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7 military sayings applied to PR

For all the flack they get, clichés can be a powerful communication tools.  They are precise phrases with definitive meanings that leave little room for misinterpretation.  Of course, cliché is also part of a culture, and they don’t always translate from one culture to another.

Often when I’m at work, I’ll find myself rattling off a military cliché and get that look back…you know… the deer in headlights look?  Damn.  I’m doing it again.  Here are seven more, but with an explanation:

Saying 1:  “Ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.”

What it means:  You’re trying to carry too much.

PR application:  It’s a lot of work to build an audience as @adamsinger reminded me today.  The latest social media site maybe tempting, but focusing on one or two that really drive value might be a better use of time.

 Saying 2:  “Lean forward in the fighting hole.”

What it means:  Fighting holes (or foxhole) are small.  It’s a ditch, chest deep and big enough for two men. You can’t move much, but leaning forward means your alert and actively scanning for signs of an enemy attack.  Make sure you have a grenade sump.

PR application: We’ve all got confines we work within: bureaucracy, policy and
politics to name a few.  Maybe you can’t save the world in a day, but by being proactive and doing the best you can with what you have, you’ll find you tend to create opportunities. Keep pushing, you’ll catch a break.

 Saying 3:  “Give me a distance and direction.”

What it means:  Tell me what you want done, not how to do it.  I know how to read a map and use a compass, tell me where you want me to go.

PR application:  The best PR pros are able to a take an idea and run with it.  There are many different paths towards solving the same problem. All you should need is a distance and a direction, and that goes for corporate communicators and agencies too.

 Saying 4:  “This isn’t an attendance only course.”

What it means:  Just showing up to a training course doesn’t mean you’ll pass and earn the achievement.  You’ve got to put your heart into it if you want to succeed.

PR application: If you want to get ahead in PR, you’ve got to work at it on your personal time.  You’ve got to be accessible and responsive.  You’ve to be an expert in your industry.  You’ve got to read…everything you can get your hands on.  See: PR isn’t a profession, it’s a lifestyle.

 Saying 5:  “If it’s not raining, it’s not training.”

What it means:  Being outside in the elements wears on will power more than it does the body. Train in the most miserable conditions you can, because it forces you to learn you can do much more than you think you think you are capable of.

PR application:  We all have bad days.  Twitter acts up, bloggers rant, crisis emerges, and the boss rejects your idea.  Prepare for the worst in good times, because when it gets bad, it won’t seem so bad.

 Saying 6:  “Adapt and overcome.”

What it means:  Figure it out.  Figure out how to solve that problem.

PR application:  No response to your pitch? Consider your news, try another angle, try another medium, tie it to a trend, rewrite your pitch, or find a new one.

 Saying 7:  “Let no Soldier’s soul cry out: ‘If only I had been properly trained!’”

What it means:  Tough training saves lives.  It’s that simple.  It is part judgment and part muscle memory. Whether your active duty or a reservist, the clock is ticking and it’s only a matter of time before you go (again).  Take training seriously.

PR application: Admittedly, a little dramatic for PR, but the point is, don’t wait for a crisis to start thinking about drawing up plans and training your staff. Don’t put an intern on your corporate Twitter handle. Don’t have junior staff handling media inquires beyond their capability.

And the bonus round:  Don’t put a rock in someone else’s rucksack. Rucksacks are durable backpacks.  Rocks are useless but heavy.  Don’t make someone carry rocks for nothing.

What are your favorite sayings and how would you apply them to PR?

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7 Responses

  1. Lee Odden

    My faves; “If it’s not raining, it’s not training” and especially “Adapt and overcome”. A continuous cycle of testing, learning and refinement is the key. Great post Frank!

  2. Robin

    Hi Frank – I like this post – I like to keep in mind a few 'management principles' that apply generally in work. One of my favourites – which applies most aptly in PR – is one I picked up at a week-long residential army leadership course for young people. When I was one of those.

    It's the 7 P's of planning: prior planning and preparation prevent piss-poor performance. On a related note: time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. These require little explanation as to how they apply in PR, I'm sure you'll agree!

    Cheers for now,

  3. Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    Hi Robin, I've definitely heard variations of the P's once or twice! Thanks for the comment and Tweet! BTW, when are we going to work on a post about the differences between PR in the US and the UK.

  4. Krista

    Great post– I like the leaning forward in the fighting hole. I'll remember that next time I feel stymied or confined at work and keep pushing forward.

    My mom is always good for sayings, so I've heard my fair share of expressions. I was always partial to "don't look a gift-horse in the mouth" which means never appear to look ungrateful for what is given to you. I think of this when I am assigned a project that might appear to be trivial or tedious. It's better to look at it as an opportunity or a "gift-horse" that I can turn around and make worth my while by demonstrating my abilities.

  5. Farida Harianawala

    I love how you’ve applied your military experience to PR. Your post actually reminded me of my strategic communication class at NYU, where I did my Master’s in PR & Corporate Communication. One of our readings included a few chapters from the book ‘Clausewitz On Strategy,’ which discussed Clausewitz’s theories on war. The idea was to apply his definitions of objectives, strategies and tactics in war to the field of communication. It was interesting to see how so many of the theories and strategies (such as how an offensive strategy is sometimes better than a defensive one, for example) can be applied so easily to communication. Sometimes, it’s all about connecting the dots!

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