07 Jun Why Muhammad Ali was as good at PR and he was at boxing
Like many saddened by Muhammad Ali’s death, we’ve watched a great deal on the TV and online in the past couple of days, as we all pay homage to the passing of a true giant of mankind.
Pretty-much everyone of note has been wheeled out to give their take on his extraordinary life, but for us one commentator hit the nail on the head when she said that Ali was amongst other things – a master of his own PR.
Indeed, he was so good at his ‘own spin,’ that Michael Parkinson said only Ali and Billy Connolly could guarantee a couple of million viewers on his Saturday night show at a time when there were only three TV channels in the UK.
Some of us recall that so great was his appeal that many fathers would cancel their customary Saturday night visit to the local, just so they could see what he had to say.
The ability of Ali to manipulate the media has probably never been given the necessary kudos it deserves, so as we pore over his incredible life, what can we learn?
Well it wasn’t a fluke- he worked at it. He admitted in one of those famous Parkinson interviews that he had learnt from the American wrestler, Gorgeous George how to, ‘add hype’ and felt it was vital for him to do this in order to publicise himself.
He added that the big mouthed, brash Ali remembered by so many was very much an exaggeration of one side of his character.
And didn’t he do it well. You knew whenever Ali opened his mouth whether it was boxing, politics, poetry or a mix of all three subjects everyone listened, which is, essentially what it’s all about.
This ability transcended Ali way beyond sport. For instance, many people dislike boxing but when it came to a Muhammad fight they would make an exception to watch him perform.
Of course, it’s obvious that all this was helped by the fact that he was a good looking and charismatic individual, and that he was a brilliant athlete, but equally on the flip side, he could be unpredictable and angry- media heaven!
However, in an era where Michael Parkinson and other interviewers could ask whatever they wanted, without the wrath of the PR folk in the background, Ali knew exactly what he was doing.
He was acutely aware that PR and communications was all about keeping the Muhammad Ali brand out there, and he mastered this every bit as well as the sport he excelled at.