If it be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive

Mon 30 Mar 2015

These words written to his lover, Emma Hamilton, by Horatio Nelson, Britain’s supreme naval hero, reveal the great man’s unslakeable thirst for public recognition.  He made no secret of the fact that he believed himself to be, not without reason, someone who should be universally adored.  A huge part of Nelson’s historical reputation is down to the fact he was every bit as accomplished an exponent of public relations as he was a naval commander.  There is much we can learn from him.

At the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797, Nelson boarded and captured two Spanish men-of-war in spite of the fact that both hugely outgunned his own vessel.  When he felt his part in the victory had been inadequately celebrated by his commanding officer he sent a letter which was published in full in The Sun newspaper.  His timing was perfect.  The British public was tired of the war with Napoleon and needed a hero.  Nelson offered himself, and it worked.

In a time before mass communication Nelson’s face was perhaps the best known in Britain.  He had his portrait painted on a number of occasions, and in virtually every one he is depicted in uniform wearing all the many gaudy decorations he had received from Britain and her allies.  He did not miss any opportunity to remind people of his numerous successes and the wholly justified rewards he received for them.  Whenever he found himself out of the limelight, he clawed and fought his way back into it.  Having become at twenty one of the youngest captains in Royal Navy history he was already plotting his rise to command the British fleet and believed entirely it was his destiny and his right.

By contrast, have you ever heard of James Saumerez?  Captain, later Admiral Saumerez, was a contemporary of Nelson’s and fought with him, with distinction, at two of his most famous battles.  Like Nelson he was fiercely courageous, tactically brilliant and unquestionably dashing.  Unlike Nelson, he had either no skill or no interest in blowing his own trumpet.

When was the last time you felt your successes in business achieved the recognition they deserved?  When was the last time you threw everything into promotion of your work?  When did you last get noticed for charity work done by yourself, your business or your staff?  Not everyone can be a Nelson.  Not everyone has that natural instinct for the public mood.  Today, the opportunities for bringing attention to one’s works are so much greater than they were.  With an explosion of media outlets, with social media (Nelson would have been fantastic on Twitter), with video, networking, blogging and awards there are endless possibilities to raise your profile and enhance your reputation.  What’s more, you don’t have to do it all by yourself.  There are numerous skilled exponents of Public Relations out there ready to help and to maximise your visibility. 

The question is, then, do you want your company to be the first name on everyone’s lips when they think of your products or services?  Do you want to be a Nelson or a Saumarez?

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