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Stoic philosophy for PR professionals

When the obstacle is the way.

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 started to search for answers by reading philosophy. Some years later, he went on to lay the foundation of stoicism.

A stoic believes that the world should be taken 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 wanting more.

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

What if Zeno was right — and we are wrong?

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.

A stoic PR professional, then, would shy away from trying to reach the masses with the use of fireworks and hyperbole promises.

To succeed with with Stoic philosophy for PR, obstacles must be transformed 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

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.

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

Tell the story of how a business can do things that are righteous — but also extremely 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.

Tell the story 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 strive to maximise their profits.

Tell the story of a brand that is prepared to abstain from maximising profits to make the world a better place.

When the obstacle is the way

I actually think that stoic philosophy for PR professional could be a valuable 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 things that are difficult.

For such a PR professional, the ultimate goal is not fame nor money, but rather a value-centric approach to business.

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

Photo by Charlotte Butcher and David Izquierdo on Unsplash.


Avatar of 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 Communication 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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