Five great books that will make you better at PR

When I present to prospects and clients they often say “Wow, that’s really clever and insightful. Clearly it wasn’t your idea, so where did you pinch it from?”. Hence I thought it would be useful to review some of the key books I’ve read, so you can get it from the horse’s mouth (below, in no particular order).


1. Play Bigger | Ramadan, Peterson, Lochhead, Maney | @cd_advisors

Introduces the idea of category design as a professional discipline. If you’re an incumbent brand grabbing market share in an established category PR is relatively easy because people already understand what you do and who you are for. You have a reputation to lose from PR so usually you’re risk averse and safe. For everyone else, there is a need to explain what your new category is, condition the market to want it, and behave like the leader of that category until you’re seen as the category king. You have no reputation to lose from PR, all to gain, so you have to be bold, different, and take risks. The PR learning from this is what real “thought leadership” is and how to do it.

Core PR takeaway: Actions speak louder than words. ( Buy on Amazon )

2. Fast PR | Paul Blanchard | @paulwrblanchard

On the back of the book Paul says you don’t need a PR agency to do PR.* On this point, unsurprisingly, I don’t agree. Agency brands are both known to journalists and key people in the sector, and hence get approached for spokespeople and come up with ideas that wouldn’t necessarily come to you. Agencies often attract a different sort of breed of PR person who may not want to work in house, so they offer diversity. And having an external sounding board and ally in the form of an agency can be handy - especially if PR isn’t your specialism. But on everything else he’s spot on, and is bang on the money when he says there’s an awful lot you can do yourself (thereby restricting an agency brief to the things you can’t do, rather than the things you won’t do) which is more cost-effective. (*I like to think he means avoid an average agency).

Core PR takeaway: Do as much of what you can using Paul’s book, then think about how an agency could plug the gaps. ( Buy on Amazon ).

3. The Seen Startup | Alex Moorhouse | @AlexMoorhouse

This book looks more widely at marketing and positioning and specifically for startups. A great overview. Like Paul’s book, this is a DIY kit that can help you grow without spending a fortune on PR which won’t necessarily deliver the results you want - especially at the early stages when the proposition is in development, your brand isn’t clearly differentiated, or you don’t have the basics in place that will help you leverage the media coverage that’s created. This book helps you use slim budgets smartly (clue, don’t tip it all into adwords and paid social). Pithy and actionable.

Core PR takeaway: Startups should get the marketing basics in place before engaging a PR agency ( Buy on Amazon )

4. The Choice Factory | Richard Shotton | @rshotton

The aim of PR is to reach an audience through earned media to influence them: usually to buy your stuff. But if you don’t understand how your customer thinks, or what behavioural biases will either deter them from buying (or convert awareness into action) you can’t deliver a message that will effectively change their behaviour. This book digests all the layman needs to know about behavioural science, gives real-world examples and tells you how to apply it in practice. Focus is adland but bluntly it’s a must for anyone in a leadership role or interested in communications.

Core PR takeaway: Awareness may not be the problem: to get people to do something different it helps if you understand why they’re not doing it already ( Buy on Amazon ).

5. The Reputation Game | David Waller & Rupert Younger | @profyounger

I once got into a bit of a dispute with a former branding agency client when I used a pull quote from this book “branding is what you want people to think, reputation is what people actually say”. Their argument was that a good brand is where the two things are the same. Which is fair enough. But the key learning is how reputation issues arise from the a gap between what you say and what you do. And that, for established brands that are perceived to have power and influence, spells trouble. This book explains how PR can help you consistently prove high competence (we deliver) and good character (our actions don’t contradict our words) and make your brand famous and loved for it’s supposed to be for.

Core PR takeaway: Use PR to surface your competency and good character, consistently over time, to build a good reputation ( Buy on Amazon ).