I’ve been looking at the stuff being discussed at a number of recent conferences on the future of PR, brand marketing, etc. There seems to be a growing acceptance of a couple of themes often ploughed in this blog:
- That businesses are translucent and they need to accept that in whatever they say the audience can get a pretty quick glimpse at their inner workings. Saying something and not really meaning it, in other words, is not on.
- That staged communication (over-processed advertising, one-way broadcasts) isn’t going to work any more. Markets are conversations.
The common condition that applies to both is bravery.
As I was thinking about this I was reminded of the phrase ‘chancing your arm’ and the story of its origin.
It dates back to a 15th century dispute between two leading dynastic families in mediaeval Ireland, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds. The dispute was resolved in 1492 by a combination of a courageous act and a conciliatory response. Black James, nephew of the Earl of Ormond (a Butler), in flight from FitzGerald’s soldiers, took sanctuary with his men in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Though he had the advantage, with his soldiers surrounding Black James and his men, Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, Ireland’s premier earl, wanted to end the feud between the families. He spoke to Black James through the Cathedral Chapter House’s door, inviting him to negotiate a peace. Black James declined all requests. FitzGerald then ordered his soldiers to cut a hole in the centre of the door.
Then, having explained in more detail his terms for peace between the families, the Earl thrust his arm through the hole to shake hands with Black James. It was a massive risk. Black James or any of his armed men could have hacked the Earl’s arm off; however, James shook his hand and ended the dispute.
Here’s a picture of the door:
It is called the ‘Door of Reconciliation’. They should make a copy and install it at the UN.
The most meaningful acts of reconciliation are always built on magnanimous acts of self-effacing honesty, truth and courage.
In brand terms disarming honesty (did I say disarming?) is a good thing. It remains a surprisingly counter-intuitive lever – and for it, all the more effective.
We have become so accustomed to communications that retreat behind jargon and obscure turns of phrase that expressions of truth make a real impact – and buy a business a boost to its reputation.