Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lessons from Rome.

You can learn a lot I think about life in an advertising agency from reading the history of the politics and intrigues that went on when Rome was no longer a Republic and was ruled by an emperor.

I'm not talking about the lavish lunches where we gorge ourselves on hummingbird tongues and braised dormice. I'm speaking of the machinations, the sabotage and the murders that happen near and at the top.

Right now I'm reading a book by a really stellar Classicist called Philip Matyszak. Matyszak has written a number of eminently readable (and funny) books about the ancient world, including "Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day" a travel guide to Rome of 2,000 years ago and "Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual." If you like your history made visceral, Matyszak is well-worth checking into.

Right now I'm reading his latest book, "Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis."

What Matyszak makes abundantly clear is that being high of the totem pole (or stelae) in Rome was basically a death sentence. Many if not most emperors were assassinated, if not by rival politicos then by covetous family members. Few lived to die a natural death. Further, if you were a general and had command of your legions, you had a perilous line to toe. If you were unpopular your men would kill you. If you were too popular you would be regarded as a threat to the emperor and, therefore, assassinatable.

In our tiny industry we bewail and rend our garments about a lot of things. Chief Creative Officers come and go--one moment they're hailed as saviors and the next, of course, they're out on their ears. The same with CMOs. Also subject to untimely death are those perceived as threats or allies to the "Cs."

Agencies and Clients are meat grinders and none of us are far from becoming hamburger.

But back to Petellius. He had the extraordinary ability to be close and distant at the same time. Close to power but distant from it. When trouble brewed in Rome, when it seemed like around every corner there was a sword with his name on it, he was able to meld into the country-side, to disappear himself before someone 'disappeared' him.

Petellius-ness is rampant in agency life, too.

I guess we call it 'survival.'


Anonymous said...

robert hughes' tome on Rome. worth it or not?

george tannenbaum said...

Anonymous, I don't know it. I would recommend


Anonymous said...

Two great books on the subject. Rubicon and Augustus.