Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Churchill anniversary: Moses and Marketing

Three score and ten years ago today... actually, no, before I mention the anniversary I’m going to explain the particular aspect of it I intend to celebrate.

It’s a curious but not inappropriate fact that little is said in celebration of marketing. That's appropriate because this field, to which I’ve devoted most of my professional career, has at its goal the promotion of other things. It should not itself be the object promoted. In the same way, journalists prefer to write stories than be the subject of them (check with Rebekak Brooks if you don’t believe me).

The result is that, for instance, I only know one joke about marketing. As this is a blog selflessly dedicated to the edification of my readers, I shall of course record it here.

It’s not widely known that when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he sent his PR man ahead of him. They met on the shores of the Red Sea. Moses looked around and exclaimed.

‘So – where are the boats?’

‘Boats? You never said anything about boats,’ replied the PR man. Let me say in passing that I picture him, properly sun-creamed up, in an open-necked shirt, and clutching a clipboard which, as well as his check list, also holds a number of leaflets headlined ‘Nice here in Egypt. But have you tried Israel for a really memorable summer holiday?’ As any good marketing man will confirm, you never know when you might need to hand out some leaflets.

Moses, concern and increasing irritation etched on his face, rounded on him.

‘So, how am I going to get everyone across? What do you expect me to do? Part the Red Sea?’

‘Do that Moses,’ replies the PR man, ‘and I guarantee you four pages in the Old Testament.’

Moses: not enough has been said of his contribution to Marketing

A profession with only one joke deserves a bit of a tribute, and what could be better than to combine it with a Churchill anniversary?

Now I don’t necessarily go along with all the adulation of Churchill. An outstanding, extraordinary war-time leader, for sure, but not above some pretty appalling blunders. Even during the War.

For instance, Britain suffered a pretty torrid time at the hands of Rommel and his Afrika Korps from the moment they came to blows in Libya. Let down by general after general, the Middle East Commander-in-Chief, Claude Auchinleck, eventually took direct command himself and led the British 8th Army to victory at the first battle of El Alamein.

Preparing to deliver the final, knockout blow at what was to be little more than a mopping up operation in the second phase of the battle, Auchinleck found himself relieved of command by Churhchill. The result was that credit for an important victory won by one of the most competent British commanders was in the end claimed by one of the weakest ever, Bernard Montgomery.

However, I’m not concerned here with Churchill’s highly regrettable meddling with matters of high command, which he was unqualified and unsuited to direct, but with his outstanding reaction to that victory. Outstanding, that is, in marketing terms.

Churchill was speaking at the Lord Mayor’s luncheon, at Mansion House in London, on 10 November 1942, which happens to be three score and ten years ago today.

The Prime Minister said:

‘...this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

Now that’s breathtaking. Because it’s perfect spin.

It’s spin because it’s designed to use a piece of news to generate a mood, and specifically a mood of optimism. To encourage the nation. To prepare it and its allies to continue a fight that still had a long way to go.

It’s perfect because it is spin that involves not the slightest trace of a lie, either explicitly or implicitly. It makes no attempt to overstate the scale of the achievement. Churchill did not try to delude his audience into believing that the battle was any kind of an end – it was obviously no such thing.

But he goes further: it isn’t even the beginning of the end. Alamein was an important battle only in a marginal theatre of the war. The great battles were taking place in Russia. That’s where the decisive victories would be won, most notably in Stalingrad nearly three months after Churchill spoke.

So he describes the victory as merely the end of the beginning. And that’s fair. For the first time in the war, the German military machine had been defeated on land. Psychologically, that was a key moment. Up to then German armies had seemed invincible, but now they had been beaten. If it could happen once, it could happen again. So it was a watershed.

The curtain had been run down on the first Act. Now Churchill was calling on the Allies to get ready for the next which would be still more gruelling, but started with much greater hope of victory.

At a time when spin is pretty universally decried, and pretty generally regarded as little more than lying, it’s gratifying to be able to celebrate a moment when it was used so well and used so honestly.

Does the hearts of us marketing people good to think of it.

Churchill: better at Marketing than on the military?

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