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Guest

Was Samuel Adams America’s First PR Man?

By: Guest | July 10, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Mike Rieman.

My seven-year-old son loves history.

Selfishly, I would like to think he picked up this love from me. It’s not unusual for us to watch a documentary on the Civil War, WWII, or Abraham Lincoln together, but I digress.

Recently, when offered the chance to attend numerous camps this summer, he jumped at the opportunity to attend the Atlanta History Center “From Pilgrim to Patriot” summer program.

When I picked him up after his first day of camp, he was giddy. He could hardly contain his excitement about reenacting the Boston Tea Party later in the week.

This got me thinking.

At a time without smartphones, televisions, radios, or Facebook, how did the Sons of Liberty rouse so many people for the Boston Tea Party?

The answer might be Samuel Adams, a statesman, philosopher, founding father and, perhaps, PR pro. 

Not only did he orchestrate efforts for the Boston Tea Party, but Adams was at the forefront of supporting the Revolutionary War. Like communicators today, Adams wrote editorials, designed advertising, spearheaded speaking events, and engaged key influencers. He even created and built a brand by naming and designing the logo for the Sons of Liberty

Today, it might take teams of PR professionals to accomplish what Adams did alone. How did one man achieve so much? What could I learn from him to apply to work in PR?

In my reading, I discovered Adams possessed the following eight characteristics and traits, all applicable to the best in PR today:

  1. Ability to Inspire: While some historians label Adams as a “Pioneer of Propaganda,” he no doubt inspired others to act. Adams’ powers of persuasion were critical to the success of the Boston Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty.
  2. Great Speaking Skills: When the tea ship Dartmouth was scheduled to arrive in the Boston Harbor in 1773, Adams drafted a letter calling for a mass meeting. So many people arrived to hear Adams and others speak, the meeting had to be moved to a larger building. Adams’s brief speech provided a quick overview of the situation at hand; it was also a prearranged signal. As soon as he spoke, the insurrection was under way.
  3. Masterful Writing Ability: There is a proverb: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Adams was known as an excellent editor, adept at cutting, revising, and polishing. A young follower, Josiah Quincy, Jr., said of many articles, petitions, and resolutions they had been “smoothed over with the oily brush of Sam Adams.”
  4. Relationship-Building Expertise: Adams heavily opposed the Tea Act, so when tea ships were about to arrive, Adams and the Boston Committee of Correspondence contacted nearby committees and wasted no time rallying the troops.
  5. Integrity: William Gordon and Mercy Otis Warren, two historians who knew Adams, wrote of him as a man selflessly dedicated to the American Revolution. While some of Adams’ character traits are disputed by historians, his will for independence cannot be.
  6. Preparation and Organization: Adams was no stranger to participating in and building committees such as the Committee of Correspondence and Sons of Liberty. He always seemed one step ahead of his “competition.”
  7. Positive Attitude: Although not widely known, Adams was poor most of his life. He was never one to complain, however, because he felt he was doing the work he was supposed to be doing.
  8. Leadership Skills: During the First Continental Congress, Adams promoted colonial unity using his political skills to lobby other delegates. This is just one of many instances of Adams being able to unify large groups.

Although Adams never listed and promoted his virtues much like Benjamin Franklin did, perhaps he should have. Leadership, masterful writing, integrity, and preparation are skills communicators should hone in their work experience.

Maybe I should create Adams’ eight virtues of PR. What do you think?

Mike Rieman is an account supervisor at Cookerly Public Relations. With more than a decade of experience in public relations, newspapers, radio and television, Mike has a wealth of knowledge dealing with the media. When he’s not talking to reporters, he can be found following the University of North Carolina Tar Heels’ basketball team or spending time with his wife and two young children. You can follow him on Twitter @mikerieman.

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