The final word – why PR books still matter
When was the last time you read a public relations book? I mean a proper book with pages that you turn by hand, not a representation that you flick with a finger. A real book, where the author had to make a final decision of what to include, before the editing and printing processes committed the ideas permanently to paper. Not like a blog post or other online content that can be readily edited and updated – or deleted.
With so much information available through other means, and doubts that many practitioners have ever read a book about public relations (unless they are studying for a qualification), you have to wonder why writing a book still matters. It takes a lot of time to research and write a book – or even contribute a chapter to an edited text. You can’t expect a huge advance and income from sales is likely to be relatively small. You probably won’t become famous or rich – your work won’t be talked about like Fifty Shades of Grey, or more seriously impressive literature.
But there is something tangible about a book; something that is still special to have produced; something that shows what you think is worth saying – well you hope so as you wait for the reviews. To see your name in print, on a solid hardback or shiny paperback, on the cover and the spine, that feels good. You exist – right there in Amazon and other online, and real world bookstores. Well that’s how I feel about The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit which has just been published by Routledge – my first book (co-written with Alison Theaker).
Toni Morrison is quoted as saying “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”, which is what this book is for me. When I started studying and then teaching public relations, I was in awe of the authors I read – and meeting them was a buzz. To get to know those who informed my own understanding has been a pleasure. In turn, I hope others will find my book to be interesting and I trust useful, and perhaps they – you – will be motivated to seek the final word in print sometime too.
Books are how we have traditionally passed on knowledge – at least since the invention of the printing press. I love that my book sits alongside works by Eddie Bernays, Constance Hope, Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt, Jacquie L’Etang, Kevin Moloney – and many others in my office. Mine is that lime green one!
I’m not sure if the motivation for publishing has been the same for the authors of Share This: The social media handbook for PR professionals which was the brainchild of Stephen Waddington (who kindly sent me a review copy). This book grew out of the Chartered Institute for Public Relations’ Social Media Panel – a group of British practitioners (not all members of CIPR). I know from my own publishing experiences that the time between putting thoughts to paper and the book appearing is several months at best – so it may seem futile to document social media guidelines in a print medium. Looking back at how digital developments are reported in books that are only a year or two old is a clear reminder of how quickly things change.
For me that’s one reason in support of publishing a book – it sets a marker of knowledge as it is at this point in time. That’s what I love about historical books – and it is brilliant that they remain accessible many years later to provide an insight into what is known and thought now. Without these final words, how would we ever have an idea of what has gone before? Online words are ephemeral and temporary in comparison.
A lot is made in the promotion of Share This that it is written by experts – as with our recent discussion on excellence, I would question what this means. But no matter, what interests me is that we can read these opinions as a collection, which Stephen highlights emerged from conversations and were peer developed through a collaborative process. In contrast, Alison and I sought to emphasise that our book was partisan and presented our pragmatic perspectives – not even what we think, but my chapters and Alison’s ones, with our own thoughts and examples. What the two books have in common is that they are intended to be practical and help practitioners. We call our work a how-to book with brains.
With 26 individual chapters, Share This looks at many different areas of social communications. The chapters provide succinct insights – part reflection and opinion, part guidance and observations on practice. Whilst appreciating the book had a very quick production schedule, it seems a shame that there is no formal reference list in Share This. Compared to the conventional academic style, the approach makes Share This easy to read (and write), especially for practitioners who may be unfamiliar with academic referencing. There are some footnotes which reference online sources primarily – but sometimes Wikipedia is cited where more original sources (e.g. for Ivy Lee) would be better. Another benefit of more classical approaches to referencing is to link to what has gone before, some precedents on which work is built or where there are gaps and opportunities. It is notable that the chapter written by Richard Bailey (Leeds Metropolitan University) does include several literature references.
Overall, the strengths of Share This are that it is a light and easy read, with plenty of useful advice and thinking about social media that can be drawn upon by practitioners. It is easy to dip into and chapters are short and accessible. On the whole, the book does not seek to prescribe how to use social media, but makes suggestions and considerations. It is helpful to have such a scope of reflection on social media in one book – rather than having to skim across dozens of blog posts for example. Of course, the downside (despite the use of social media in the book’s creation and online promotion) is that a book is a done work, and as a reader, you cannot engage in the conversation that the authors reflect.
I like the fact that most of the authors are not people who have written book chapters previously and I hope they are all very proud of the achievement. It is a nice book – and although I haven’t yet had a chance to read it throughout in any detail, it seems to be a useful addition to the body of knowledge. I am pleased it is published as a real book – so that the various viewpoints at this time are documented as evidence of opinion and practice at this point in 2012.
Reflecting on my own experience, writing a book is an interesting process. I am pleased with the outcome – it is better than I feared but not as good as I’d like, which I suppose is okay. At the least, I trust it is worth the total commitment of the trees used in its production.