If you’re looking to develop a career in public relations, it’s essential that you have the kind of theoretical grounding that can be easily applied to the workplace. And there are thousands of texts out there that can help you to develop your knowledge. MOL’s M Lento picks her three favourites and discusses why she’s chosen them as set texts for our brand new CIPR programme.
Shirely Harrison’s Public Relations – An Introduction (Cengage Learning, 2nd edition, 2011) is a slim yet absorbing PR primer. The key purpose of the book is to give novice readers an overview of the industry’s historical context and how it came to be broken down into what are presented here as five main contemporary areas – corporate PR, crisis PR, internal communications, community relations and sponsorship, and specialist PR – before pondering the future of the industry.
It could be said to be a bit of a dry tome by textbook standards. Harrison presents large chunks of essential information in written format without feeling the need to break learning down with lots of diagrams and illustrations. And yet, this is how she manages to give us so much information with such a relatively low page-count. Plus, we’re given summaries at the end of each chapter, which condense learning to a few key prompters, along with case studies and questions to stimulate group discussion, each of which demand initial engagement with the text and re-reading throughout.
PR, when viewed theoretically as opposed to operationally, is a hugely sprawling subject. Shirley Harrison has elegantly managed to rein in that sprawl to an easily digestible, yet incredibly thorough introduction that includes plenty of recommendations for further reading.
Anthony Davis’s Mastering Public Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd edition, 2007) is a dizzyingly comprehensive how-to. First of all, it largely assumes the knowledge imparted in Shirley Harrison’s book (above) on the part of the reader. This then gives it plenty of space within its mere 233 pages to divulge every scrap of necessary information that the budding PR practitioner needs to go away and think more widely on.
Throughout there are fascinating and (crucially) politically disinterested views of how the industry works in practice and what its influence is on the world at large. An early example occurs when Davis quotes radical thinker and author Thomas Pynchon in the opening of his chapter on ‘Spin’ – a man clearly suspicious of language designed to exert influence – and yet immediately casts off all negative aspersions by highlighting public relations’ potential to fulfil ‘some better or higher purpose’.
Whilst there is a lot to take in here, points are regularly punctuated with examples to illustrate how they work in the real world and there are longer case studies and chapter checklists to refresh our memory as we work through the book. This is an outstanding piece of academia-meets-practicability that gives the reader the chance to learn the theory and immediately apply it in the workplace.
John Foster’s Effective Writing Skills for Public Relations (Kogan Page Ltd, 4th edition, 2008) is a veritable wet dish rag on the flames of unbridled creativity. But don’t take that the wrong way – this is a brilliant book. The trouble with writers, you see, is that everyone thinks they are one. And they come to that conclusion because they believe that good writing simply means putting their personality on the page. Well, individual personality can go a long way in creative writing, but it rarely makes its way into a decent press release.
Over 250-plus pages, Foster makes plain the need for rules and boundaries within PR texts. Because writing for, say, a professional presentation is NOT THE SAME as writing for a newspaper column or a short story. It requires you to leave your personality, no matter how ‘quirky’, at home and assume the official voice of the organisation for which you’re writing. And here we’re given hundreds of clearly compartmentalised hints and tips on how to make the organisation sound as genuine, interesting and uniquely voiced as you’d consider yourself to be.
From the basics of grammar and punctuation to what kind of press releases won’t generate interest and how to avoid clichés, this is an essential guide for anyone writing for PR, whether you’re brand new to the profession or a seasoned wordsmith. It’s worth remembering that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo and William Burroughs all wrote promotional copy before they became world famous novelists. But you’d never guess who for. That’s how good they were.