The view from academe: IR's medieval origins

Dec 01, 2008
<p><strong>The roots of investor relations in 14th century letter-writing</strong></p>

An investigation into the medieval roots of corporate communications points to 14th century business school teacher Sampson of Oxford’s Method of letter-writing.

Stressing the practical, Sampson’s influential work was standard classroom fare for generations of professional communicators (in his day, educated sons who did not inherit land, marry or pursue a clerical or military career often found themselves in a position akin to director of communications for family firms).

Moreover, according to Dr Martha Thomas, director of the center for business communication at the University of South Carolina, echoes of Sampson’s method still resonate. ‘He was among the first to understand the importance of audience analysis,’ Thomas says.

Here’s just a single example of how Sampson suggested a pitch for money should be put: ‘Venerable Lord! In light of past favors you have often bestowed upon me, I humbly trust myself to the unique benevolence of your lordship, thanking you insofar as I am able, begging you humbly for their happy continuation.’

‘They used to really lay it on,’ Thomas laughs. ‘It was totally appropriate for Sampson’s time and audience.’ She argues that while modern people exhibit less social ceremony, ‘knowing your audience remains key to casting a potent message.’

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