Doctor SpinPublic RelationsCorporate CommsStoic Philosophy for PR Professionals

Stoic Philosophy for PR Professionals

When the obstacle is the way to better public relations.

Could stoic philosophy for PR professionals work?

A few hundred years BC, a Cypriot merchant lost everything in a shipwreck.

His name was Zeno, and according to the legend, he walked into a bookstore, broke and almost beaten, and searched for answers by reading philosophy. Some years later, he went on to lay the foundation of Stoicism.

A stoic believes that we should take the Universe at face value without expectations.

But Stoicism is also, in more ways than one, the opposite of traditional public relations; we strive to influence perception and manufacture consent by making people want more.

In PR, it’s often about bigger, better, faster, stronger. More drama. More conflict.

What if Zeno was right — and we are wrong?

Table of Contents

    Growth by Enduring Hardships

    The idea of a stoic approach to public relations made me revisit a book I read a few years ago, Ryan Holiday and his book The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs.

    Drawing from stoic philosophy, Holiday makes the argument that Stoicism isn’t just about enduring pain and adversity with perseverance and resilience; it’s about allowing these obstacles to make you grow.

    Then, a stoic PR professional would shy away from reaching the masses with the use of fireworks and hyperbole promises.

    To succeed with the Stoic philosophy for PR, we must transform obstacles into opportunities. The difficulty of your path must be your best tool for conquering public opinion.

    Could stoic philosophy work as a modus operandi for PR professionals?

    Stoic Philosophy for PR

    I like the idea of borrowing four Stoic virtues and applying them to public relations.

    1. The Wisdom Pitch

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote:

    “A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desires into undertaking.”

    Tell the story of how your business overcomes obstacles that have stopped others in their tracks.

    Convey the PR message of the importance of applying wisdom, knowledge, and experience.

    2. The Courage Pitch

    Epictetus wrote:

    ” We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

    Tell the story of a brand that never backs down in the face of hardships, hardships that would lay waste to other businesses.

    Convey the PR message of how a business can do righteous things and is highly uncomfortable.

    3. The Justice Pitch

    Marcus Aurelius wrote:

    “Concentrate every minute on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.”

    Tell the story of how your business relentlessly strives for honesty and transparency — also when it’s uncomfortable.

    Convey the PR message of how your brand, without exception, is cleansing itself of dishonesty and incompetence.

    4. The Temperance Pitch

    Seneca wrote:

    ” It’s not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”

    Tell the story of a business that strives for higher values in a world where all other businesses maximise profits.

    Convey the PR message of a brand prepared to abstain from maximising profits to make the world a better place.

    When the Obstacle is the Way

    I think that the Stoic philosophy for PR professionals could be a practical approach. I like the idea of a PR professional who sees PR opportunities where others only see obstacles.

    I also like the idea of a PR professional who’s not striving for short-lived fireworks but one who strives for building brands of substance. I like the idea of a PR professional who drives awareness through doing difficult things.

    For such a PR professional, the ultimate goal is not fame or money but rather a value-centric approach to business.

    Learn more: In How to measure public relations, I discuss shifting a business to a value-centric approach.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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