The Engineering of Consent Bv EDWARD L. BERNAYS F REEDOM of speech and its demo- cratic corollary, a free press, have tacitly expanded our Bill of Rights to pamphlets is published annually. The country is blanketed with billboards, handbills, throwaways, and direct mail include the right of persuasion. This advertising. Round tables, panels and development was an inevitable result forums, classrooms and legislative as- of the expansion of the media of free semblies, and public platforms—any speech and persuasion, denned in other and all media, day after day, spread articles in this volume. All these media the word, someone's word. provide open doors to the public mind. On the second level there are the spe- Any one of us through these media may cialized media owned and operated by influence the attitudes and actions of the many organized groups in this coun- our fellow citizens. try. Almost all such groups (and many The tremendous expansion of com- of their subdivisions) have their own munications in the United States has communications systems. They dis- given this Nation the world's most pene- seminate ideas not only by means of trating and effective apparatus for the the formal written word in labor papers, transmission of ideas. Every resident house organs, special bulletins, and the is constantly exposed to the impact of like, but also through lectures, meetings, our vast network of communications discussions, and rank-and-file conversa- which reach every corner of the coun- tions. try, no matter how remote or isolated. Words hammer continually at the eyes LEADERSHIP THROUGH COMMUNICATION and ears of America. The United States This web of communications, some- has become a small room in which a times duplicating, crisscrossing, and single whisper is magnified thousands overlapping, is a condition of fact, not of times. theory. We must recognize the sig- Knowledge of how to use this enor- nificance of modern communications not mous amplifying system becomes a only as a highly organized mechanical matter of primary concern to those who web but as a potent force for social are interested in socially constructive good or possible evil. We can deter- action. mine whether this network shall be em- There are two main divisions of this ployed to its greatest extent for sound communications system which maintain social ends. social cohesion. On the first level there For only by mastering the techniques are the commercial media. Almost 1,800 of communication can leadership be daily newspapers in the United States exercised fruitfully in the vast complex have a combined circulation of around that is modern democracy in the United 44,000,000. There are approximately States. In an earlier age, in a soci- 10,000 weekly newspapers and almost ety that was small geographically and 6,000 magazines. Approximately 2,000 with a more homogeneous population, a radio stations of various types broad- leader was usually known to his fol- cast to the Nation's 60,000,000 receiv- lowers personally; there was a visual ing sets. Approximately 16,500 motion relationship between them. Communi- picture houses have a capacity of almost cation was accomplished principally by 10,500,000. A deluge of books and personal announcement to an audience 113 114 T H E ANNALS OF T H E AMERICAN ACADEMY or through a relatively primitive print- edge of the situation and on the appli- ing press. Books, pamphlets, and news- cation of scientific principles and tried papers reached a very small literate practices to the task of getting people segment of the public. to support ideas and programs. Any We are tired of hearing repeated the person or organization depends ulti- threadbare cliche "The world has grown mately on public approval, and is there- smaller"; but this so-called truism is fore faced with the problem of engi- not actually true, by any means. The neering the public's consent to a pro- world has grown both smaller and very gram or goal. We expect our elected much larger. Its physical frontiers government officials to try to engineer have been expanded. Today's leaders our consent—through the network of have become more remote physically communications open to them—for the from the public; yet, at the same time, measures they propose. We reject gov- the public has much greater familiarity ernment authoritarianism or regimenta- with these leaders through the system tion, but we are willing to take action of modern communications. Leaders suggested to us by the written or are just as potent today as ever. spoken word. The engineering of con- In turn, by use of this system, which sent is the very essence of the demo- has constantly expanded as a result of cratic process, the freedom to persuade technological improvement, leaders have and suggest. The freedoms of speech, been able to overcome the problems of press, petition, and assembly, the free- geographical distance and social stratifi- doms which make the engineering of cation to reach their publics. Under- consent possible, are among the most lying much of this expansion, and cherished guarantees of the Constitu- largely the reason for its existence in tion of the United States. its present form, has been widespread The engineering of consent should be and enormously rapid diffusion of based theoretically and practically on literacy. the complete understanding of those Leaders may be the spokesmen for whom it attempts to win over. But it many different points of view. They is sometimes impossible to reach joint may direct the activities of major or- decisions based on an understanding of ganized groups such as industry, labor, facts by all the people. The average or units of government. They may American adult has only six years of compete with one another in battles for schooling behind him. With pressing public good will; or they may, repre- crises and decisions to be faced, a leader senting divisions within the larger units, frequently cannot wait for the people compete among themselves. Such lead- to arrive at even general understanding. ers, with the aid of technicians in the In certain cases, democratic leaders field who have specialized in utilizing must play their part in leading the pub- the channels of communication, have lic through the engineering of consent been able to accomplish purposefully to socially constructive goals and values. and scientifically what we have termed This role naturally imposes upon them "the engineering of consent." the obligation to use the educational processes, as well as other available T H E ENGINEERING APPROACH techniques, to bring about as complete an understanding as possible. This phrase quite simply means the Under no circumstances should the use of an engineering approach—that is, engineering of consent supersede or dis- action based only on thorough knowl- place the functions of the educational T H E ENGINEERING OF CONSENT 115 system, either formal or informal, in audiences. Even the direct, or what bringing about understanding by the might be called the old-fashioned, people as a basis for their action. The method of speaking to an audience is engineering of consent often does sup- for the most part once removed; for plement the educational process. If usually public speech is transmitted, higher general educational standards mechanically, through the mass media were to prevail in this country and the of radio, motion pictures, and television. general level of public knowledge and During World War I, the famous understanding were raised as a result, Committee on Public Information, or- this approach would still retain its ganized by George Creel, dramatized in value. the public's consciousness the effective- Even in a society of a perfectionist ness of the war of words. The Com- educational standard, equal progress mittee helped to build the morale of would not be achieved in every field. our own people, to win over the neu- There would always be time lags, blind trals, and to disrupt the enemy. It spots, and points of weakness; and the helped to win that war. But by com- engineering of consent would still be parison with the enormous scope of essential. The engineering of consent word warfare in World War II, the will always be needed as an adjunct to, Committee on Public Information used or a partner of, the educational process. primitive tools to do an important job. The Office of War Information alone IMPORTANCE OF ENGINEERING CONSENT probably broadcast more words over its Today it is impossible to overesti- short-wave facilities during the war mate the importance of engineering con- than were written by all of George sent; it affects almost every aspect of Creel's staff. our daily lives. When used for social As this approach came to be recog- purposes, it is among our most valuable nized as the key factor in influencing contributions to the efficient function- public thought, thousands of experts in ing of modern society. The techniques many related fields came to the fore— can be subverted; demagogues can uti- such specialists as editors, publishers, lize the techniques for antidemocratic advertising men, heads of pressure purposes with as much success as can groups and political parties, educators, those who employ them for socially de- and publicists. During World War I sirable ends. The responsible leader, to and the immediate postwar years a new accomplish social objectives, must there- profession developed in response to the fore be constantly aware of the possi- demand for trained, skilled specialists bilities of subversion. He must apply to advise others on the technique of en- his energies to mastering the operational gineering public consent, a profession know-how of consent engineering, and providing counsel on public relations. to out-maneuvering his opponents in the public interest. T H E PROFESSIONAL VIEWPOINT It is clear that a leader in a democ- In 1923 I defined this profession in racy need not always possess the per- my book, Crystallizing Public Opinion, sonal qualities of a Daniel Webster or and in the same year, at New York Uni- a Henry Clay. He need not be visible versity, gave the first course on the sub- or even audible to his audiences. He ject. In the almost quarter-century may lead indirectly, simply by effec- that has elapsed since then, the profes- tively using today's means of making sion has become a recognized one in contact with the eyes and ears of those this country and has spread to other 116 T H E ANNALS OF T H E AMERICAN ACADEMY democratic countries where free com- ject to possible change after research; munication and competition of ideas in specifically, what is to be accomplished, the market place are permitted. The with whom and through whom; profession has its literature, its training 4. Research of the public to learn courses, an increasing number of prac- why and how it acts, both individually titioners, and a growing recognition of and as a group. social responsibility. Only after this preliminary ground- In the United States, the profession work has been firmly laid is it possible deals specifically with the problems of to know whether the objectives are re- relationship between a group and its alistically attainable. Only then can public. Its chief function is to analyze the engineer of consent utilize his re- objectively and realistically the position sources of manpower, money, and time, of its client vis-a-vis a public and to ad- and the media available. Strategy, or- vise as to the necessary corrections in ganization, and activities will be geared its client's attitudes toward and ap- to the realities of the situation. proaches to that public. It is thus an The task must first be related to the instrument for achieving adjustment if budget available for manpower and any maladjustment in relationships ex- mechanics. In terms of human assets, ists. It must be remembered of course the consent engineer has certain talents that good will, the basis of lasting ad- —creative, administrative, executive— justment, can be preserved in the long and he must know what these are. He run only by those whose actions war- should also have a clear knowledge of rant it. But this does not prevent those his limitations. The human assets need who do not deserve good will from win- to be implemented by work space and ning it and holding onto it long enough office equipment. All material needs to do a lot of damage. must be provided by budget. The public relations counsel has a Above all else, once the budget has professional responsibility to push only been established, and before a first step those ideas he can respect, and not to is taken, the field of knowledge dealing promote causes or accept assignments with the subject should be thoroughly for clients he considers antisocial. explored. This is primarily a matter of collecting and codifying a store of PLANNING A CAMPAIGN information so that it will be available Just as the civil engineer must ana- for practical, efficient use. This pre- lyze every element of the situation be- liminary work may be tedious and ex- fore he builds a bridge, so the engineer acting, but it cannot be by-passed; for of consent, in order to achieve a worth- the engineer of consent should be power- while social objective, must operate fully equipped with facts, with truths, from a foundation of soundly planned with evidence, before he begins to show action. Let us assume that he is en- himself before a public. gaged in a specific task. His plans The consent engineer should provide must be based on four prerequisites: himself with the standard reference 1. Calculation of resources, both hu- books on public relations, publicity, man and physical; i.e., the manpower, public opinion: N. W. Ayer & Son's the money, and the time available for Directory of Newspapers and Periodi- the purpose; cals, the Editor and Publisher Year 2. As thorough knowledge of the sub- Book, the Radio Daily Annual, the ject as possible; Congressional Directory, the Chicago 3. Determination of objectives, sub- Daily News Almanac, the World Al~ T H E ENGINEERING OF CONSENT 117 manac—and, of course, the telephone ideas—from whom to whom? To what book. (The World Almanac, for ex- extent do authority, factual evidence, ample, contains lists of many of the precision, reason, tradition, and emotion thousands of associations in the United play a part in the acceptance of these States—a cross section of the coun- ideas? try.) These and other volumes pro- The public's attitudes, assumptions, vide a basic library necessary to effec- ideas, or prejudices result from definite tive planning. influences. One must try to find out At this point in the preparatory work, what they are in any situation in which the engineer of consent should consider one is working. the objectives of his activity. He If the engineer of consent is to plan should have clearly in mind at all effectively, he must also know the group times precisely where he is going and formations with which he is to deal, for what he wishes to accomplish. He may democratic society is actually only a intensify already existing favorable at- loose aggregate of constituent groups. titudes; he may induce those holding Certain individuals with common social favorable attitudes to take constructive and/or professional interests form vol- action; he may convert disbelievers; he untary groups. These include such may disrupt certain antagonistic points great professional organizations as those of view. of doctors, lawyers, nurses, and the Goals should be defined exactly. In like; the trade associations; the farm a Red Cross drive, for example, a time associations and labor unions; the limit and the amount of money to be women's clubs; the religious groups; raised are set from the start. Much and the thousands of clubs and frater- better results are obtained in a relief nal associations. Formal groups, such drive when the appeal is made for aid as political units, may range from or- to the people of a specific country or ganized minorities to the large amor- locality rather than of a general area .phous political bodies that are our two such as Europe or Asia. major parties. There is today even another category of the public group STUDYING THE PUBLIC which must be kept in mind by the en- gineer of consent. The readers of the The objective must at all times be re- New Republic or the listeners to Ray- lated to the public whose consent is to mond Swing's program are as much vol- be obtained. That public is people, but untary groups, although unorganized, what do they know? What are their as are the members of a trade union or present attitudes toward the situation a Rotary Club. with which the consent engineer is con- To function well, almost all organized cerned? What are the impulses which groups elect or select leaders who usu- govern these attitudes? What ideas are ally remain in a controlling position for the people ready to absorb? What are stated intervals of time. These leaders they ready to do, given an effective reflect their followers' wishes and work stimulant? Do they get their ideas to promote their interests. In a demo- from bartenders, letter carriers, wait- cratic society, they can only lead them resses, Little Orphan Annie, or the edi- as far as, and in the direction in which, torial page of the New York Times? they want to go. To influence the pub- What group leaders or opinion molders lic, the engineer of consent works with effectively influence the thought process and through group leaders and opinion of what followers? What is the flow of molders on every level. 118 T H E ANNALS OF T H E AMERICAN ACADEMY and motion picture people can be per- VALUE AND TECHNIQUES OF RESEARCH suaded to discuss with the consent en- To achieve accurate working knowl- gineer his objectives and the appeals edge of the receptivity of the public and angles that affect these leaders and mind to an idea or ideas, it is neces- their audiences. The local unions or sary to engage in painstaking research. associations of barbers, railwaymen, Such research should aim to establish a clothing workers, and taxicab drivers common denominator between the re- may be willing to co-operate in the un- searcher and the public. It should dis- dertaking. Grass-roots leaders are im- close the realities of the objective situa- portant. tion in which the engineer of consent Such a survey has a double-barreled has to work. Completed, it provides a effect. The engineer of consent learns blueprint of action and clarifies the what group leaders know and do not question of who does what, where, know, the extent to which they will co- when, and why. It will indicate the operate with him, the media that reach over-all strategy to be employed, the them, appeals that may be valid, and themes to be stressed, the organization the prejudices, the legends, or the facts needed, the use of media, and the day- by which they live. He is able simul- to-day tactics. It should further indi- taneously to determine whether or not cate how long it will take to win the they will conduct informational cam- public and what are the short- and long- paigns in their own right, and thus sup- term trends of public thinking. It will plement his activities. disclose subconscious and conscious mo- tivations in public thought, and the ac- THEMES, STRATEGY, AND ORGANIZATION tions, words, and pictures that effect Now that the preliminary work has these motivations. It will reveal pub- been done, it will be possible to pro- lic awareness, the low or high visibility ceed to actual planning. From the sur- of ideas in the public mind. vey of opinion will emerge the major Research may indicate the necessity themes of strategy. These themes con- to modify original objectives, to en- tain the ideas to be conveyed; they large or contract the planned goal, or channel the lines of approach to the to change actions and methods. In public; and they must be expressed short, it furnishes the equivalent of the through whatever media are used. The mariner's chart, the architect's blue- themes are ever present but intangible— print, the traveler's road map. comparable to what in fiction is called Public opinion research may be con- the "story line." ducted by questionaires, by personal To be successful, the themes must interviews, or by polls. Contact can be appeal to the motives of the public. made with business leaders, heads of Motives are the activation of both con- trade associations, trade union officials, scious and subconscious pressures cre- and educational leaders, all of whom ated by the force of desires. Psycholo- may be willing to aid the engineer of gists have isolated a number of com- consent. The heads of professional pelling appeals, the validity of which groups in the communities—the medi- has been repeatedly proved in practical cal association, the architects, the engi- application. neers—all should be queried. So should Once the themes are established, in social service executives, officials of what kind of a campaign are they to be women's clubs, and religious leaders. used? The situation may call for a Editors, publishers, and radio station blitzkrieg or a continuing battle, a com- T H E ENGINEERING OF CONSENT 119 bination of both, or some other strategy. activities will be on the written and It may be necessary to develop a plan spoken word, geared to the media and of action for an election that will be designed for the audiences he is ad- over in a few weeks or months, or for dressing. He must be sure that his ma- a campaign that may take years, such terial fits his public. He must prepare as the effort to cut down the tuberculo- copy written in simple language and sis death rate. Planning for mass per- sixteen-word sentences for the average suasion is governed by many factors school-age public. Some copy will be that call upon all one's powers of train- aimed at the understanding of people ing, experience, skill, and judgment. who have had seventeen years of school- Planning should be flexible and provide ing. He must familiarize himself with for changed conditions. all media and know how to supply them When the plans have been perfected, with material suitable in quantity and organization of resources follows, and it quality. must be undertaken in advance to pro- Primarily, however, the engineer of vide the necessary manpower, money, consent must create news. News is not and physical equipment. Organization an inanimate thing. It is the overt act also correlates the activities of any spe- that makes news, and news in turn cialists who may be called upon from shapes the attitudes and actions of peo- time to time, such as opinion research- ple. A good criterion as to whether ers, fund raisers, publicity men, radio something is or is not news is whether and motion picture experts, specialists the event juts out of the pattern of for women's clubs and foreign language routine. The developing of events and groups, and the like. circumstances that are not routine is one of the basic functions of the engi- T H E TACTICS neer of consent. Events so planned can At this point it will be possible to be projected over the communication plan the tactics of the program, i.e., to systems to infinitely more people than decide how the themes are to be dis- those actually participating, and such seminated over the idea carriers, the events vividly dramatize ideas for those networks of communication. who do not witness the events. Do not think of tactics in terms of The imaginatively managed event segmental approaches. The problem is can compete successfully with other not to get articles into a newspaper or events for attention. Newsworthy obtain radio time or arrange a motion events, involving people, usually do not picture newsreel; it is rather to set in happen by accident. They are planned motion a broad activity, the success of deliberately to accomplish a purpose, which depends on interlocking all phases to influence our ideas and actions. and elements of the proposed strategy, Events may also be set up in chain implemented by tactics that are timed reaction. By harnessing the energies of to the moment of maximum effective- group leaders, the engineer of consent ness. An action held over but one day can stimulate them to set in motion ac- may fall completely flat. Skilled and tivities of their own. They will or- imaginative timing has determined the ganize additional, specialized, subsidary success of many mass movements and events, all of which will further drama- campaigns, the familiar phenomena so tize the basic theme. typical of the American people's be- havior pattern. CONCLUSION Emphasis of the consent engineer's Communication is the key to engi- 120 T H E ANNALS OF T H E AMERICAN ACADEMY neering consent for social action. But When the public is convinced of the it is not enough to get out leaflets and soundness of an idea, it will proceed to bulletins on the mimeograph machines, action. People translate an idea into to place releases in the newspapers, or action suggested by the idea itself, to fill the air waves with radio talks. whether it is ideological, political, or Words, sounds, and pictures accomplish social. They may adopt a philosophy little unless they are the tools of a that stresses racial and religious toler- soundly thought-out plan and carefully ance; they may vote a New Deal into organized methods. If the plans are office; or they may organize a consum- well formulated and the proper use is ers' buying strike. But such results do made of them, the ideas conveyed by not just happen. In a democracy they the words will become part and parcel can be accomplished principally by the of the people themselves. engineering of consent. Edward L. Bernays, New York City, in partnership with Doris E. Fleischman, is counsel on public relations, a profession he was instrumental in founding. In that ca- pacity he has served governments, trade associations, and profit and nonprofit organiza- tions. He is author of Propaganda, Crystallizing Public Opinion, Speak Up for Democ- racy, and Take Your Place at the Peace Table, and editor of Outline of Careers.
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