Home Archive November 2009 Rewind: Napoleon
Rewind: Napoleon
Friday, 13 November 2009 11:04

Crisis management is nothing new – but it has evolved. Each month, we’ll be delving into history and asking you to apply modern day communications wisdom to an olden day crisis:


In 1812, with most of continental Europe under his control, Napoleon launched an invasion of Russia. But persuading almost 800,000 soldiers to brave fearsome elements on this a morale-sapping mission can’t have been easy. What communications advice would you have given?


Sarah Lafferty, MD, Hoffman Europe

“Napoleon is at the height of his power before the Russian invasion so he’s in a highly advantageous position to win hearts and minds. He should deliver a rousing televised speech in a large public stadium, using lots of three-syllable rhetorical soundbites, which have been proven to mesmerise and persuade large audiences. Perhaps something simple but inspiring such as ‘Yes We Can!’

Studies have indicated that taller people are more successful, which puts 5’2” Napoleon at a disadvantage. We would recommend Napoleon work with a style consultant to create a taller image. Dark colours and neutral monochromatic suits in black and grey have an elongating effect. He definitely needs to lose that camp white uniform and silly hat if he wants his troops to take him seriously.

Napoleon is not a warm personality nor particularly camera friendly, so we would not advocate that he make an awkward YouTube video, forcing him to smile as a way of winning over the troops.”

Nathan Smith, MD, Smith & Smith PR

“Napoleon has quite a few things on his side here. Europe is pretty much his own, he’s made his own way to the top – and the troops know that. Napoleon doesn’t cut a swash-buckling figure – he’s short, dumpy and by all accounts doesn’t have a very commanding voice either. But this makes him a kind of ‘everyman’, which he should play subtly to his own advantage.

The troops know that Russian winters are fearsome, and they need convincing. Having conquered the rest of Europe, Napoleon should now emphasise the fact that only Russia remains to be taken – and ‘taken it will be’. While not shying away from telling the troops there’s a tough task ahead, there can be no room for doubt in Napoleon’s voice. They will know and believe that the job is a hard one, but Napoleon’s communicating that the war will be won – almost in the same breath - is also going to sound believable.”

Paul Weinstein, PAW Marketing Communications

“Was it just one last gamble that didn’t pay off for Napoleon? As a commander of his troops, no one challenged his authority or questioned his motives.

I once had an MD whose strong belief was that to rally the troops it was necessary to inject fear into their lives and said as much. I suspect Napoleon was similar. But fear can mean failure, while a winning strategy founded in a confidence too far, or arrogance, will belie all efforts.

He had advisers, but the pundits’ advice was ignored. That’s like employing planners and letting the creative team lose with a blank sheet of paper.

He was no doubt already crafting his view of how the battle went. So, it would have been relatively easy for him to work in reverse, to outline and rationalise the objectives for the campaign, highlight the likely obstacles, align his motivations and values with those of his troops, and get them on side.

Listening is the most important skill of a communicator. So while gut-feel and opportunism have a place in planning a communications campaign, I’d prefer to place my bet on educated insights.”