Valuable PR Lessons From The Samurai
Over the past weekend I saw the 2003 movie 'The Last Samurai' starring award-winning American actor, Tom Cruise, for the umpteenth time, and it just occurred to me that PR professionals share some similarities with the legendary Japanese warriors, and we can take a few lessons from them too.
Perhaps the most well-known class of people in ancient Japan, the Samurai were noble fighters that fought 'evil' with an assortment of weapons (most notably swords) and a peculiar armour, following a strict moral code that governed their entire life.
The term samurai originally meant "those who serve in close attendance to nobility", and is believed to have derived from a Japanese word 'moru' meaning "to watch, to guard, to be on the lookout, to keep, to protect, to take care of, to be in charge of, to have as one's ward".
In comparison, the earliest definitions of PR, which date to the early 1900s, emphasize the practice as 'a management function' and much like the meaning of 'moru', PR as a management function also encompasses the following:
Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organisation
Counselling management at all levels in the organisation with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organisation's social or citizenship responsibilities
Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organisation's aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs
Planning and implementing the organisation's efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities - in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above
Code of Ethics
The Samurai lead their lives according to the ethic code of 'bushido' which means "the way of the warrior". Bushido stressed concepts such as duty, loyalty, self-discipline and respectful, ethical behaviour. This code of honour was considered so sacred that they would rather die (i.e. commit 'seppuku' or 'hara kiri') than live breaking it.
How similar is this to the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) 'Code of Conduct' for PR practitioners world wide, which stresses the values of respect for human rights, honesty, integrity, discipline, accuracy, transparency and confidentiality? Successful PR Pros know too well how vital these ingredients are to their practice.
Physical Appearance & Qualities
Samurai were the rock stars of their time and their style of clothing massively influenced the fashion of the era. Their regular outfit consisted of wide 'hakama' trousers and a 'kimono', a two-part vest with imposing shoulder points, and the kabuto helmet. Although their clothing was elaborate, every aspect of it was designed to fit their needs as warriors. The imposing nature of the outfit helped to command the respect of others, and they were reputed for being brave and focused (many practiced the art of meditation).
Successful PR Pros know that there is no second chance to make a first impression. Hence, they are always well dressed for every occasion. They understand that they can draw their audiences in even before they say the word 'hello' by ensuring a spick-and-span appearance. They also know that PR is not a profession for the timid, and can quickly adjust to misfortune or change. They have the ability to withstand personal and brand criticism, and are not easily offended. They always keep their eye on the goal.
Learning & Development
As the essential nobility of their era, members of the samurai class were far more than mere warriors. The majority of samurai were very well educated, and the Bushido dictated that a samurai strives to better himself in a multitude of ways, including those not directly related to combat. This is why the samurai class participated in a number of cultural and artistic endeavours including tea ceremonies, monochrome ink painting and poetry. The culture of continuous improvement and skills transfer among Samurai, and between older, more experienced Samurai and younger ones is one of the major reasons why the Samurai were so powerful and successful for hundreds of years.
To be successful in the world of modern public relations, it goes without saying that a PR Pro must always seek to improve his skills and knowledge through constant interaction with colleagues, continuous study and participation in relevant seminars and training programmes. With new media becoming increasingly important in today's practice, and the ever-changing consumer attitudes, PR Pros must continually update themselves to stay in tune with latest trends. They must also be willing to share their knowledge with, or mentor, younger practitioners.
Tools & Tactics
The Samurai employed a range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and guns, but their main weapon and symbol was the sword, the most iconic being the 'katana' - a long curved blade - usually carried with a smaller blade (wakizashi) in a pair called 'daisho'. When gunpowder was introduced in the 16th century, the samurai abandoned their bows in favour of firearms and cannons. As the times changed, meticulous planning, continuous innovation and tactics would eventually replace personal bravery on the battlefield.
PR pros too have a wide variety of tools at their disposal. Traditional ones like press releases, articles & opinion pieces, letters to editors etc. are still very relevant. The advent of digital communication, however, has placed brands under greater scrutiny, requiring more meticulous review and careful planning of all communication to media and the community. Creativity is key to success in today's practice; what tends to resonate best with consumers is creativity born of ideas outside the norm.
In conclusion, the world of PR is akin to a battlefield where only the fittest survive. And like the Japanese Samurai warriors of old, today's PR Pros require a lot of guts to succeed. Those who have good work ethics, always looking to improve themselves, and are open to newer and more innovative communication techniques will emerge triumphant, even if with some battle scars (learning points) while those who are not will perish in the field.