Public relations means walking a high wire in the media. A mistake in the media can be fatal. Politicians have seen their careers crash and burn. Baseball players have been traded for making racist remarks.
The right words can also propel relative unknowns into world prominence. Barack Obama was a state senator that nobody knew before he gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Rhetoric gives public figures the tools to avoid mistakes and court success. Aristotle, Plato and the other great Greek thinkers are the best-known students of rhetoric, but they didn't invent the art of persuasion back in 400 B.C.
Thousands of years before the Greeks, rhetoric was being developed in Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.
The ideas identified by the ancient masters are the foundations of a communication toolbox that every modern public figure and public relations professional should bring to any job, whether it's publicizing a book tour or running the press operations for a White House campaign.
Aristotle organized the art of rhetoric into three parts:
Ethos -- how the character of the speaker affects the audience;
Pathos -- how emotion plays a role in speech and arguments; and
Logos -- how you structure an argument and the use of logic.
He also identified three types of debates:
Past -- forensic, concerned with determining facts and assigning guilt or innocence;
Present -- concerned with values, praise and blame, right and wrong; and
Future -- deliberative, making decisions about what to do in the future; these are essentially political debates.
Rhetoric isn't useful simply for debates and persuasive writing such as speeches and opeds. It's a great tool for anything you do in public relations.