Exclusive: PR books and their impact

Even with the overwhelming amount of daily distractions inundating readers, PRWeek discovers that there still is a market for the well-placed public relations tome.

Even with the overwhelming amount of daily distractions inundating readers, PRWeek discovers that there still is a market for the well-placed public relations tome.

In 2003, Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR and the author of seven books and a number of articles in The New York Times, Daily News, USA Today, finally found himself with a bestseller on his hands. His 2003 book Full Frontal PR: Getting people talking about you, your business and your product, a treatise on the increasing changes in technology, spirituality and entrepreneurship in the 21st century, placed in the top 50 on The book, he says, has produced 300 stories in newspapers and it has had approximately 70 positive reviews. Despite Laermer's success, there are plenty of books out there that don't make a dent in the public consciousness that is pulled in all directions by an ever-growing variety of electronic distractions and mundane tasks. "We are very taxed and pushed to do more than ever before. Who has time to read books?" Laermer asks. Enough people, evidentially, that a book with a provocative premise can grab a decent readership. "There still is [a market] for the right book," says Harper Collins director of publicity Larry Hughes. "But it can't [just] be a PR primer. The idea has to stand out." "I've done business books for fifteen years; it's a staple [industry] as long as you have something new or different," says Wendy Keller, CEO of Keller Media and an agent. Keller said that approximately 160,000 books are published a year, and many of them are either academic or self-published. "So there's a small shot of differentiating in front of the consumer's eyeballs," Keller says, adding that she's currently fielding a request from a publisher for a PR book that, of course, pursues a unique angle. Books fail when PR professionals are tempted to accumulate the summation of their knowledge and use the pages to pontificate about the world, business and life, while never focusing on an individual topic or specialty. "You can't write a book called Eight Rules for Managing a Business anymore," says Al Ries, author of The Rise of PR and The Fall of Advertising and, more recently, The Origin of Brands. He adds: "The vast majority of business books [like that] are worthless, and, as a result, many potential readers are turned off." Hughes says that the success of Ries' books [which were published by Harper Collins] is in the distinctive voice and the fact that they offer a contrarian view to accepted principles that's supported with examples. Jodee Blanco, a former publicist and author of The Complete Guide to Book Publicity, advises those in PR to look beyond the obvious. "Things like 'how to write a press kit' or 'how to do address the media' are too obvious," Blanco says. While it's important to narrow the scope so that the subject is focused, she urges that you not limit your audience. She says that she wrote her book to appeal to writers, entertainment publicists, those in corporate communications who might want to make a jump to the publicist trade, and so on. Edelman deputy chairman Michael Morley, author of How to Manage Your Global Reputation, was initially asked by the CAM (Communications, Advertising, and Marketing) Educational Foundation to write the book. "There wasn't a single book out there that dealt with international PR. It was done to fill a vacuum in the UK, and it turned out [well] in the USA," Morley says. The book's impact on a practice "[Peppercom] had come up with a service offering to work with their clients' sales forces. A McGraw-Hill editor read about it in a sales trade magazine and approached us to write a book on the technique," says Steve Cody, the firm's managing partner and co-founder. "We have publicized a number of books, so we thought that this would be really good idea as a business-publicizing tool for us," Cody says of his book What's Keeping Your Customers Up at Night?: Close More Deals by Selling to Your Client's Pain . Peppercom is now in the process of writing a second book, which will focus on those corporations that have succeeded because they hold themselves accountable, where the last chapter will highlight the firm's accountability expertise. Ries says he receives a lot of calls from people who say, "I've just started a consultancy, how do I get my book published?" He adds: "It's never a question of whether or not they should write a book because they know they need a book." There's no doubt that a highly successful book can generate great business for an organization and great speaking opportunities for its author. While Morley's book started as an academic resource, he says it has provided Edelman with some measurable benefits. "When you're in the finals for pitching to a potential client and it can be somehow brought forward that he's the guy in the field who wrote the book [on international PR], it adds power to the pitch and credibility," Morley says. He adds: "Two or three clients said they first heard about the firm through the book and were impressed." It's hard to know precisely how it factors into the pitch, he says, but he's pretty convinced it can get Edelman on the pitch list for a global firm that wants that expertise. Having a book allows you to become perceived as an expert in a little-known arena, Cody says. "We can ask, 'What's keeping your customers up at night?' " Cody says. When they say they don't know, he says, Peppercom can say that they wrote a book on the subject. "It enables us to say we understand the business of your business," he says. Ries' books have made him a well-paid speaker and sought-after authority on branding and struggle between PR and advertising. "We would not have a business today without the books and speeches," he says, adding that the book and speech opportunities came from articles in Ad Age, which came from small newsletters, and so on. Using your skills for promotion PR professionals obviously have the benefit of understanding what it takes to publicize a book. However, Blanco advises writers to keep their two hats separate. "When you're a PR person, it can make your media contacts uncomfortable because they don't want to reject you personally," Blanco says. Blanco co-founded a PR firm Blanco & Peace Enterprises, which she left to build up her writing and speaking career. When she released her books, she had her old practice do the publicity. It is fine to have your old firm handle your publicity - even if your name is still on the letterhead - as long as you are not personally doing the work, she says. This is not to suggest that one shouldn't use his or her PR knowledge to his or her advantage. "[PR professionals] understand [what is] good fodder for coverage, based on the needs of the media and have publicity in mind [when writing the book]," Blanco says, while adding that this approach does not mean one would have to jeopardize the integrity of the book. She adds: "We can also contribute to cover copy and endorsements." But what if it fails to sell? The word on whether a poorly received or ignored book could hurt more than its worth is still debated. "If you're just publishing because you think it's good to have published a book, it's probably not a good idea," Hughes says, adding that publishers always consider the writer's track record. Not all writers agree with this assessment. Ries says that while writing a boring book that isn't adding to public discourse may be a waste of time, it wouldn't necessarily hurt your career. Ries adds: "You could write a dumb book, but people won't think you're dumb. They just won't read it, so it can't really hurt you." Ries says the Who Moved My Cheese book phenomenon occurred because of its new and different approach. "A lot of large companies like American Express bought three or four thousand copies and distributed them to employees. That drove the bestseller list, and the book took off there," Ries says. However, it wasn't an overnight success. The author, Spencer Johnson, spent three or four years circulating drafts of that book before it was published, Ries says. Says Laemer, "I do believe that having your name out there is important, but it should be relevant to what you do. If you're just writing a book to make your mother proud, you should have done that when you're sixteen," Laermer says.

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