History Lessons: Image is everything - Emperor augustus

Anyone who thinks PR is a modern invention should look at Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Having taken power in Rome in 31BC, he projected a carefully constructed image of self-deprecation, while at the same time rebuilding the city as a monument to himself and his family. He'd play down his own importance by requesting not to be called a god while still alive, but then build a 42m-high family mausoleum in Rome's Campus Martius. No-one seemed to notice the paradox - which shows just how well the emperor had managed his image. He'd also present himself as the protector of the Roman Republic and the old ways of life: never mind that his rule of more than 40 years spelt the end of the Republic and the start of the Empire. Augustus grasped an important business lesson: PR is like sleight of hand. If you get your public image right, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to get your way. Perhaps today's private-equity empire-builders could learn from him.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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