What the Romans Can Teach Us About Communication
A recent trip to tour of the Colosseum revealed just how clever the Romans were when it came to communication. Which got me thinking - if the Romans could be so successful with limited technology, what could modern businesses learn from them?
This article provides three communications lessons taken straight from the Romans.
Consistent Communication Requires Investment
In today’s business world, when budgets are scrutinised and additional spend means putting forward a watertight case, investment can be difficult. It can also result in doing too little too late.
The Romans may have had similar fiscal challenges but they didn’t let that stand in their way.
It took Emperor Titus just eight years to build the mammoth structure that is the Colosseum. He wanted to boost his popularity ratings and gain control over his people. And in Roman times, the best way to do that was to provide a place of entertainment that would attract people from all walks of life.
Although the Colosseum would give Rome’s leaders a place to communicate their messages to an enthralled population, Rome was an enormous empire. Which meant communication needed to be strong and it needed to reach across a vast network.
The solution? Smaller version of the colosseum were constructed all around the empire. But the real genius was that each week’s content was identical regardless of location so the same messages were communicated to every Roman whichever country they were in.
Lesson 1 - consistent communication is key, even if you have staff spread across multiple sites. To do it well you need a plan and you need to invest.
All investment needs a strategy to ensure it’s money well spent. The same was true back in Roman times and despite the huge cost of building the Colosseum, more funds were needed to ensure the facility was used.
The Colosseum would have fallen flat on its face if the plebs had had to pay. So Titus ensured entry and food were completely free and that water was available on-tap piped down fresh from the mountains.
However, nothing in life is ever really free. The patricians who sponsored the events made sure the populace knew who’d provided what. We know this because broken stones recovered from the Colosseum floor are inscribed with the names of the sponsors. Like modern advertising, the idea was that - when it was election time - plebs and patricians alike would be influenced to vote for the people who’d given them so much.
Lesson two - follow up any communications technology investment with a solid comms plan. People are more interested in communications when there’s something in it for them so be clear on the benefit you’re communicating. Or entice them with offers - free stuff still works wonders 2,000 years on.
The Medium is the Message
What you say is key but the way you say - more important still. The Romans knew this and they were masters of capturing their audience’s attention and keeping it.
The Colosseum ran events every day all year round so they needed a lot of content. Yet they didn’t let frequency dull the shine of the message they wanted to communicate.
Sure, there were gruesome killings to send a clear message about the results of criminality and for general entertainment too. As they say, a disemboweling speaks a thousand words. But there were also amazing spectacles like these:
The floor of the arena was made watertight and turned into a sea with ships and an island in the centre plus up to 3,000 combatants. These replicas of great naval battles won by the empire sent a clear message about Roman power to the spectators.
Exotic animals that people had never seen before - like lions and elephants - were bought into the arena as a display of the Roman empire’s reach, power and wealth.
The message from these extravagances? That Rome was all powerful, highly successful and that its citizens should be proud and grateful to be part of it. Essentially, the Romans evoked emotions which should be at the heart of any successful communications campaign.
Lesson three - storytelling, bringing messages to life and making people feel something are all essential parts of quality communications. Just stop short of corporal punishment…
Modern businesses have all the benefits that technology brings yet, 2,000 years on from the Romans and people haven’t really changed. Which makes Rome’s communications tactics as relevant today as they were then.
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