Installment # 4: Public Relations Consultants

In 1921, the small consulting firm had grown and the Bernays moved their offices to the New Straus Building in the center on Manhattan. As mentioned in Bernays’ Crystallizing Public Opinion, that same year they began using the term “public relations consultants.” This was not just a mere change of name but a different activity in focus and execution. From the “one-way information and persuasion from the client to the public,” it evolved into “two-way conversations.” Public Relations Consulting laid its foundations in resolving the interaction between companies and the public.

By adopting the “public relations consultant” term, Bernays and Fleischman borrowed the word “consultant” from the legal field, hoping that its professional implications would be translated into its core activities. Evidently, it was not an easy task for the new concept to be publicly accepted.

In 1921 Doris created, edited and published Contact, a four page house organ inspired by the dissemination of the functions and characteristics important in the field of public relations.  The first publication, dedicated entirely to public relations, was distributed by mail without charge to a select list of people linked to the media, business and opinion leaders. This is how Edward Bernays defined the objective of this publication:

“One of the first things we did to disseminate our point of view was to publish Contact. This four page house organ became the most important element that helped us seek public recognition in the public relations field and naturally, our activity.  We published 46 editions until 1939. During 19 years we sent 15.000 copies by number, which brought us fascinating letters, publicity, and I guess many clients. My wife had the discipline and audacity to take small published squibs and with a few words, give them relevance.”

Contact consisted of a compilation of short articles, editorials and summarized information extracted from newspapers, magazines and collaboration agencies, all with a brief commentary written by Doris. They talked about topics regarding public opinion and the importance of public relations.

The idea of looking at events through the “crystal eye of public relations” was a new idea and Contact became an immediate success. The writings were presented in an honest and open way, with a conservative design format, aiming to inspire an image of respect and moderation. It is important to note that for many people, the public relations consultant term still lacked public validation that gave it legitimacy. The only reference the public had was a similar task done by press agents, so often vilified in newspapers. This was precisely the image Bernays wanted to get rid of.

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