From Cicero’s Wisdom: An Aspiration and Inspiration for Us All

If you follow the PR Council’s blog, you might have read a post recently published on the responsibility organizations have to be transparent with their publics. Within it, I close with one of the most inspiring and aspirational pieces of content I have read this year, which happens to come from a pretty unlikely source. In 44 B.C. the Roman philosopher Marcus Cicero wrote, in his treatise on friendship, the simple yet powerful phrase, “To be, rather than to seem.”

I instantly liked it in relation to our business and our agency, and find it to be an aspirational purpose on many levels. Here are some of the reasons why:

For our clients in crisis:
Critics sometimes accuse our profession of spin and, in a crisis, helping the client to mask the problem. At Ketchum, our goal is to help our clients uncover the facts, tell the truth quickly and fix the problem – to do the right thing, not spin and hide the problem. “To be, rather than to seem.”

For our clients building their brand:
If a brand makes claims they can’t back up, they get busted fast these days, either by consumers armed with social platforms and recommendation sites or by government regulators. We believe the only way to build a sustainable brand is to live up to your promises, offer real value and be authentic. “To be, rather than to seem.”

For our agency:
Helping our clients to be, rather than to seem, is the ideal center of gravity in the counsel we provide – the “why” we do what we do as we help our clients break through. When we are at our best and our clients are at their best, we are helping them to sell goods and services that do what they promise. We are working with them to communicate with transparency and authenticity and to treat all of their stakeholders well. We are counseling clients to have sustainable policies toward the environment and their workers. And, perhaps what I am most proud of, when we are working with our clients to be a responsible brand and company, rather than to seem to be one.

For you as a communications professional:
I am very proud of the people at Ketchum. I have the privilege of working with talented colleagues who really know their stuff and continually offer clients and peers truly valuable communications counsel. Your personal career commitment to learn throughout your career so that you are the real deal demonstrates that you strive to be, rather than to seem. I encourage you to grab every bit of professional development available at Ketchum and continually educate yourself through other sources because you want “to be, rather than to seem.” It’s such a great motto for learning. No surprise, since discovering it, I’ve learned that it is the motto of around 70 colleges and universities around the world.

Despite being first uttered 2,500 years ago, I think it has great relevance in our field.

I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

About Rob Flaherty

Rob Flaherty is Partner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communications firms and PRWeek’s 2012 Agency of the Year. Flaherty leads Ketchum’s 20 member Global Leadership Council to guide the strategy, client service and performance of the agency. Since joining Ketchum, Rob has been involved in all aspects of the firm’s business, including having successfully led its largest office, one of its global practices and several of its largest client engagements. In addition to his position at Ketchum, Rob is very active in the industry, serving on the executive committee of the board of the Institute for Public Relations, on the Agency Management Committee of the Council of Public Relations Firms, and on the advisory board of directors for Room to Read, Ketchum’s global pro bono partner. Follow Rob on Twitter at @flahertyrob.