Last week, when you realized Friday was Mar. 15, did you think of “The Ides of March” and secretly decide to watch your back?
If you did, then like me, you’re a fan of Bill the Bard, except you probably know him by another name: William Shakespeare. It’s thanks to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that the phrase—and its most popular historical reference—live on well after the actual Caesar was assassinated back in 44 B.C.
I don’t know if we ever stop to think about just how much of our language, sayings and references we owe to Shakespeare. If you look at quotes from his plays, some are particularly relevant for public relations professionals, even today.
1. “This above all; to thine own self be true.” ~ Hamlet, Act III, Scene I.
In PR: This is one of the most important things we need to remember, as practitioners and advisers to our clients. What is important about what we do, and why should anyone care?
Accurately translating the “truth” of who we, or our organization, are at our core, is critical to good storytelling, which is what we do.
2. “Can one desire too much of a good thing?” ~ As You Like It, Act IV, Scene I.
In PR: Yes. Focusing on getting “millions of impressions” for our campaigns, initiatives, or clients comes to mind. Hello, measurable objectives, where did you go?
3. “An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.” ~ King Richard III, Act IV, Scene IV.
In PR: It’s one thing to craft elegant messages, it’s quite another to create “facts” where none exist.
The best PR doesn’t make sh*t up .
4. “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is.” ~ The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, Scene II.
In PR: Branding crisis, anyone? What could be worse than being so generic in your messaging that people don’t even remember who you are?
5. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” ~ Macbeth, Act V, Scene I.
In PR: What all measurement geeks want to do to Ad Value Equivalency. Be gone!
6. “Nothing will come of nothing.” ~ King Lear, Act I, Scene I.
In PR: You can’t build a solid program until you’ve done your research, and know what measurable objectives you’re trying to reach. Otherwise, you might as well say:
7. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” ~ Macbeth, Act V, Scene V.
In PR: Could anything be worse than your program, or company, being perceived as “signifying nothing”? Egad!
8. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” ~ King Henry the Sixth, Part II, Act IV, Scene II.
In PR: Yes, this is something we might, or might not, secretly dream about. But when working on your social media policy, or crisis communications plan, getting buy-in from the legal department at the start is a smarter way to go.
9. “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.” ~ Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene III.
In PR: Do you work as a community manager, or have a component of community management as part of your responsibilities? Build it slowly; that’s much more likely to scale well.
10. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” ~ Hamlet, Act II, Scene II.
In PR: Don’t “take the opportunity to say” or do something. Just say or do it.
11. “I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind.” ~ The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene III.
In PR: Ethics is the one thing we can never, ever be without.
12. “Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.” ~ King Henry the Sixth, Part I, Act V, Scene II.
In PR: Measurement is frightening, but it’s critical if you want to learn and work successfully.
13. “I’ll not budge an inch.” ~ The Taming of the Shrew, Induction, Scene I.
In PR: A recipe for disaster, since you must know how to adapt your messages for different audiences and platforms. It’s also a really bad attitude to have in general.
14. “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” ~ Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V.
In PR: There’s nothing wrong with starting your PR program modestly. Some of the best campaigns started out small. The main thing is to keep going.
15. “Why, then the world’s mine oyster.” ~ The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act II, Scene II.
In PR: We don’t always make a ton of money working in public relations. But we do sometimes get the opportunity to help effect real change. The world is our oyster if we choose to make it so.
And there you have it. Fifteen quotes from Shakespeare for PR pros (and I trust you know why I chose to share 15, as opposed to seven, or 23, or another arbitrary number). If you enjoy them, keep them handy to pull out at your next client or team meeting … or maybe even when you need a little levity!
Shonali Burke is president and CEO of a micro PR agency that successfully helps businesses take their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool. She founded and curates the popular #measurePR Twitter chat, and is an adjunct faculty member at The Johns Hopkins University’s M.A./Communication program. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, Waxing UnLyrical.