Reporting the death of Eddie Bernays at the age of 103 on 9 March 1995, The New York Times presented a largely favourable obituary. Over the past two decades, Bernays’ legacy has been mixed as his work has been praised as pioneering and also derided as deceptive manipulation. These opposing, simplistic interpretations, are combined in Cutlip’s overview:
Bernays was a brilliant person who had a spectacular career, but to use an old-fashioned word, he was a braggart. [Source: The Unseen Power: Public Relations: A History]
So what would he make of the Edward Bernays First College of Communication Management in Croatia? Consent for the use of the Bernays name was given by Anne Bernays, daughter of the controversial character who is a successful novelist and writing instructor at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.
PR Conversations asked Adrian Beljo, Head of the Centre for International Cooperation about the College and the use of Bernays’ name. He advises that during a visit to celebrate the first anniversary of the College in May, Anne Bernays said her father would be proud of such an institution, and that for him, public relations was not just another job, but a way of life.
Beljo argues that although Bernays has been the subject of much debate, his contributions outweigh any criticisms:
We were looking for someone whose name would stick immediately with people, not only in Croatia, but internationally as well, when they hear it for the first time. And we definitely succeeded in this. Everyone has an opinion, ranging from ‘this was far overdue’ to ‘how could you name your institution after such a person’, although there are far more cases of the former than the latter. So, although controversial in many respects, according to his biographer, Larry Tye, he was the profession’s first philosopher and intellectual. He saw the bigger picture when others didn’t, and demonstrated to future PR professionals just how influential and powerful they can be in shaping the economic, political and cultural life. He thought bigger and bolder than anyone had before, and this is what we would like to encourage in our students, this is the legacy we are building on.
Public Relations is a growing field in Croatia but its popularity as a “dynamic, gratifying and challenging career choice” is beset by a number of issues according to Adrian Beljo, who notes:
- A lack of PR qualified professionals
- An ongoing economic recession
- A ban by the Croatian government on state use of services provided by PR agencies
- A need to build the industry’s reputation and credibility
The Edward Bernays First College of Communication Management was established in part to address concerns about many courses offered in Croatia. Beljo explains:
After deciding to establish the school, it took another three years to receive final approval from the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports. What happened was that the Croatian market actually was flooded with various types of higher education institutions offering various study programmes, of which some were of questionable quality and value. For this reason, the Ministry made the entire registration process for new Higher Education Institutions much more demanding and stringent. It requires anyone wanting to establish an HEI to find a mentor institution for the initial two years of operations to ensure the quality of the new institution. Our mentor institution is the University of Dubrovnik and the Ministry regularly monitors our operations. It is also worth mentioning that we’re the only new HEI registered in Croatia in the past few years that has gone through this new, more stringent registration process
One guiding principle for the College is Bernays’ philosophy to “study to find employment and advance your career”. Adrian Beljo outlines how a goal for students is “to enter the labour market as well-rounded, educated individuals who are competitive and employable on the communications market. For this reason we have established an internship programme that is obligatory for all of our full-time students. To this end we have established partnerships with over 50 PR and marketing agencies, and media companies. Generally, undergraduate students are placed in media companies so that they can gain first-hand insight into how media function, while graduate students are placed in agencies. In this manner students obtain much needed first-hand experience from both sides of the media-PR relationship, and have an opportunity to personally meet and prove themselves to all of the major players on the Croatian market. With such a broad foundation, all areas of PR remain open to our students.”
PR Conversation stalwart, Toni Muzi Falconi, caught up with Adrian Beljo and Vice Daan Zdeslav Milas at the Bledcom 2014 Public Relations Symposium, and says:
“It is a brave decision to establish a new educational institution focusing entirely on communication(s) management, but the young team are enthusiastic and keen to engage with the wider PR community. In recent years, many educational institutions have flooded our field believing that PR is an easy, rewarding and socially respectable professional outcome for young, rich and not particularly dedicated students who do not wish to study and want a good life. It will be important for the Bernays’ College to establish itself with a strong faculty and diverse student base. I also hope a broad, critical, perspective of PR will be reflected beyond training students just to enter the profession. This includes engaging with the ambiguity of Bernays’ legacy.”
The Edward Bernays First College of Communication Management can be found via its website: http://www.bernays.hr