How to be a PR pro

PR Today: The Authoritative Guide to Public Relations
by Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy
347 pages, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012

The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit: An Essential Guide to Successful Public Relations Practice
by Alison Theaker and Heather Yaxley
386 pages, Routledge, 2012

First came books by public relations practitioners explaining how to do PR. Then came academics explaining how and what to think about PR. Increasingly the two genres grew so far apart that they could be describing two different worlds.

So it’s something of a publisher’s Holy Grail to bring out a book that has one foot in the practice and the other in the scholarly literature that speaks simultaneously to students and practitioners. After a long wait, two such books have come along together.

In truth, these books both build on the same authors’ previous works: Theaker’s The Public Relations Handbook is now in its fourth edition and Morris and Goldsworthy’s PR – A Persuasive Industry? set out with brio the authors’ provocative take on the industry.

Morris and Goldsworthy divide their new book into four sections: ‘theory and analysis’ is followed by ‘planning and strategy, then ‘practice’ and finally a ‘conclusion’ that looks to the future and tells how to find work in PR.

Theaker and Yaxley cover ‘the profession’, then ‘public relations planning’ followed by ‘corporate communications’ and ‘stakeholder engagement’.

What is public relations?

Both books begin by answering ‘what is public relations?’ Having chewed over various definitions and perspectives (and having spat out the British emphasis on ‘reputation’), Morris and Goldworthy return to their own definition:

Public relations is the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways which further its sponsor’s objectives. It works primarily through the use of media relations and other forms of third-party endorsement.

This definition may seem commonsensical to practitioners, but it’s a controversial riposte to most academic thinking. Morris and Goldsworthy’s book may be written by two university lecturers, but it’s aimed at practitioners. 1-0 to the practice.

Alison Theaker also opens by citing Rex Harlow’s 472 definitions of PR gathered in 1976 and provides a commentary on various academic and practitioner perspectives on PR before discussing how PR differs from other management disciplines. 1-1 in our practitioner versus academics match.

‘Planned and sustained effort’

Both books have sections on planning – and these will be useful to those studying and teaching on the main CIPR qualifications with their assessed planning assignments.

Heather Yaxley recognises the need for flexibility in planning, but she’s happy to base her approach on Marston’s established RACE framework (Research, Action, Communication and Evaluation).

Morris and Goldsworthy propose their own planning model, POSTAR (Positioning, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Administration, Results).

It’s good to see that the familiar SWOT analysis is downplayed in both: too often students and young practitioners fall into the trap of naively presenting their subjective thoughts as objective analysis; of presenting a tool used in the process as and end point of analysis.

Practitioners and students will find much of value in both approaches – though there’s more depth in Heather Yaxley’s section for CIPR Diploma students to draw on when writing their ‘rationales’ or reflections on how academic thinking has influenced their approach to solving the assignment.

The final score

In comparing these two books, Morris and Goldsworthy speak more to practitioners (especially those in consultancies) while Theaker and Yaxley offer more for academics and students (they have a much more extensive bibliography). Yet it’s Theaker and Yaxley who gather together various checklists into their appendix – a very useful resource for practitioners and a belated way to justify the book’s billing as a ‘strategic toolkit’. Yet Morris and Goldsworthy are the more opinionated and entertaining authors.

Both deserve the space on my crowded bookshelf and I expect to draw on both in my teaching.

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