PR strategy

Thomas Paine, public relations, and the atomization of communications

Until Thomas Paine awakened the masses with “Common Sense,” a 48-page pamphlet that ignited the American Revolution, he met with misfortune in every job he tried.

As a young man in England, Paine was so miserable making corsets that he attempted to join the crew of a privateer ship called The Terrible, commanded by someone named — I kid you not — Captain Death. By his early 30s, he’d failed as a business owner twice over and had been summarily dismissed from his gig as an excise officer … for the second time.

Just when all hope appeared lost for a career of any note, Paine met Benjamin Franklin in London, who counseled him to try his luck in America. Four years later, Paine’s “Common Sense sold out its first thousand printed copies. By the end of the Revolutionary War, an estimated half million copies were in circulation. It’s still published today.

“Common Sense” went viral and Paine went down in history.

It’s not difficult to trace a line of disruption from then to now: revolutionary propaganda, yellow journalism, publicity stunts, the vast wasteland, internet publishing, smartphone apps, social media, and now generative AI. With each evolution, however, communications and content have been broken down into smaller and smaller units. Forty-eight-page pamphlets are now tweet threads. Sixty-second TV ads are now TikToks.

To PR pros today, taking orders from Captain Death on The Terrible might sound like a more sane career option than making sense of our new mix-and-match media landscape.

And yet, among all this creative destruction, conversations are still happening. Hearts and minds are still being won and lost … and won again. Commerce and communication haven’t ceased. In fact, their atoms are more active than ever. Only now, they need a new, coordinated approach to corral and harness.

If your tech startup or sustainability organization is considering an investment in public relations, you need to know who you’re trying to reach … and where they are gathering … and what they are talking about … and how to enter those conversations. At Sterling Communications, we bring all the elements together — media relations, thought leadership, marketing communications — because that’s the beautiful chaos in today’s state of affairs.

After all, as Thomas Paine said, “Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.”

Raise your brand awareness. Increase your industry influence. Build your thought leadership. Sterling Communications is here for you.

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