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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The greatest showman

“Literature is one of the most interesting and significant expressions of humanity.”
  P. T. Barnum

When I teach courses in public relations, I always like to spend some time talking about the great showman and marketer Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum, who I think gets a bad rap primarily for a statement he never made, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  What he did say, though, was that “Every crowd has a silver lining.  They just want something to entertain them and upon which to spend some of that silver.”

Politician, showman, and businessman, Barnum, who was born on this date in 1810, founded the internationally acclaimed Barnum & Bailey Circus, and promoted some of the most widely sought after events of his time, including concerts – truly the first promoter of what today would be called “rock star” tours.  His promotion and nationwide tour of Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind earned hundreds of thousands for himself and Lind and showed him the true power of great marketing.

After that, he staged dozens of theatrical productions – also the first to be “toured,” organized flower shows, beauty contests, dog shows, and poultry contests.  His most popular were baby contests (fattest baby, handsomest twins, etc.)         .

Barnum also was an author, publisher, philanthropist, and for some time a politician, but he always said of himself, "I am a showman by profession...and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”  As a writer and editor, he started a pictorial weekly newspaper Illustrated News and wrote an autobiography, which through many revisions sold more than one million copies.  An avid reader, he encouraged everyone to read, read, read, especially newspapers.  “He who is without a newspaper is truly cut off from his species.”

But, of course, it is his showmanship and marketing that have stood the test of time.  “Without promotion,” he once said, “something terrible happens... nothing!”

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