Every time advertising gets confused with journalism there is a PR practitioner out there getting a pad on the back for a job well done.
In 1929, Edward Bernays was commissioned $25 000 by the American Tobacco company to increase the sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes amongst women. Bernays, known today as the father of Public Relations, decided to use the influence of the media to his advantage by spinning his campaign into a national news story. He told the press that women were smoking for equality, as it was deemed not quite ‘ladylike’, and that cigarettes were their “torches of freedom”.
On Easter Sunday, Bernays had hired thirty female models to parade gracefully around New York City whilst smoking Lucky Strikes. The press were there, photographs were taken, feminists had spoken and Bernays’ story ran all over the United States. Other women read the news stories and decided they too wanted to hold their “torches of freedom”, consequently doubling the sales of Lucky Strikes.
PR is just as much about spreading material across the media as it is about supressing it. Many organizations employ PR practitioners to limit the access of journalists and to quell negative stories regarding their firms. Every time a story is distributed to the media, another story is covered up. This is why we constantly hear about all the people who receive benefits whilst allegedly apt to work but we never hear about the big companies like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple or Facebook pocketing millions of Great British Pounds whilst paying close to nothing in UK taxes.
PR is designed to serve an interest and it is so omnipresent in the media that even journalists have trouble separating what is true from what is false these days. The level of manipulation and spin that goes into certain PR campaigns to sell a product, a personality or a policy is so overt that people don’t even think about it any more. Yet we are told what to buy, how to dress, what to think, where to go, what to say, where to eat, whom to follow and even how to breathe every single day – in the guise of news!
In one of Bernays’ many books about Public Relations called Propaganda he wrote, “We are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind”.
It is important to remain critical towards the information on the mainstream media as there are incessant campaigns aimed at opening our wallets rather than our eyes, set to alienate us from the rest when we can actually coexist in peace. We can’t control the fallacy of certain stories that are presented to us every day but we can, however, control how we react to them as individuals.