Dipping Into the Public Relations Bookbag

PR Fuel readers — including several public relations professionals — have written in with their suggestions for the best books about public relations. We got enough responses to fill a corporate library, books chockfull of tips for PR vets and newbies alike.

Harry Hoover of Hoover Ink PR suggested Guerrilla Publicity: Hundreds of Sure-Fire Tactics to Get Maximum Sales for Minimum Dollars by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin as a good public relations primer. Cahners Business Information described the book as “realistic yet supportive, this book will be a godsend to those untrained in the intricacies of publicity.” Levinson, by the way, has written a number of books on public relations, marketing, and negotiating and his reviews are always positive.

Another of Hoover’s suggestions drew praise from several PR Fuel readers: Full Frontal PR: Getting People Talking about You, Your Business, or Your Product by Richard Laermer with Michael Prichinello.

Reed Business Information listed some highlights: “Among the tips: adopt a media-friendly approach that cultivates friends rather than making enemies; use a host of tactics like embargoes, leaks, source filings and exclusives to your best advantage; and give yourself a leg up by knowing what time-pressed journalists are looking for and handing it to them on a platter.”

Laermer is a very well-known and widely-respected public relations practitioner, but I’ll warn you that some of his advice tends to be overly aggressive, especially for small business owners and those pitching stories in smaller markets.

One of the more interesting suggestions came from George Leposky at the American Welding Society. Leposky suggested The Practice of Public Relations by Fraser P. Seitel.

“It’s a popular college-level textbook, from which I taught some years ago in an earlier edition,” Leposky wrote. “It explains how the profession works in straightforward language, and the most recent edition I’ve seen has a number of interesting and insightful case studies as well.”

Because it’s a textbook, it will be significantly pricier than other books mentioned. A few years ago, my cousin — who at the time was doing public relations for a Chamber of Commerce in a major Florida city — sent me her old journalism textbook. After reading through it, the book is now next to the dictionary on my shelf. These types of books can serve as great reference materials and can be used to help younger or inexperienced staffers as well.

Michael Smith from ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. suggested Feeding the Media Beast: An Easy Recipe for Great Publicity by Mark E. Mathis. “Anyone in PR, whether beginner or seasoned vet, would benefit from this book,” Smith wrote. The book reviews on this one lead me to believe that the book is both extremely informative and entertaining, which is always nice. I may check this one out myself.

I’m a little skeptical about this next one, mostly because it has the old sock puppet on the cover, but my friend David Berkowitz at eMarketer suggested it — as did several other readers — so I’ll take his word that The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR by the father/daughter team of Al and Laura Ries is actually a good bet for public relations pros. The book has actually garnered a lot of attention since its release a few years ago. Basically, the Ries’ say that public relations, not advertising, sells your product. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve heard the Ries interviewed before. They’re onto something.

J. Michael Lenninger from the Catholic Diocese of Saint Augustine is also onto something: “There probably isn’t one good book on public relations that will help the newly-appointed. But here are some baby steps that the new public relations rep — who are former secretaries, sales people & interns — can take to gain more respect and learn the craft.”

He suggested a number of non-book activities such as joining a professional association, be it public relations related or otherwise, so you can “network and learn.” Lenninger also mentioned that attending seminars or public relations conventions is a great way to learn from those with more experience. My favorite idea from him was subscriber to PR-related newsletter or magazine. But the most intriguing idea from Lenninger is to take an internet, distance -learning, or correspondence course on public relations.

This wonderful idea can be both cost-effective and time-effective. The University of Phoenix Online offers PR-related courses and schools like the University of Maryland University College offer degrees. Most state universities offer distance-learning programs these days, so it may be worth checking them out.

I haven’t read many, if any, PR-specific books over the years, but I’ve learned a lot about public relations from other kinds of books. Oddly, a book on behind-the-scenes politicking during World War I, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, may help public relations reps. It’s a case study in miscommunication on a global and very costly scale. Readers will be struck by how something as simple as straight-forward communication could have avoided the deaths of millions and how what we now call “bad public relations” drove nations to war.

Another book, recently sent to me by the publishers, entitled The Dumbest Moments in Business History: Useless Products, Ruinous Deals, Clueless Bosses, and Other Signs of Unintelligent Life in the Workplace by Adam Horowitz and the Business 2.0 staff, is a fun little read. There is a section on public relations blunders, but as you read about how companies have screwed up through the ages, you’ll realize that public relations played a big role in many of these “dumbest moments.” It’s a nice stocking stuffer–put it on your list for next year–or a good book for someone who needs a reminder that they’re not so brilliant after all.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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