PT Barnum Was Right About One Thing

Phineus Taylor Barnum, better known as PT, was one of the first to understand the power of media and how to use it to his own advantage. He was of the opinion that any press was good press because it would get people talking about his circus. If people were talking about it, they would pay to see it and find out what all the fuss was about.

Barnum even went so far as to write letters under fake names to local papers (to protest the event) before his circus came to town. By creating controversy, he created public interest. His goal was not to discuss the merits of his circus but to “get ‘em into the tent” and make money.

Nowadays bad press can cost you a lot of money – just ask Tiger Woods, who has seen millions of dollars in sponsorships disappear because of negative publicity over his extramarital affairs.

The controversy that Barnum created would probably draw protests from animal rights groups these days and end up keeping people out of the tents. But he was right about one thing. He had an objective when he sought media coverage. He wanted to sell tickets and everything he did or said to the press was designed to meet that one simple objective.

Media opportunities are wasted if there is no clear goal in mind. People talk to reporters with no idea about how they would like the story to turn out and that means they have no way to control the outcome of the story.

It doesn’t matter whether you are involved in a crisis or just trying to publicize your circus, before you speak to the media you must have a clear objective.


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Filed under Communication, Media, Messaging

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