Psychology and it’s role in PR

The main purpose of Public Relations is to communicate information to a public, a skill which undeniably demands the need for persuasion. Therefore, as a PR professional, I think it is essential to understand human psychology and how people react to certain stimuli- essentially, how the human brain works.

Back during the first term of my studies (September 2015), I discovered Edward Bernays, also known as the ‘father of Public Relations’ and a leader in decision making. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and generously tapped Freudian theory to develop some of the most unprecedented PR campaigns of 20th Century.

Determined to alter the way humans act and feel, he applied Freud’s work to understand what goes into human decision making. Rather than appealing to rational thought, Bernays focussed on more primal needs; he was the first to show American corporations how they can make people want things they didn’t need, by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.

The relationship between PR and psychology was pushed to the back of my mind until recently, where we have been looking into ethical practice of PR, which brought human psychology to the surface again.

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As an aspiring PR professional, I now think it is essential to understand the foundations of Public Relations and the history of where it began. Edward Bernays has had a remarkable impact on modern day Public Relations and as a result, I feel every budding PR should work to integrate his findings on human psychology with PR practice.

3 key things that I have taken away from Edward Bernays:

  1. Understand your audience/client.
  2. Never be afraid to take a risk.
  3. Make sure every decision is underpinned by ethical consideration.

I would also thoroughly recommend a very interesting documentary series called The Century of the Self (available on Youtube). It tells the story of the influence Edward Bernays had on the 20th Century and how propaganda was turned into PR after the Second World War.


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