The practice of public relations is not what it used to be. In the past, great care and effort went into crafting messages and pitch development. For example, when Julius Caesar wrote his compelling pitch in 50 B.C., his vivid portrayal of military exploits convinced the people of Rome that he was the best candidate to be head of state. When Cleopatra combined her fluent command of the Egyptian language and mathematics as a communications tactic, she improved relationships and restored economic instability in ancient Egypt. Today, the tides have changed as digital public relations professionals attempt to recreate this dynamic.
In 2015, news can be spread farther, faster, and more directly than any other time in history. The digital revolution—even over the past decade alone—has forever altered the practice of public relations. While some have yet to embrace the new rules of digital outreach, others have lost sight of the time-tested art of engagement that has been on display since antiquity. Perhaps the ability to strum the chords of human emotion through words and execution has gotten lost in the tombs of digital technology.
If you dig deep enough, you’ll find some interesting clues from the past that mirror what an effective public relations strategy should look like today. Want proof? Below are five essentials to successful public relations efforts that began in ancient times:
1. Establishing your point of view.
In Greece, during the 5th Century B.C., the Sophists were among the first to establish the idea of a point of view. Sophists used philosophy and rhetoric to teach excellence to young statesmen and nobility. Some believed to have the answer to any question. Today, we define a point of view as an outlook or way of thinking. We may not have all the answers, but with the increasing number of highly-circulated news publications, opportunities for media inclusion are everywhere, and audiences are everywhere. To take advantage of this environment, you must have a point of view that speaks to multiple media targets across a variety of digital and traditional outlets. The Sophists certainly had a distinct point of view on a number of issues facing mankind. Today, your stance on important issues and challenges affecting your industry is critical. It sets the tone for every media opportunity, speaking engagement and self-authored publication. After time, it becomes infused with your brand.
2. Delivering persuasive communications.
Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties afflicting today’s marketer is the inability to persuade. Aristotle was a master of persuasive communications, particularly in his ability to develop compelling arguments. Every message succeeds by its ability to inspire devotion in others. From the dawn of language to today’s ultra-fast technology culture, words have always mattered. Today, many public relations professionals have replaced persuasive arguments with messages that go to everyone but reach no one. We have the ability change the entire mood of a nation through words. They are powerful and often misused.
3. Communicating through storytelling.
Julius Caesar created the first public newsletter for citizens that featured fascinating stories about his military and political victories. In Peter Guber’s book, “Tell to Win,” he discusses how storytelling will always be about oohs and ahs, not zeroes and ones. According to Gruber, stories have always been igniters of action, moving people to do things. Only recently has it become clear that purposeful stories—those created with a specific mission in mind—are absolutely essential in persuading others to support a vision, dream or cause.
4. Dodging the spin zone. In the 3rd Century B.C., Socrates believed that communications should be based on true accounts. Whether it’s rising competition for content placement or yoga-like flexibility with truth-bending tactics, public relations experts are often forced into a dark corner between authenticity and fabrication. Today, traditional “spin doctoring” is being eviscerated by a more open and transparent approach to marketing aimed at building trust in an increasingly complex digital world. If you lie, you will be found out. Establishing an environment of open public feedback and response is the new evolution of public relations.
5. Getting intimate with your target audience.
During the late 25th Century B.C., Ptahhotep, an ancient Egyptian official and author, believed in targeting the specific interests of the audience. Today, that translates into understanding your media channel’s target readership. Whether the goal is to be a part of a dialogue that potential customers are reading or to deliver a more controlled message through a third party publication, you must know your target in an intimate way. The reality is that a large percentage of your media coverage may have little value to the end user, because it’s more promotional than it is helpful.
Through the course of time and with the advent of sophisticated online communications, one thing remains certain: We can all learn a thing or two from the past. When it comes to public relations, it’s more important than ever that we reach back before we pull forward. Bryan Evans is a PR practice area leader at Trellist Marketing and Technology.