Cleopatra – the Strategic Communicator
One of the most inspirational studies I have encountered in quite a while begins with the following extract.
The reign of Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt offers a rare historical glimpse into ancient communication activities and how communication was used by the world’s last pharaoh. This historical research reveals how Cleopatra used public relations and strategic communication activities to advance both her reign as a lone woman sovereign and the interests of the Egyptian empire. Cleopatra was perhaps the first woman sovereign in history to rule alone for a period of over a decade. Her leadership showed skilled use of public communication and diplomacy with which she forestalled the fall of Egypt to Rome. A grounded theory approach allowed data to emerge naturally, surrounding communication activities, and then for a theoretical framework to be imposed that could explain the common themes in that data.
This research compares Cleopatra’s activities with public relations theory using the classic four models of public relations to classify public communication. Findings show that Cleopatra used research in asymmetrical public relations and symmetrical relationship building, also including public diplomacy, public information, and press agentry/pseudo-event mastery. Careful examination of literature sources led to the conclusion that Cleopatra was a truly advanced, research-based, relationship-focused, and international policy-oriented lone woman ruler who was a supremely strategic communicator. Read full study here.
While reading the above study and watching a recent documentary ‘The story of God’ (series 1 – episode 1) hosted by Morgan Freeman, it is apparent that the Egyptian rulers were great communication strategists and this practice was a key determining factor in the successfulness of certain Pharaohs.
The more well-known/documented Ancient Egyptians were strategic about their objectives and the way they communicated. They devised what was being communicated, to whom they were communicating along with, how and when they chose to ‘release’ communications.
These ancient strategies are remarkably similar to that of many a modern communication strategy. Both comprised strategic goals, research, polling, segmentation, relationship management, public relations, channels, delivery and measurable factors of success.
Cleopatra segmented her communities and addressed them using different methods, depending on their message needs and the strategic goals of the communication strategy.
She used very advanced forms of research for her era, for example polling, establishing an informal communication network, stakeholder management and employing researchers ‘spies’ to provide both information and feedback.
The Ancient Egyptian Communication Strategy
Define goals and objectives
The Egyptians were very clear, and each ruler wanted to be the most successful and prosperous Pharaoh.
Not too far from the goals and priorities of companies today.
Conduct GAP analysis on past successes and failures
Eg. Ramesses knew how successful Ramesses II was as a ruler and chose to apply the same approach ‘Religion and Governance was well documented in Egypt’— today we apply the most valuable lessons learnt from past campaigns/strategies.
Analyse and refine communication methods
Cleopatra VII used polling methods and a communication network to gather feedback in order to refine her approach in future
Nowadays we use the likes on Google Analytics of Surveys to measure and analyse our channels and use the findings to refine determine the most popular/successful channels to reach our communities (audiences).
Harnessing the community’s trust and commitment
Cleopatra VII used two-way communication methods to build the trust and commitment of her people, they felt their voice was being accounted for.
Today’s methods of two-way communication can be feared but it is the brave leaders who embrace the employee voice that are making the greatest impact and harnessing the employee expertise. An employee who is heard and is empowered to make a difference is an invested employee and ultimately a committed advocate of the company.
Ramesses III had his name carved deeper than that of other hieroglyphs in order to ensure it was strengthened and unable to be erased. Afterlife in Egypt was intrinsically connected to the name, they believed if the name was erased, forgotten, they would be permanently erased from history and hence prevented from entering their afterlife. Video 44 minutes in.
Companies today strive to strengthen their brand and the name of company ‘the legal fiction’ so that it may have longevity, and grow in value.
This all leads me to continue my study of ancient communication strategies that we can learn from today.
It is often thought that ‘Communications’ is a fairly new industry and although now recognised as an essential factor in successful business growth, it is still often seen as a ‘nice to have’ by many companies.
This study has taught me one valuable lesson, when looking back to analyse past strategies, campaigns and projects we should not limit our study to recent documented times but actively seek lessons learnt in the communication strategies from some of the greatest historic leaders and events.
And … next time someone asks you what do ‘Internal Comms do? Just remember our industry/trade far predates the year zero BC. One thing we can all conclude from this, is that the greatest leaders and figures of ancient and modern history knew the value of a well executed communication strategy.