Helpful Links and PR/Marketing Books for Communications Graduates

As you may know by reading my recent posts on this blog, I’m currently a graduate student passionate about digital marketing and emerging media, and I am looking to break into the field.

To accomplish this goal I have been studying for the past 6 years straight, forming a strong educational background in both traditional and new, digital media, and discovering how these two areas might converge. Also, how they can and should reinforce and complement each other effectively during a campaign.

I’ve also been immersed in discovering how to spot and create newsworthy content, as well as the journalism, advertising and public relations industries and their respective strategies and practices.

During that time I have been reading voraciously about digital media and communication trends, traditional public relations, metrics and most interesting and compelling to me – PR in the era of web 2.0 and social media. For young communications professionals, such as myself, I wanted to share my current favorites when it comes to sources of relevant, engaging and most of all, helpful information about public relations today.

1. First and foremost, the Institute for Public Relations’s website is a great treasure trove of research, education and news related to the practice and the science behind public relations. Through its Essential Knowledge Project, the site provides free documents for downloading, which cover a multitude of topics related to the industry, and they are extremely enlightening for new college graduates or anyone for that matter that wants to keep up on excellent public relations practice. For example, the most recent docs I grabbed are titled “Social Media & Strategic Communications,” and “Using Web Analytics to Measure the Impact of Earned Online Media on Business Outcomes.”

2. Another well-known but useful website that covers with some breadth the public relations career choice, such as wages, projections and job outlook, is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 edition for Public Relations Specialists. I would recommend this particular source of info more for someone considering the profession because you can learn about the nature of the work here and you can discover if its something that might interest you and be a good fit. I found the section on training, qualifications and the opportunities for advancement useful because it helped me to find what employers in the communications industry are currently looking for. Consequently, it also helped me to choose the academic and real-world paths that would best augment the skills I already have and make them more marketable.

3. Next, I highly recommend the newly released (2010) PR “handbook” by Robert L. Dilenschneider, of the Dilenschneider Group, titled “The AMA Handbook of Public Relations.” What I really like about this book and one of the main reasons I actually purchased it is because Dilenschneider writes it not only for the “digital immigrants” already in the field who need to catch up on social media and digital apps, and those who may want to rethink how to do their jobs, but it is also written for “The digital-savvy Millennials (born between 1980 and 2001) who know technology quite well, but not how to apply it to business and organizational problems.”

I believe this fact as well as the succinct information and relatively concentrated strategies contained  inside, which highlight the advantages of combining the tools and techniques of the Internet with a conventional understanding of communications, makes this a very useful handbook in today’s changing world of influence and democratized media.

4. Another popular book that deals with the evolution of public relations and how what matters most is individual “people” not impersonal, mass audiences, is “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” by Brian Solis (@Brian Solis) and Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge). This book is great for college graduates or anyone in school looking to learn about the current iteration and practice of PR. The book is invaluable in explaining how to manage reputations and brands, effectively solve stakeholders’ problems and also how to form strong, genuine relationships between the brands we represent and the public, all by utilizing and transparently participating in social media and the communities that people are now forming and interacting in daily with great research, fervor and care.

Speaking with a “human voice” is key in PR and this book illustrates in detail how best to do this, and ever more importantly, how to convince those in the C-Suites of its value. I was assigned this book for a graduate course in 2009 called “New Media, New Markets” and I have reread it twice since! Check it out.

5. Lastly, I recommend the following blogs for new communications professionals such as myself:

Slice– This blog is from the staff at SHIFT Communications in Boston and it offers “snackable pr.”  One reason I recommend it to those just starting out and the reason that I read it myself is because it is written by staff, therefore it can give you a good idea of the type of blogging PR agencies look for when hiring new people, and it will undoubtably give you a leg up if you are hired and asked to write on an company blog etc. It also contains some great info on new technology and how to utilize it in your daily job as a communications specialist. (For example check out this new post on TwAitter).

Bad Pitch Blog– This is a cool blog written by marketing communicator Kevin Dugan (@prblog) and former journalist and author Richard Laermer (@laermer). The reasoning behind including this blog here is because “effective” pitching that offers mutually beneficial opportunities is such a large part of excellent public relations. The blog is humorous, topical (which is key in PR) and it has a great angle and insight because Dugan is so familiar w/ media and what makes an effective pitch as well as anything to do w/ media relations.

Obviously there are plenty of other great sources on PR for young professionals and these are just the current ones I’m personally perusing. So, if you have any ideas on cool blogs, books, websites, white papers, slides presentations etc. that we should be checking out let me know!

*Update* Here is a great post by Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) of the blog Digital Marketing Mercenary, which suggests the “Top 11 Must Read Social Media and Marketing Articles for 2009.” A few of his picks are especially relevant to this blog post; ideas and guidance for young communicator’s looking for PR/Social Media best practices. Here is the post:

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A Reflection and Life Lessons

I traveled last night to Cambridge for a congenial reception held by the research center & think tank Political Research Associates (PRA) for the introduction of their new Executive Director, Tarso Luis Ramos. In 2008, and a junior in college, I served as the Public Relations/Editorial Intern for the progressive organization and I know Luis Ramos from my time there when he was the Research Director. So, I was appreciative and excited to be invited to attend the event. Even though I became lost on my way back to Brighton (instead of a 15 minute ride it took me 2 hours!), I was glad I went because besides seeing old friends, the evening got me critically thinking about the profession of public relations, what I have learned since an intern there and what I ultimately want out of a career in the field.

As I was sitting in our host’s spacious but increasingly humid living room, I began to think back when I was just starting the internship and what I then perceived was the practice of PR and what its true value and contribution was to the public good as well to the client, organization etc. At that time I had a picture in my mind of PR practice that could best be described by the press agentry/publicity model.

In this one-way asymmetrical model, PR serves a promotional function where the practitioner is a “conduit,” as Millar & Heath write, between an organization and a passive public. There is no strategic management of an organization’s communication function and there is no two-way dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders. Therefore, the organization does not implement any  much needed changes in behavior because they do not open themselves up to receiving relevant info from these stakeholders – for one, because there is no listening or engagement on the part of the organization and two, because the sole purpose here is to push the message out, with very little if at all, research and feedback. “All publicity is good publicity,” right? Wrong. Strong, mutually-beneficial relationships can not and do not form this way. That’s just a fact.

When I first started the internship I received their media list, among other materials, and then began to update it for new contacts that I believed would be interested in giving our authors time and our message, that PRA produces quality, important and useful progressive research and analysis, play. Right off the bat I wrote three or so press releases, back-grounders and put together a media kit.

Unfortunately and incorrectly, I then began a campaign of just blasting out emails, making calls and waiting for responses. There was very little research, genuine engagement on my part, ranking of strategic stakeholders in order of importance and listening first before contacting the media and PRA’s ally’s. Instead of finding out how these producers, journalists and analysts preferred to be contacted, as well as what they cared  and wrote about, I’m sad to say I engaged for the most part in a one-way transfer of information, concentrating on getting the organization into the media and to then achieve publicity for them.

After the first couple of weeks I did see some results (I booked a few interviews in the media for our authors and got an article excerpt placed on an ally’s website), but while I was thinking about how best to make connections and get results, I began to understand what was missing and needed to be put into place to achieve lasting brand recognition and loyalty as well as effective communication with PRA’s stakeholders, such as the media, local government, employees and influencers.

For example, there wasn’t a clear understanding of the power and utility of the iconic Cluetrain Manifesto’s assertion that “markets are conversations,” and that instead of just pushing “the facts,” with a relatively static press release template, a story must be told that connects with each of the niche communities that we are ultimately trying to reach and benefit with our products or services. There wasn’t a strong effort to elicit any response or action on the part of the public and there wasn’t transparent participation or an effort to form lasting, solid relationships. I could go on but I want to make this as succinct as possible.

Now, I can attribute this lack of knowledge and initiative to my inexperience mostly, the length of time I had at the job (about 3 months), and the small, dedicated but overworked and underfunded staff. I believe the important thing now is that I recognize my shortcomings and have been able to correct them and move forward as a stronger communicator at my present job in Suffolk University’s College of Arts & Sciences’ Communications Dept., with a much more strategic and deeper understanding of the practice of PR. Importantly, I understand that the practice of PR has always been oversimplified and that its value to society as a communication mechanism for binding society together and facilitating the “marketplace of ideas” is in fact vital. Considering these facts, the current socialization of media and the power and opportunity PR 2.o provides us, I look to the future with excitement and no regret.

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Notes on a Public Relations Career


Public Relations’ evolution is so interesting to me and its current practice squarely puts a large hole in the proselytized image that sometimes emanates from journalists (my B.A. is in Journalism and I love and respect the profession), and others, who see PR as solely publicity.

One reason I say this is as @briansolis & @dbreakenridge write in their 2009 book “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,”

“Social media is changing PR outreach from pitching to personalized & genuine engagement.”

After years of hearing how PR practitioners were just “shills” for publicity and are squarely in the employment and camp of large, powerful corporations and will with-hold the “truth” to the very detriment of the public good, I am now excited and actually proud to be embarking on a career of public relations and the unprecedented opportunities stemming from PR 2.0 inspire me.

PR 2.0, according to SolisBreakenridge, was born “through the analysis of how the web and multimedia were redefining PR and marketing communications, while also creating a new tool kit to reinvent how companies communicate” with the people and stakeholders important to them.

I believe strongly this evolution has changed the profession and industry in such a way that while it still calls for the traditional skills of succinct & effective writing, critical thinking and speaking, but it also now calls for a different set of skills that in my opinion, I excel at. And at the same time, I enjoy employing and exploring. For example, these skills that I’m talking about include empathy for and skillful understanding of other people, transparent and genuine participation in social networks instead of marketing at folks and also understanding the importance of dialogue vs. monologue especially in terms of seeing markets as two-way conversations, “not message throwing.”

In terms of “planting seeds” first before jumping right in to these social communities as a marketer, Solis & Breakenridge write, and I whole-hartedly agree with, that we should form and nurture altruistic relationships and understand the community’s sociology so we can be sure to contribute in a meaningful way. If this is not further evidence of the true value of PR I do not know what is. Any thoughts?

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