Categorized & annotated bibliography compiled by Michael Turney
PR book Public Relations Bookshelf -- Must-reads for PR Practitioners
This is a limited and selective bibliography, not a comprehensive one. The items were primarily chosen for their usefulness to entry-level and mid-career public relations professionals, but some have helpful insights for even the most experienced practitioners. They are listed in what is meant to be a somewhat logical order with the older, most general and broadly applicable works listed first and the more specific, technique-oriented ones last. They admittedly reflect the compiler's personal public relations experience and teaching biases.
© 2010 Michael Turney About the compiler Practicing Public Relations home page

Must-read PR Books
Click here for a short article about this list's compilation in January 2010.

These ten must-read books are not meant to be the first or the only books about public relations a practitioner reads. Nor are they a substitute for public relations classes. But, readers who have already studied one or more public relations texts and how-to-do-it guides and are familiar with basic public relations processes can become more thoughtful, effective, and well-rounded practitioners by using these must-reads to build upon and enhance that foundation.

Crystallizing Public Opinion
by Edward L. Bernays

The 1923 edition of this book was the first significant book ever written about public relations and was one of the major factors that helped its author earn the title “Father of Public Relations.” It deserves to be read for its historical importance as well as its amazingly progressive and long-lived conceptual content.

Some Bernays' terminology may have been ill-conceived and critic-provoking, but his underlying ideas were and still are very sound. The revisions he made in the 1961 edition were not very substantive and did not reflect any major changes in this thinking; they simply extended the evolution of public relations through another four decades and put the 1923 edition's impact into context. Except for an extensive new preface (53 pages) and a few updates, it differed very little from the original edition.

Liveright Publishing
New York; 1961
The Image; A Guide to Pseudo-events in America
by Daniel J. Boorstin

Boorstin, who was a long-time director of the U.S. Library of Congress, was one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century. This book should be read by every educated person for its insights into how modern communication media, public discourse, and public relations shape our everyday lives.

But, be advised that if you believe public relations is always truthful and serves the best interests of society, you’re likely to be offended by Boorstin's interpretations and implied criticisms of America's growing emphasis on image rather than reality, its promotion of popular image as more important than ideals, and its acceptance of form without regard to substance. He was definitely not happy about what he saw happening in society, and he did not approve of public relations’ role in these developments. Whether you ultimately agree with his conclusions or not, they are certainly thought-provoking.

Harper & Row Publishers:
New York; 1964
The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication
edited by Tamara L. Gillis

Like the now-outdated Dartnell Public Relations Handbook that tried to encapsulate everything a communication practitioner needed to know in a single volume, this book will rarely be read cover to cover but serves as a handy resource to consult when unfamiliar situations arise. Its scope is much broader and spans all aspects of organizational communication than the earlier handbooks which only addressed public relations, but those earlier handbooks emphasized how-to-do-it articles that offered step-by-step directions while this book is more conceptual and describes very few how-to-do-it techniques.

For new communicators, it's a fine introduction to a broad range of corporate communication topics. And, for experienced communicators, it can be an easy refresher on topics they haven't recently thought about and can keep them up-to-date on the ever-changing trends in the field. Topics include: the evolving nature and scope of communication; issues in communication management; differences in dealing with internal audiences and external publics; working with the news media; special challenges of government relations and investor relations; marketing; planning; and measuring success.

Each chapter is worthwhile and offers solid and clearly presented ideas, but few are truly outstanding. They're worth reading but may not be the best or most definitive article on a topic. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find more a more comprehensive and informative collection of articles on so many topics anywhere else in a single volume. Taken together they are an excellent overview of contemporary communication practices.

Jossey-Bass Publishers &
the International Association of Business Communicators
San Francisco; 2006
Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management
edited by James E. Grunig

This was the first volume in IABC's much touted excellence study that spent a half-decade and nearly a half-million dollars surveying and analyzing organizations around the world to find out what set those with excellent public relations programs apart from the rest.

Under Grunig's leadership and tight editorship, this volume offers a general theory of public relations that explains the process and distinguishes effective public relations programs from ineffective ones. In doing so, it seemingly validates most of the theoretical foundation which Grunig and Hunt previously developed in their 1984 book Managing Public Relations.

Some of the sweeping conclusions initially drawn about the findings reported in this book were later moderated and determined to be not quite as significant as initially claimed, but the excellence study remains a major landmark in understanding public relations. It also inspired a lot of additional research studies and subsequent books that magnified its impact on the discipline, including The Manager's Guide to Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management by David M. Dozier with Larissa A. Grunig and James E. Grunig (1995).

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Hillsdale, NJ; 1992
Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies
by Noam Chomsky

In some ways this book is similar to Boorstin’s. It was written as social criticism and was not intended to tell readers how to perform public relations. But, it’s thought-provoking and often inspires soul-searching by public relations practioners.

Chomsky deplores the effectiveness of the propaganda used by the "elite intellectual culture" to shape the belief and actions of the American government and society as a whole. He specifically cites Edward Bernays' notion that public relations is "the engineering of consent" and condemns the extent to which we're subjected to this kind of engineering.

He also argues that the media and government are engaged in a tacit conspiracy of labeling and reporting that defines public perceptions of reality. For example, he says authoritarian governments with whom the U.S. is friendly will be labeled "firm-handed but benevolent dictators” while officials of another government that we consider enemies who do the same thing will be labeled "tyrannical despots.” Similarly, if our military forces go ashore in another country, they are referred to as “peace-keepers,” while another countries’ military forces that do the same thing will be referred to as “armed invaders.” According to Chomsky, we are inundated with this kind of insidious "Newspeak" that is more subtle and more extreme than George Orwell predicted in his anti-Utopian novel 1984.

South End Press
Boston; 1999
Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
by Henry Jenkins

This book was not intended to address public relations and, in fact, never mentions the term, but it’s lessons are invaluable for professional communicators in the twenty-first century. Jenkins’ cutting edge analysis and thoughtful projection of current media and audience trends highlight the changes that have made it increasingly difficult to effectively communicate with some of the largest and most important audience segments using traditional techniques and approaches, a situation he expects to further deteriorate over time.

Media/computer/sociology guru Howard Rheingold compares Jenkins to Marshall McLuhan in several ways. McLuhan was widely known and highly controversial during the 1960's and `70's when his most well-known books were published, but he didn’t have much credibility in the academic community until several decades later. Similarly, because Jenkins writes about fan involvement in popular culture, video games, and reality tv, many critics dismiss him as an intellectual light-weight who may have interesting things to say but only about relatively trivial matters. What remains to be seen is how much impact the trends Jenkins is studying will ultimately have on the future of communication, and how correct his prognostications will be.

The final chapters of the book hint at just that and Jenkins explains how fan-involvement, cross-media convergence, and audience participation in creating media content are manifesting themselves in politics and elections. Today, he says, all media audiences demand opportunities for participation and at least shared control of their media content, and when they don't get it, they respond negatively and sometimes with devastating impact on the media, the producers, or the sponsors of the unsatisfying content. To the extent public relations practitioners want to use the media to maintain relationships with their publics, it is critical to be aware of these trends, and this book is a good step toward achieving that.

New York University Press
New York & London; 2006
Communicating when Your Company Is under Siege: Surviving Public Crisis (3rd edition)
by Marion K. Pinsdorf

Pinsdorf’s basic message is that public relations professionals must always be prepared to deal with the most dangerous and tragic situations that could possibly arise because they never know when a crisis will strike. Among the examples he cites are an investigative teams from Sixty Minutes seeking interviews and information, company executives arrested for defrauding clients, customers becoming critically ill from using a company’s products, major layoffs or plant closings, or natural disasters such as devastating hurricanes or earthquakes.

There's a lot of gloom and doom – as well as fear-inducing rhetoric – in his repeated warnings that all communicators need to be ready to respond to siege and crisis conditions, but there's more than a little optimism in his reassurances that preparation and effective communication can ease the pain. Using dozens of serious organizational crises as examples, he dissects how they were eased by effective communication or exacerbated by inept communication and extracts guidelines for other communicators to follow. It may not be the only book you'll need to get your organization through a public relations crisis, but it's a good one with which to start.

Fordham University Press
Bronx, NY; 1999
On Deadline: Managing Media Relations (4th edition)
by Carol Howard & Wilma Mathews

Highly praised by practitioners when it was first published in the mid-1980s, each of this book's subsequent editions has received even more glowing reviews. One reviewer characterized it as "a comprehensive and detailed field manual written by two battle-scarred veterans." Another called it “the foremost book on media relations in the corporate and nonprofit sectors.”

It's packed with examples and practical tips for handling the tools of media relations -- news releases, briefings, press conferences, media alerts, interviews, etc. -- but also keeps a clear eye on the purpose and strategies for having media relations in the first place. Beyond the basics of how to prepare and issue news releases and effectively handle being interviewed by reporters, it discusses: the changing definition of news and how news is reported to the pubic; setting media relations goals and objectives and how to track efforts to achieve them; dealing with the media during a crisis; and how to effectively counsel upper management about its role in media relations. And, the latest editions of the book have increasingly addressed the impact which changes in technology and globalization are having on the media and public relations people who use them.

Waveland Press
Prospect Heights, Ill; 2006
On Business Communications: How to Say What You Mean in Plain English
by Rudolf Flesch

Yes, this is a rather old book, but it’s a classic that is still worth reading and fully applicable in the twenty-first century.

Flesch had a long career studying the varying levels of difficulty in reading and writing and teaching people to write clearly, forcefully, and at the most suitable level for their intended audience. This book, aimed at business people, is less scholarly and detailed than his other books and highly-regarded research studies, but its message is crystal clear: written messages are only effective if they can be easily read and readily understood by their intended audience.

This theme is neither new nor unique. There were and are – and undoubtedly will continue to be – countless books about the importance of clear and effective writing, but this is among the best. It has the power, meaning, and impact of Strunk & White's classic work Elements of Style but, offers public relations practitioners the added benefit of focusing on day-to-day business writing. It's a valuable little book and even the most experienced writer who approaches it with an open mind will benefit from Flesch's gentle chiding and simple rules. You can use it to hone your own writing skills or to coach others.

Barnes & Noble Books
New York; 1974
Public Relations on the Net (2nd edition)
by Shel Holtz

Long-time corporate communicator Shel Holtz is one of the pioneers of computerized and online public relations, having jumped on the band wagon and started using computer-based techniques as they were developed over the last few decades. He was certainly well qualified to write this book which he describes in the introduction as both “strategic and tactical.” This is his way of saying it presents both a broad picture of how the Internet can be helpful in an overall public relations program and also offers specific how-to-do-it tips for performing several key public relations processes.

Holtz clearly believes the Internet has revolutionized public relations, but he does not see the Internet as the end-all and be-all of public relations. It’s an important tool for quickly and effectively delivering memorable messages to the Internet's network of online communities, but it’s only a small part of the total public relations process, and Holtz stresses the needs to integrate its use with the other more traditional communications tools that are also used for public relations.

American Management Association
New York; 2002

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