The public relations industry is loosely founded on the principle of “thankless pursuit.”
Which basically means that you can expect to be treated with disdain by your clients, the media, your bosses and in all likelihood, your dog will bite you on the ankle when you get home.
Bashing the PR industry seems to be a significant national sport in South Africa, which is a little unfair because if you get any editor of a business publication drunk enough he or she will readily admit that the PR profession initiates about 60% of the content of their publications or radio programmes.
PR people can also be their own worst enemies, mainly by not doing enough homework on the people with whom they are dealing.
However, my purpose today is not to bury the PR industry but to praise it.
To do this I have taken the liberty of blatantly plagiarising an article written by an American freelance writer and PR consultant, Virginia Randall, who claims that PR has not only been used for centuries, if not millennia, but that the Roman Empire was the first global brand in history to be promoted as such by public relations.
Here are some other great PR milestones of the past 1000 years that her research uncovered.
So, over to you Virginia, while I head off for lunch.
1066 Battle of Hastings
The first merger and acquisition placement, introducing the Kingdom of England. Newspapers would not be invented until 1622, but a resourceful publicist handling the Normandy PR business succeeded in placing the story in the Bayeux tapestry where it was reported, not by the column inch but by the yard and was the first example of ‘spinning’ a news event.
1095 The Crusades
The first major, long term, event marketing PR campaign, spanning two centuries and nine separate crusades, was an early triumph of persuasion that convinced throngs, from peasants to kings, to volunteer to risk death, disease, enslavement or prison to ‘free’ the Holy Land. Even children took part, embarking on an ill-fated ‘Children’s Crusade’ that resulted in the capture of many young crusaders in the Middle East and accidentally launched ambush marketing – at least as far as slave traders on their route were concerned.
It is possible that a resourceful entrepreneur pioneered the concept of licensing clothing by selling ‘My parents ransomed me from the infidels and all I got was this lousy hair-shirt’.
1215 Magna Carta
The first PR prompted shareholder revolt in history that took place against the CEO of England, King John. This was when the phrases ‘white knight’ and ‘hostile takeover’ really meant something. We can’t fault town criers, the early version of newscasters, if they soft-pedaled King John’s opposition to Magna Carta.
1334 The Black Plague
The first major health and fitness story of the millennium that used PR to promote a popular theme song, ‘Ring around the Roses’. The image of household rats has never recovered from this powerful PR effort.
1492 Columbus discovers the new world
The first time PR was used to cover up things that went horribly wrong. While Columbus never discovered a route to the Indies – the long term payoff would be enormous, thanks to PR promoting a place called America. The image of Columbus explaining this to his clients and giving them a tomato in exchange for their million dollar investment should be an inspiration to anyone participating in a PR campaign review.
1512 The Sistine Chapel
The first major arts sponsorship was completed when Michelangelo finished his commission to paint the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius. Although a landmark in art history, the chapel contains a host of unfulfilled opportunities. It may be that Michelangelo refused the offer of a few ducats to paint a pizza stand in his representation of paradise, thus missing the chance for the first product placement in history.
1528 The Tour d’Argent
The world’s first restaurant, in the modern sense, opened in Paris. While the rest of the world was arguing about what type of birthmark was proof of witchcraft, the French were inventing the duck press and introducing two essential elements in the practice of public relations: the take-out lunch and the expense account meal.
1793 the French Revolution
The world’s first major image campaign ended unsuccessfully in France when the court of Louis XVI failed to convince the French that the its autocratic, free spending days were over. The repositioning effort was torpedoed by the single most disastrous public statement in history when Marie Antoinette, upon hearing that the people had no bread said, “Let them eat cake”. The French public promptly stormed the Bastille and sent Louis, his wife and most of the French aristocracy to the guillotine. Modern public relations consultants contemplating worst-case scenarios should count their blessings and never skimp on media training.
And companies that make use of PR practitioners should know they are dealing with people representing one of the oldest professions in the world.
No, not the oldest!
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
IMAGE: Doge Enrico Dandolo Recruiting for the Crusade / Jean le Clerc / Wikimedia