I was recently being interviewed by a reporter for a comment on the acquittal of former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. And asked for a comment on Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz, who had pursued the absurd prosecution to the tune of nearly $20 million, I remarked that Smaltz 'made Kenneth Starr look like Louis Brandeis.' Not a bad line, I thought. So imagine my surprise to discover the reporter hadn't the foggiest idea who Brandeis was. Which led me to ask the question: 'what do PR professionals read?' And specifically, those pros who are a few years out of college or graduate school, and now embarked on a career of dealing with words - all those activities conducted under the rubric of 'public relations?'
I'm afraid the answer is disappointing: magazines devoted to surfing or fitness; a quick glance at the local newspaper and a scan of the ultimate pleasant trifle, People.
So, here are a few suggestions for what to read - regularly - in order to communicate with the most important people in your careers: your clients.
For they will look to you for advice and counsel, for strategies and problem-solving, and they will expect that advice to come from a mind at least as acquainted as theirs with ordinary facts, plus an awareness of basic history and of the public world around them (and you).
If a client - and there are many - thinks it a good idea to take a full-page ad in a major newspaper, you had better been reading that newspaper or a comparable one, and observing the full-page institutional or 'issue' ads, so as to offer a sensible evaluation of the idea.
What have people been saying about those ads? What is the conversation - the 'buzz' - about them?
Everyone in this business should read at least one major newspaper a day, not just for 'news' but for flavor, style and slant, the columnists, the editorials, the taboos and the hobbies of the editors. Magazines - serious ones - are also important, and not just the news magazines. Clients will respect your knowledge of what's going on in the intellectual world: what's in and what's out?; what are the controversies (is Tom Wolfe a serious novelist? Is Mailer?); what did Toni Morrison mean when she wrote in The New Yorker recently that Bill Clinton is our first black President?
Your college or university may have enabled you to enter the intellectual mainstream - but if not, get there the hard way, by experience. Read the New York Review, look at the Atlantic, pay attention to Vanity Fair, learn their slant, and talk about what you've read. Not seen.