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Tips from the father of ‘spin’

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Edward Bernays, father of public relations, swung his trade from propaganda to publicity in the early 20th century. It didn’t matter what he hawked.

He could basically convince anybody of anything, good or bad.

Bernays convinced the government to change a planned “Committee for Unemployment” to the “President’s Emergency Committee for Employment.”

Why? “President” is a “godhead symbol.” “Emergency” sounds temporary, but important. And “for Employment” sets a positive goal.

He seized on language in other ways, too. He created lists of verbs to guide political campaigns. Those “action” words can help any leader: assail, deny, predict, hail, ask, promise, appeal, urge, hope, advocate, tell, declare, request, remark, reveal, propose, condemn, exhort, praise and forecast.

He also was flat-out clever. Asked once why he read Playboy, he said, “For the same reason I read National Geographic. I like to see places that I will never visit.”

—Adapted from The Father of Spin, Larry Tye, Crown Publishers Inc.

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