The Public Relations Bookshelf: Some Reader Suggestions

Recently, we asked PR Fuel readers to email us with suggestions for informative, entertaining books on the world of public relations. Their suggestions should help you get started in building your PR library.

Kicking off our suggestions is Jim Martin from Armada Consulting Group. Jim’s favorite public relations book is Positive Public Relations by Carl Hausman with Philip Benoit, which is a “classic,” according to Martin. He even quotes from it:

“If I can’t figure it out in three sentences, I throw it away.” So wrote a veteran editor who throws away a lot of press releases. That quote is so true it’s almost disturbing. If you can’t get the point across quickly, your press releases are dead meat. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but there appear to be plenty of used copies for sale out there online.

While we’re on the subject of effective business communication writing, I’ll throw out a few of my own  suggestions.

The Public Relations Writer’s Handbook by Merry Aronson and Don Spetner

One reviewer on summed up the book nicely: “This book should be a desktop essential for every public relations writer. It is a manual for all aspects of writing in this field, from news releases to brochures to speech writing to obituaries. This all-encompassing handbook provides step-by-step instructions for the different types of public relations writing and applies them to real-life examples and hypothetical situations. As an aspiring public relations writer, I found this book to be quite effective. It breaks down each type of document and walks the reader through the process. It gives the reader a sense of priority-importance, chronology within the text, what to always include and things to avoid. The writers’ explanations are understandable, and the concepts are easy to grasp.”

On this same subject, The Business Style Handbook: An A-to-Z Guide for Writing on the Job with Tips from Communications Experts at the Fortune 500 by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, is another fine tool to have handy.

“This one, in particular for business communication, is a valuable addition to any company’s arsenal of business resources,” Richard Pachter of the Miami Herald wrote.

I also suggest you get a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. If you’re not familiar with “AP style,” you better acquaint yourself fast, because, as American Bookseller says, this is “the Bible of the newspaper industry.”

Taking off from the Associated Press Stylebook, Mark Stober, who teaches public relations at a local college, suggests The PR Styleguide With Infotrac: Formats for Public Relations Practice by Barbara Diggs-Brown and Jodi L.G. Glou. “It’s the public relations equivalent of the AP stylebook,” Stober says. “Very tactical and explicit on how to prepare and format press releases and media kits, do media lists, PSAs, opinion pieces, etc. Not a lot of theory, just solid ‘how-to’ advice.”

Skip Traynor from Alma College in Alma, Michigan came up with a trifecta of suggestions. Writing for the Mass Media (5th Edition) by James Glen Stovall is “a great PR tool for communicating.” For “creativity and beating writer’s block” Traynor likes A Whack on the Side the Head: How You Can be More Creative by Roger von Oech. “He advocates being foolish, breaking the rules, being impractical, looking for wrong answers, seeking ambiguity and making mistakes.” And finally, there’s The Courage to Create by Rollo May. “It is a guide to break out of old patterns, work through our fears (them journalist have teeth you know) and realize self,” Traynor says.

An interesting suggestion came from Kathi Petersen of KP Communications in Asheville, North Carolina: “As much as I really hate to promote it, the Dummies series has one called Public Relations Kit for Dummies by Eric Yaverbaum and Robert Bly. I’ve been in PR or worked in the media for 20 plus years, and bought the Dummies book not for my own learning, but as a reference for some very basic PR 101-type workshops. Much to my surprise, the simplified language and templates are actually pretty good. I would definitely recommend this as a basic must-have for a new PR practitioner.”

I agree with Petersen’s advice. The Dummies series doesn’t sell millions of books each year because they’re worthless. These books are good starting points for the inexperienced public relations practitioner or for someone thrown the job of public relations out of the blue. They also make handy reference books.

Roberta Carlton from SparkSource suggests Value-Added Public Relations: The Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing by Thomas L. Harris and Philip Kotler. Carlton also suggests the Jack Ryan novels by Brian McGrory. “To help you get inside a journalist’s head in a fun way,” she says. “They are few and far between but Brian makes occasional reference in his three books to how journalists interact with PR professionals.”

Elizabeth Albrycht from Albrycht, McClure, and Partners suggests The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. “In itself, the book isn’t written all that well (it is rather repetitive),” Albrycht writes. “But the idea that markets are conversations really drove home for me the rising importance of informal communications strategies and tactics (in which group I include blogs) vs. traditional releases, brochures, etc. etc.”

Richard Bailey from PR Studies suggests The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. “It is of course not a public relations book at all, but a study of what’s required to turn an idea into the mainstream. As such, it’s a study of viral marketing — but without the computer or PR dimensions. An oblique choice, perhaps, but still my best book about PR because it’s about people and the power of ideas.”

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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