Develop Your PR Skills
by Neil Richardson and Lucy Laville
168 Pages, Kogan Page, 2010
Develop Your PR Skills is written for those interested in maximising their PR skills, whether they work for a small company, multinational, charity or sole trader, and even those who are interested in entering the field.
It has basically been designed to give those interested in the subject a general idea of what PR is, why they need it and whether they should try practising in-house or seek the guidance of an agency. The book also attempts to clarify newer areas of PR that small business owners may want to delve into, such as social media and online PR as well as developing an ethical and sustainable business.
The book covers many of the concepts and theories a first year PR student might expect to see on their course, but with a small business owner as the target reader. Whether it achieves this does seem to vary from chapter to chapter, with some succeeding in projecting their ideas in a simple manner and others at times becoming a little confusing to those new to the subject.
The authors of this book are both lecturers at Leeds Business School, as is often made clear throughout the book both in the chapters and the case studies helpfully provided. Neil Richardson is a senior lecturer and Marketing Dynamics course leader at the Leeds Metropolitan Business School. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing and sales management in the B2B sector and now focuses his research in the area of sustainable marketing. Lucy Laville is also a senior lecturer and leads the Public Relations and PR and Marketing courses at the Business School. With 17 years of PR experience, her areas of expertise include crisis and issues management, internal communications and Social media.
The book begins like most PR text books going through the definitions of PR and its history, touching on the sensitive topics like propaganda and also including the much needed paragraph on what PR is not (advertising, marketing, sales, sponsorship). However, the flow of the book feels interrupted by the inclusion of ‘Hiring a PR Agency’ (which talks through the pros and cons of large full-service agencies versus small ones) so soon in the book. Indeed the next few chapters discuss ideas and methods for planning PR, such as SWOT and PEST analysis, so it seems to make sense to talk more in-depth about choosing an agency after the reader has established what PR they require.
As well as SWOT and PEST, the book explains many of the basic concepts that would be vital for a small company analysing their business from a PR point of view for the first time, such as how to set SMART objectives and establish PR strategies. However, some of the diagrams used would confuse those studying PR without a thorough explanation from a lecturer, such as the TOW analysis.
Many of the chapters in the book demonstrate the authors’ excellent knowledge on topic areas like media relations, internal communications and crisis management. The Media Relations chapter would give any PR beginner a comprehensive guide to how to construct a press release, contact journalists and target different press. Perhaps the only thing the chapter really misses is an example of a press release or a feature article, something anyone new to the subject would greatly appreciate; there is only so much that simply explaining can do.
Internal Communications is a topic that never hugely interested me when studying it at university, however I made myself complete the chapter for the purpose of this review and I’m glad I did. The chapter is refreshingly simple compared to some of the other online guides and text books I’ve read through. It is written in a way that will appeal to many business leaders; what internal communications is, what it involves, and perhaps most importantly, why it will help improve your company and even your profits in the long term. The guide contains many case studies and ideas for how to help improve team morale and productivity as well as a sample staff audit.
The final chapter in the book, Ethics and Sustainability, is also an engaging read with the book championing those companies prepared to go the extra mile for their employees and their environment. The argument is well thought out, with good use of theory and a light hearted approach to help compel companies into encompassing ‘People, Planet and Profit’ into their marketing strategy.
The only chapter I really took any issue with was the ‘PR and Developments in Online Conversation’, which working in social media, I was bound to be extra critical of. The authors do not delve enough into how to make the most of the tools available, which seems a shame when one considers the low cost and high potential impact of online PR.
There aren’t any real guidelines on how to use social media responsibly and in a way that ensures reputation is protected as much as possible; an essential when you think of how many companies have been burnt on sites like Twitter and Facebook. There are also niggling little errors, such as the Twitter character limit stated as 120 instead of 140, and no real guidance is given for a company that wants to start its own blog or reach out to other bloggers.
However, many main issues are still discussed, such as managing online reputation, the power of bloggers, SEO and RSS. The chapter is still more that many PR text books seem to have and certainly more than most PR courses teach, and is good enough for an introduction to online PR to encourage those interested to truly research further into harnessing the potential of social media.
To summarise, the book has its highs and lows and chapters that read well and those that don’t. The light-hearted narrative works well for most of the book; though in some places, such as when discussing PR budgets (already a delicate topic), the writing style seemed to stumble slightly. The book does achieve what it sets out to do and any budding PR enthusiast or small business owner that wants to try a cheaper and effective alternative to advertising would not only get a good idea of what PR is and how to use it, but would also have the means to start attempting news releases and contacting journalists.
Complete with summaries, questions and activities at the end of each chapter, I would recommend this book to small business owners and even to anyone thinking of studying PR, though not as a complete and comprehensive guide – further reading is advised.