The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Machiavelli was actually better at theorising about power than gaining it. But The Prince, first published in 1513, inspires me because it is disarmingly honest. It gets to the point: power is what life is all about.
In Machiavelli’s day, power struggles were based around territory, so much of the book’s language is martial. But if you read The Prince imaginatively, rather than literally, there are great metaphors for today’s corporate and political environments.
The Prince is about being clever and ruthless, about surviving. It argues that power and influence are the constants; all else is sentimentality. Of course, PR specialists make this calculation every day. Who has power? What is its nature? How can it be used for chosen ends?
While a lot can be learnt from the book, in today’s world power is changing. The challenge is as much about influence as about raw power. Machiavelli’s advice was aimed at the chief executive, whereas we need to support those on the front line, too.
Another point the book does not make, but that is important in the modern world, is that power without purpose is hollow and ultimately self-defeating. Nowadays, one must be ethical and strategic. It is no longer enough to just survive.
Lucian Hudson is director of comms at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
The Trusted Advisor by David Maister
In an uninspiring landscape of business books for PROs, The Trusted Advisor stands out as a beacon of usefulness.
The book, published in 2002, offers a rare combination of insight and ideas on how to build deep, productive relationships with clients.
Intuitively, we all understand why trusted relationships mean better business. But to become a true trusted advisor, we need to step out of our comfort zone.
The book contains a useful chapter entitled ‘Why is this so hard?’, which looks at the reasons why most of us don’t achieve this status. Successful consultants get promoted on the basis of expertise, but they are then in danger of becoming performing monkeys. The more we know, the more solutions we can provide and the more employers value us. So we provide more and more solutions. But sometimes we forget how to suspend our own agendas to absorb and think about what clients really need. When we actually listen, it is amazing how much better our solutions can be.
I find The Trusted Advisor inspiring; unlike many business books, it is a proper read. It makes you ask yourself tough questions about how you work and gives you the tools to try out new techniques.
Sally Costerton is UK CEO of Hill & Knowlton
White Heat by Dominic Sandbrook
This book, published last year, is a must for anyone with an interest in modern British culture and politics. The parallels with today are fascinating – a PM allegedly obsessed with the media and in trouble over support for an unpopular American-led war, bad boy pop stars dating models, fashion, technology and the emergence of Brit celebrity culture.
A peak of this creative swirl was The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album in 1967. Then came the decline into the troubled 70s and culturally starved 80s.
Sandbrook is a master of detail and brings this period to life in a way few historians do. He weaves together key strands of home-grown cultural creativity, celebrity, politics and technological change in an engaging, readable way.
Colin Byrne is UK & Ireland CEO of Weber Shandwick
Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
Beevor’s extraordinary book on the monstrous six-month battle for Stalingrad during World War 2 has important lessons for all of us. It shows that pro patria mori can be the most dignified glory for an individual, even in the most undignified circumstances, but also the biggest waste wrought by dictators and regimes of all sizes.
Stalingrad, published in 2001, is a masterpiece of gripping writing and faultless research. An account of a significant turning point in WW2, it is a lesson in human endeavour and strategies for success.
Hitler’s eradication of German generals he perceived to be either plotting against him, or failing to follow his orders, deprived him of great officers and successful leaders. The people who would have provided the leadership to turn this battle around were dead, demoted or exiled.
Talent at any level brings success. If through fear, politics or misplaced ambition talent disappears, the battle for the business is lost.
Jackie Elliot is CEO of Cathcart Consulting
Stick It Up Your Punter! by Peter Chippindale & Chris Horrie
A tabloid mentality is vital in PR, and every PR professional should start their day by reading The Sun. If you want to know what consumers are thinking you have to read the UK’s most popular daily paper, so Stick It Up Your Punter! is essential reading.
The book, first published in 1999, outlines the history of The Sun, with a particular focus on the Kelvin MacKenzie era. MacKenzie had one of the biggest influences on The Sun in terms of circulation and notoriety – and in putting a fun and entertaining twist into journalism.
I encourage PROs to try to think about stories in the way they think ‘the Currant Bun’ would. We start most of our campaigns from a Sun perspective.
This book gives vital insight into the red top’s processes and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the creativity, fun and humour MacKenzie injected into the British media scene – which lives on today.
It also tells the stories behind the creation of some of the newspaper’s most memorable headlines. It is a funny, enjoyable read and a great source of creative ideas.
Stick It Up Your Punter! is kept on our bookshelf at Frank, along with other works we encourage staff to read, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. That said, it’s not there at the moment. Someone must be reading it – and good for them.
Graham Goodkind is chairman of Frank PR