But is this song so different?
Am I doing it all again?
It may have been done before.
But then music’s an open door.
– Pete Townshend
Some folks in the office this past Friday were YouTubing it with an episode of “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp.” In this installment, our hero, Lancelot, and his bikini-baring associate, Mata Hairi foiled the evil plans of the monocle-wearing villain Baron von Butcher yet again by breaking up international smuggling ring. Our fearless heroes, Lance and Mata, surfed to safety afterwards as Butcher wiped out in the waves and ended up dazed and confused on a piece of driftwood laying on the beach.
Wanting to share this “rediscovered gem” with my 15-year-old daughter, I invited her to watch the episode with me this morning. We inevitably clicked on some of the related links, and I soon was chagrined to find myself reliving my childhood with “The Banana Splits” and “H.R. Puffenstuff.”
As I tried to explain to my very-puzzled daughter that “Lancelot Link” was a take-off for kids on “Get Smart,” which was a take-off for American TV viewers on James Bond movies, and that “The Banana Splits” was a take-off for kids on “The Monkees,” which was a take-off on The Beatles (Richard Lester’s direction of “A Hard Day’s Night,” to be specific, which was a take-off on The Marx Brothers . . .), I was struck by the number of take-offs, adaptations and otherwise direct and indirect copies of shows, ideas and programs we see, hear and read every day.
Like Jung’s archetypes, there are storylines, characters, fables, melodies and the like that catch human fancy. Good vs. evil, a flawed hero, love gone awry, the I-IV-V progression of blues – all of these have been with us in one form or fashion for millennia.
And the same is true in other disciplines. Take technology, for instance. Is Facebook all that different from the first telephones that allowed friends from great distances to keep in touch more effectively and immediately? Is an iPod all that distinct from a transistor radio (or a gramophone, for that matter) that put the power of musical choice in people’s hands?
Following this line of thinking, so too are public relations and marketing strategies not all that different from one another. That is, there’s really not much new under the sun. JFK used television to promote his vision and persona to the masses; Obama uses text messaging to announce his pick for vice president. In the Nineteenth Century, companies used vivid stories and advertisements in newspapers to entice settlers to the West; today, companies attract buyers for new products and services via tweets and blogs.
Hence the reason public relations (and marketing, for that matter) is as much a science as an art. There are underlying psychological, social and communication constructs that help define and direct human thought and action. While we’re not all simply black boxes devoid of independent decision-making abilities nor Pavlovian hounds waiting on the next biscuit, we are, to some degree, cloth woven from a common thread with enough similarity in attitude and behavior to make possible (and profitable) educated predictions about how we as individuals and groups will respond to communication stimuli.
Simply put, all other things being equal there are certain communication strategies and tactics that ought to – and very often do – work. A well-crafted community relations program built on time-tested, fundamental public relations principles ought to help a company build and foster relationships with external stakeholders. An honest, open and proactive investor relations program that provides accurate, timely and pertinent data to current and potential investors should help a public company build value within the financial community.
It’s up to communications professionals to study history, psychology, political science, sociology, theology and the full realm of the humanities to learn those a priori principles and understand how to put them to work for our companies and clients.