7
Social Psychology
and the Quest
for the Public Mind

IN THE AFTERMATH of the First World War, American business leaders were buoyed by a renewed sense of confidence. As a colossal experiment in mass persuasion, the Committee on Public Information (CPI) had fostered a belief that public opinion might be managed, that a social climate, more friendly to business interests, could indeed be achieved. "The war taught us the power of propaganda," declared Roger Babson, the influential business analyst, in 1921. "Now when we have anything to sell the American people, we know how to sell it."1

At the center of this newfound assurance stood the wartime revelation that appeals directed at the public's emotions provided levers of influence that mere facts could never match. The postwar pronouncements of Ivy Lee--still one of the nation's preeminent practitioners of corporate public relations--provide rich evidence of this changed sensibility.

From the time Lee opened his practice in 1906 through the period just preceding U.S. entry into the war, he--like most of the first generation of corporate PR men--had dutifully employed the Progressive Era's idiom of factual argument and rational persuasion in describing his work. After the war, however, Lee's statements on the subject of public relations revealed a significant shift in emphasis.

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