More moderate business organisations joined NAM and the Chamber of Commerce in their campaign. To counter growing concern that workers were being displaced by machines, their PR material explained how machines create jobs and to promote opposition to government legislation of business activity, their PR material made a case for ‘[w]hy freedom [from government regulation] and security go together’. Ad Council pamphlets were republished in company magazines and newsletters and in Junior Scholastic magazine, which went to thousands of school children.
Many individual corporations also expanded their public relations efforts from radio to television and production of films, which were distributed rent-free to schools, churches, clubs and theatres. Sometimes the films merely promoted an individual company and its products but often they also promoted ideological messages. For example General Motors funded films ‘attacking communism, teaching the facts of the American private enterprise system and warning that government interference in the economy led to socialism.’
Companies such as Ford, General Foods, General Electric and International Harvester, also engaged in individual public relations campaigns to improve their own relationship with the community. By establishing goodwill in this way they intended to reinforce business economic leadership in the community. As part of this strategy they provided facilities to local communities and sponsored sports and other community activities.
Individual companies encouraged employees at all levels to become involved in community organisations of all types and in some companies, such as General Electric, ‘leadership of community organizations was seen as a prerequisite for professional advancement.’ In this way, not only would the company have a voice in many community forums but their personnel would become friendly with community ‘thought leaders’ and win some as supporters of business. Of particular importance was membership of policy making boards such as school boards, where business interests could be protected and promoted.
Individual companies also advertised the free market message. For example Warner & Swasey (manufacturer of machine tools) advertised in Newsweek, Business Week and United States News in January 1947 that ‘If you want a larger piece, bake a bigger pie’:
The workmen already get by far the largest slice—61% of all American corporations’ production. The smallest slice (9%) goes to business to provide future jobs and a small part of it goes to the millions of people whose savings provide the factory and machines, without which there would be no jobs at all. Another slice goes for taxes; and for parts and materials. A very small slice for management, which keeps the business going. And that uses up the pie.
The Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) gave employees and visitors a booklet that explained why the American economic system ensured freedom:
It is our freedom to work in a field of our own choice, for our own best interests, and those of society. It is our freedom to invest our earnings, to start and to build a business, to earn a profit, or to go broke. It is freedom from excessive government regulation, from the coercion of any group, public or private. It is our freedom to enter any market, any competition, limited only by the basic laws and rules of honesty and ethics. It is an aggressive system and one which gets results!
Alcoa also produced a series of colour advertisements for the Saturday Evening Post on ‘the American economic formula, the heritage of a free people’ and a documentary motion picture, Unfinished Rainbows, which was seen by over 23 million people. According to Alcoa’s Director of Public Relations this work was ‘climate promotion’, ensuring a favourable economic climate in which to do business.
The election of Truman to president in 1948, on a platform that included price controls and increased government spending, seemed to attested to the success of organized labour campaigns. It reinforced the fears of business people and caused them to increase their propaganda efforts. The chair of NAM’s public relations committee and vice-president of DuPont, J. Warren Kinsman, stated that public relations tools were the only weapons ‘powerful enough to arouse public opinion sufficiently to check the steady, insidious and current drift toward Socialism.’
By the early 1950s businesses and their allies were spending well over a $100 million each year on what was euphemistically called ‘economic education’ but was really public relations communications aimed at turning the public against government regulation and union demands. In 1949 Fortune Magazine claimed:
The daily tonnage output of propaganda and publicity, ... has become an important force in American life. Nearly half of the contents of the best newspapers is derived from publicity releases; nearly all the contents of the lesser papers and the hundreds of specialized periodicals are directly or indirectly the work of P.R. departments.
In 1950 the Buchanan Committee, a House Select Committee on Lobbying, reported:
Organizations seeking to protect a privileged status for their members at the expense of the general welfare of all Americans use terms like ‘socialism’, ‘statism,’ and ‘welfare state’ to forestall rational analysis of legislative proposals which they oppose... Political freedom cannot live in an atmosphere of such hysterical oversimplification.
By 1951 corporate-sponsored films were being watched by 20 million people per week. Procter and Gamble, General Electric and Republic Steel also distributed Free Enterprise comic books. William Whyte estimated that American businesses were spending over $100 million each year on advertising, public and employee relations to sell the American free enterprise system in the early 1950s.
Never before have businessmen appeared so gripped with a single idea; there is scarcely a convention that is not exhorted with it, and of all the general speeches made by businessmen, by far the greatest single category is that in which the audience is warned to spread the gospel before it is too late.