertising & Public Relations, The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, College of Communication & Information Sciences, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




The aim of this work is to explore Edward L. Bernays' early evolution in thought concerning the rationale for public relations and to briefly discuss how these emergent ideological concepts have proven foundational for contemporary public relations.


Bernays' ideological development in the decade after the First World War is traced through: his very early tactical work; his exposure to significant writings concerning the use of persuasion to manage the masses; and his own writings.


Bernays, widely considered a pioneer in the field of public relations, exhibited a somewhat halting evolution in thought concerning the role of the new public relations professional. From 1920 through 1927, he normally described the public relations counsel as using propaganda to move masses toward the acceptance of good causes. However, by the end of the decade, his concept of the public relations person shifted toward emphasizing using propaganda as a pro‐social mechanism to convey the ideas of minority voices to targeted audiences. The latter view is a precursor to modern‐day understandings of public relations as an endeavor that attempts to build mutually beneficial relationships between a client and its relevant audiences.


This paper offers a distinctive look at how, during a crucial decade, a pathfinder in US public relations developed rationales for the emergent field. The exploration of his evolving ideology provides a deeper view of how Bernays contributed to enduring concepts of a socially constructive practice of public relations.



St. John, B. and Opdycke Lamme, M. (2011), "The evolution of an idea: Charting the early public relations ideology of Edward L. Bernays", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 223-235.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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