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Good PR? A lesson from the Ancients!

Posted on by St John

Good PR? A lesson from the Ancients!

Prova’s St John White believes ancient rulers can teach us a thing or two about PR campaign planning…

I was fascinated to hear Melvyn Bragg interviewing a couple of academics on Radio Four recently about the little known Indian Emperor Ashoka, who ruled over most of the subcontinent around 250BC.

An enlightened follower of the Buddhist texts, Ashoka wanted to create a society which adhered to moral codes and conventions. Much of his religious / political doctrine centred on what now sounds remarkably like modern Christian values; care for the old and sick, respect your parents and heed the insights of the religious leaders. He instructed his people to adopt a set of principles that would, he advised, make them more fulfilled now – and in the next life.

The challenge facing Ashoka the Great, was how to communicate such messages – which are today known as the Edicts. Given the fact that the vast majority of his subjects were illiterate farmers, how could he get across his message, consistently to a population of several million people? The answer lay in a set of stone carvings, in the form of pillars, which were distributed to every town and city across a territory that stretches across most of India and includes Afghanistan to the north.

These pillars of wisdom were delivered to every major community across India, while the population was also treated to readings of the Edicts from one of Ashoka’s literate followers from the court’s inner sanctum.

So, what does this teach us about good PR? I take three important lessons from this epic story; and these centre on the topics of message, consistency and media.

Ashoka got his message right. It was clear and more importantly, he was passionate about his beliefs! This was more than simple propaganda, his life ethos was central to his political framework, and this came across via his Edicts. The lesson here for businesses is; don’t just trot out the same old ‘sell, sell’ messages. Be more creative and develop a set of beliefs and messages that really resonate with your audience.

Being consistent with your message often gets overlooked by organisations. Our Indian ruler ensured that his utterances were never misconstrued by literally setting them in stone. We need to do the same; be clear on messages and keep it consistent!

Finally, choosing the right media is vital to ensure your campaign is really effective. Be it traditional press, social media, video content or face to face activities, selecting the most appropriate channel is important. Ashoka demonstrated that despite an illiterate society, he could share his vision with his people clearly, concisely and consistently.

Perhaps this simple lesson needs to be reconsidered by us all.

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