What sales people can learn from Sam Adams

You hear ‘Sam Adams’ today and you think beer. But, on a recent Boston Freedom tour, it was clear that he never owned a brewery but rather he was a political and public relations genius; something all sellers can learn from.

Sam Adams was a colossal supporter of independence. His committee, called the Sons of Liberty, wanted the Royal troops occupying Boston to leave because they represented the tyranny of the King. When there was a riot outside the Customs House and five men were killed, Adams put his own “spin” on the tragedy. He called it a massacre!

Inevitable Tragedy

On March 5, 1770, there was a foot of new snow on the ground in Boston. It did not seem like a night for rabble rousing. However, that pure white blanket of snow would not survive the night without being tarnished by the red stain of life’s blood. The occupying army, consisting of the 14th and 29th regiments of Regulars, had been sent to Boston as a police force in October 1768. They were sent after Massachusetts led the protest against the Townshend Acts by sending a kind of petition to each of the other colonies called the Massachusetts Circular letter.

Gun Shots Fired

Several unruly mobs roamed the streets on that snowy night looking for trouble. They found it on King’s Street in front of the Customs House, where a small but growing mob of people began to taunt the sentry on duty with various verbal and icy projectiles. Then Church Bells all over Boston began to ring. Many people thought it must be a fire. It became a firestorm as the crowd grew. The Captain of the guard sent a contingent of seven men to quell the riot. It was a recipe for disaster. As they took their positions the crowd began to pelt them with snow and ice. Finally one soldier fired and the rest followed suit. Eleven people were shot; five were killed.

Adams’ PR Move

Adams knew he had a golden political opportunity and he sunk his teeth into it. Paul Revere, a local silversmith, recreated the scene that night in an engraving that shows a line of British Regulars firing indiscriminately into a peaceful group of Bostonians. Newspaper reports carried Sam Adams’ horrific tale and Adams had won another PR victory. Now, he was sure, Americans must choose to break the yolk of English servitude or succumb to being their slaves on this continent forever. The publicity was widespread and so vitriolic that the trial was delayed almost a year to let tempers cool.

The lesson

Using the word “massacre” to describe the slaying of five colonists hardly depicted the event literally. Rather, these were manifestations of a sense of public relations: efforts to change attitudes and/or behavior. Adams reacted quickly to brand the story tell it in way that benefited his cause. He used a picture to communicate the story quickly.

The fact is that public relations has been practiced from the time humans began interacting with one another, from the time one person first wanted to persuade another to change an opinion or to take a specific course of action. Selling today often requires helping a buyer make a change. Think about the stories you can tell and pictures you can use to persuade your buyers.

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