Michael Turney's Public Relations Bookshelf:
PR book Recent Reads
These are selective and reflective comments on some of the books I recently read. They should not be considered a comprehensive or even focused bibliography of public relations books; they merely reflect my personal interests, experiences, and biases. However, I hope my comments will be thought-provoking and help you choose books to read. Some are clearly public relations books; others are not, but each has implications for public relations practitioners.
© 2005-23 Michael Turney About Michael Turney My other lists of PR books Practicing Public Relations home page


The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

book cover

If your first course in public relations was anything like mine, it stressed the fact that public relations as a profession, and later as an academic discipline, didn't begin to emerge until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century when people like Ivy Ledbetter Lee, George Creel, and, ultimately, Edward L. Bernays came on the scene. They, and a handful of others in this country and in the industrialized nations of Europe, developed business practices and established thinking patterns that helped to define and spread the emerging profession. But, they didn't create it from scratch. They refined it from existing concepts and built it upon practices and tactics of persuasion, sales, marketing, publicity, and press agentry. And, public relations textbooks acknowledge this. They also point out some precursors of public relations who tried to accomplish what were essentially public relations goals centuries before the profession existed.

Among the most-cited precursors are "the Founding Fathers" of the United States who spearheaded the American colonies' push for independence, fought the American Revolution, wrote the U.S. Constitution, and established the American dream. But, few PR texts identify specific "Founding Fathers." One that does is Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice by Baskin, Aronoff & Lattimore; which identifies Samuel Adams and says: "Adams was to the communication dimension of the Revolution what George Washington was to the military dimension. He recognized the value of using symbols that were easily identifiable and aroused emotions... (He also) used slogans that are still remembered, like 'Taxation without representation is tyranny.' " But, that's about as far as they go; little detail and no explanation of how he did it.

And, that's pretty much where things stood for the general reading public until last year when this new book by Stacy Schiff was published.

Its book jacket proclaims it as "A revelatory biography of arguably the most essential Founding Father – the one who stood behind the change in thinking that produced the American Revolution." -- And, at this point, I'm willing to accept that claim. Schiff's research and documentation appear to be excellent and exhaustive, and all her contentions are well-supported and logically developed. She also has a flair for telling the story in an interesting and easy to grasp manner, starting with the very first paragraph.

"Samuel Adams delivered what may count as the most remarkable second act in American life. It was all the more confounding after the first: he was a perfect failure until middle age. He found his footing at forty-one, when, over a dozen years, he proceeded to answer to Thomas Jefferson's description of him as truly the man of the Revolution." [p. 1]

From that starting point, Schiff proceeds through nearly 330 pages describing the last four decades of his life and "his transformation from aimless son of a well-off family to tireless, beguiling radical who mobilized the colonies." [book jacket]

Schiff is also quick to point out that despite his key leadership role and behind the scenes tactical maneuvering, Adams left very little permanent record of his planning, tactics, or personal reflections on what had happened, except for mostly anonymous "letters" he wrote and published in various colonial newspapers. His preference, according to Schiff, was "to fade into the background, to feel the pulses, sound the depths, and act through others." [p. 279] "Mostly he stage-managed, endlessly convening men so as to assign the roles they were to play. He spoke seldom but commanded profound attention when he did, not because he declaimed with force, but because, explained Jefferson, he was so rigorously logical, so clear in his views, abundant in good sense, and master always of his subject."

Elsewhere, she described him as operating "by stealth, melting into committees and crowd actions, pseudonyms and smoky back rooms." And, to emphasize this point, she quoted a light-hearted colleague: " There ought to be a memorial to Samuel Adams in the CIA, quips a modern historian, dubbing him America’s first covert agent." [p. 5]

Assessing his overall contribution to the American Revolution, Schiff described his as "a man who calculated what would be required to upend an empire and who – radicalizing men, women, and children, with boycotts and pickets, street theater, invented traditions, a news service, a bit of character assassination, and any number of innovative, extralegal institutions – led American history’s seminal campaign of civil resistance." Wow!

Surprisingly, much the same assessment of Adams was also delivered by some of his strongest enemies and nemeses who left permanent records of their views of Adams in their diaries, personal letters, and official reports filed to London authorities. One of the most vocal and credible was Thomas Hutchinson who went through several decades of almost daily verbal attacks from Adams while serving first as lieutenant-governor and eventually as governor of the Colony of Massachusetts, positions in which he answered to both King George and the British Parliament.

In addition to being a colonial administrator, Hutchinson was also a respected scholar and wrote a multi-volume history of the Colony of Massachusetts. It includes "capsule biographies of the so-called patriots" of America's Revolution which Schiff summarized as follows: "Samuel Adams was unimpressive... (in person, but) wrote with consummate talent."

Giving the devil his due, Hutchinson continued "but the determined spirit which he showed in the cause of liberty compensated for any number of flaws. It vastly exceeded that of anyone else in the province. Hutchinson deplored his bare-knuckle tactics but acknowledged his powers of persuasion: He made more converts to his cause by calumniating governors, and other servants of the Crown, than by strength of reasoning. He could blacken a character more effectively than anyone Hutchinson had ever met." [p. 194}

And, that thought brings me to the most disturbing and disappointing thing I learned about Samuel Adams. It's pretty baldly stated right on page two, but it's so short and unspecific that its full impact didn't hit me until much later when I was reading the detailed descriptions of how various situations had developed and what the opposing sides had to say about them. Schiff's observation about Adams on page two is: "he was unremittingly pragmatic. Adams saw no reason why high-minded ideals should shy from underhanded tactics."

The question -- What kind of underhanded tactics? -- really didn't occur to me on first reading it. But, by the time I got to reading Thomas Hutchinson's capsule profile of Samuel Adams that said: "Adams seemed to have resolved the eternal Harvard College thesis question about ends justifying means," I knew exactly what he and Schiff meant. [p. 194] Adams had no qualms about playing fast and loose with the truth when doing so would serve his purpose. He would flatly deny facts, or make them up. He would deny his own or other people's actions, and he never hesitated to spread lies that would destroy someone's good reputation.

Yes, Adams was a brilliant propagandist, but so were Machiavelli, Joseph Goebbels, and Mao Tse-tung. I can no longer recommend any of those four as role models for public relations practitioners.


       by Stacy Schiff
       Little, Brown and Company
       New York; 2022

The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History

Lipstick History

The title Red Menace, in and of itself, is a great bit of wordplay and the book deserves recognition for that alone. However, while the phrase may have naturally suited the lexicon of public relations during the nineteenth century American Indian Wars or the Cold War years of the 1940s - 70s, it's a bit over the top as a reference to lipstick and the cosmetics industry.

And, even as I'm saying that, I'll admit that I may be a bit over the top myself to treat this book as if it had any significant relevance to public relations. -- It's certainly not a typical public relations book, and it won't make you a better public relations practitioner. -- But, it's easy and fun to read, and I do think it might give you a few things to think about regarding the public perception of women, women's rights, the nature and meaning of beauty, and the operation and expansion of the cosmetics industry, which is a big user of public relations talent and strategies.

The author herself doesn't make such claims or use those terms in her book, but she does talk plenty about appearances, image, and public acceptance, plus the pivotal role advertising has played in the growth and evolution of cosmetics and what she prefers to call "the beauty industry."

You should also know that she has been a copywriter for several major lines of cosmetics/beauty products in addition to having had articles and freelance writer credits in publications that include The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and The Washington Post. She has also been a sideshow performer and has appeared as part of a Cirque du Soleil troupe.

In the words of the book's dust jacket, "This engaging and entertaining history of lipstick will give readers a new view of the little tube's big place in modern America, from defining the middle class to building Fortune 500 businesses, to being present at Stonewall (the 1969 demonstration/riot that launched the gay rights movement), and being engineered for space travel.

The dust jacket continues: "From the provocative allure of a classic red lip to the powerful statement of drag, the American love affair with lipstick is linked to every aspect of our experience of gender, from venturing into the working world or running for the presidency."

Whoa! That was way too hyped and overly dramatic. But, it's the kind of language that makes this book so much fun to read. So what, if you have to take some of it, like the next quote I cite about lipstick's status at the end of World War II, with more than a grain of salt.

It's from pages 85-88: "Lipstick would emerge from World War II as a true American victory. In challenging its supply, the Axis powers had challenged everything we held dear: glamour, consumerism, abundance, and innovation. By beating the Axis powers back, we reclaimed it all and spread a powerful message globally... The luxury and identity of lipstick as part of the female experience had emerged triumphant and resplendent from the haze of war.

"With World War II fought and won, America would experience both peace and prosperity and the Cold War, which would pit everything capitalism had to offer against the threats (real and perceived) of communism. Lipstick would again find itself enlisted as an emblem and ally of the old red, white, and blue in its fight and would become even more central to American women of every race, class, and creed's sense of self."

Roughly 80 pages later, Carter wrapped up her book and the history of lipstick by saying: "Lipstick can be a small joy... It's a lens for viewing how far we've come and how far we still have to go. It embodies the heritage of the way we talk to women about their value and their wants; the priorities and the boundaries we give to race, class, and gender, and the power of purchase... We have imbued this little object with our big dreams of beauty, visibility, and mobility." (pp. 165-66)

That's why I think it might be a useful book for you to read. It won't give you any tips or tools that will make you a better public relations practitioner, but it might give you a new and different perspective on recent social and cultural history which won't hurt any of us. Besides, it's a quick, easy, and fun read.


       by Ilise S. Carter
       Prometheus Books (imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publ.)
       Lanham, Maryland; 2021

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact


The Power of Moments is a magical and captivating book from its cover illustration of lightning captured in a bottle to its last paragraph: "We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These extraordinary minutes and hours and days -- they are what make life meaningful. -- And they are ours to create." [p. 266] Both are extremely powerful and empowering notions.

After reading and carefully thinking about this book, I now believe that Chip and Dan Heath, the co-authors, have lived up to the hype and have actually delivered on these promises. More importantly, I think they can teach us how to do it, too.

Make no mistake, the Heath brothers are not public relations practitioners. Nor do they claim to teach anything about public relations. They are management consultants and college of business professors. Chip is on the faculty at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; Dan is a senior fellow at Duke University's CASE Center for Social Entrepreneurs. And, they have co-authored five organizational communication books that have made The New York Times best-seller lists.

Nonetheless, just like Made to Stick, another of their best-sellers I previously reviewed, the lessons of The Power of Moments are directly pertinent to public relations. And, also like Made to Stick, it begins with a simple realization that could have been made by anyone of us.

The first chapter, Defining Moments asserts: "We all have defining moments in our lives -- meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory. -- Many of them owe a great deal to chance: A lucky encounter with someone who becomes the love of your life. A new teacher who spots a talent you didn't know you had. A sudden loss that upends the certainties of your life. A realization that you don't want to spend one more day in your job. These moments seem to be the product of fate or luck or maybe a higher power's interventions. We can't control them." [pp. 4-5]

Then they offer an aha moment or turning point when they ask ... "But is that true? Must our defining moments just happen to us?" [p. 5]

The short and simple answers are: No and No. But, that's not the end of the story; just the beginning. The rest of the book helps readers understand what makes a memorable moment a defining moment, explains steps we can take to enrich those unexpected moments we encounter, and suggests ways to create new and special moments for everyone in our lives.

The overriding purpose of the book is wrapped up in a short but powerful paragraph: "Defining moments shape our lives, but we don't have to wait for them to happen. We can be the authors of them. What if a teacher could design a lesson that students were still reflecting on years later? What if managers knew exactly how to turn an employee's moment of failure into a moment of growth? What if you had a better sense of how to create lasting memories for your kids?" [p. 5]

The Power of Moments is nearly perfectly designed as a self-improvement book. It's easy to read if you just want to skim through it and get an overall feel for it and, since it's less than 300 pages, you can get through it pretty quickly. But, if you're a more thoughtful reader and analyze it as you go, it also works. It offers lots of points for self-reflection and suggestions for spinning off personalized scenarios and game plans. It also seems like it would be a great choice for a book club, whether the members discuss it all in one session or work through it section by section over a period of weeks.

However you approach it, I think you'll enjoy The Power of Moments, and I hope you'll be as enriched as I was by the inspirations it plants in your head. It's very nicely written, flows smoothly, and is spiced up by the Heath brothers' sometimes quirky, tongue-in-cheek humor.

Because it's so easy and pleasant to read, I won't recap it in detail. I'd rather that you read it for yourself in its full and original context.

I will, however, tell you that even a routine (but potentially memorable) moment can rise to the level of a "defining moment," something that can shape someone's life for years to come. But, it will only do this if it intrinsically has, or if someone (possibly you) somehow attaches, one or more of the four following traits to it.

  • "ELEVATION -- Defining moments rise above the everyday... To construct elevated moments, we must boost sensory pleasure and, if appropriate, add an element of surprise...
  • "INSIGHT -- Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. In a few seconds or minutes, we realize something that might influence our lives for decades...
  • "PRIDE --Defining moments capture us at our best -- moments of achievement, moments of courage...
  • "CONNECTION -- Defining moments are social... (and) strengthened because we share them with others." [pp. 12-14]

The book has an entire section -- 2-3 chapters each -- devoted to each of these traits or "elements" (the Heath brothers' preferred term). Beyond explaining what these elements are and why they're important, you'll learn how you can attach them to moments to magnify their importance, make them more socially encompassing, more memorable, and, possibly even raise them to the level of defining moments.

You'll also learn to be more alert to and adept at recognizing natural or spontaneous moments, including transitions, milestones, peaks, pits, and surprises, that inherently have a high potential for becoming memorable.

Do yourself a favor: read the book.

The last thing I'll offer as I send you back to your daily routine is a final quote from The Power of Moments. In fact, I'll make it into a personal challenge to you: "Defy the forgettable flatness of everyday work and life by creating a few precious moments." [p. 265]

[9/15/2021; edited: 11/26/2021]    

by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2017

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die


Made to Stick is particularly relevant to public relations practitioners because they spend so much of their professional life, like all communicators, struggling with the challenge of developing and delivering messages that will really hit home and remain fixed in the minds of their audiences. And, occasionally, they'll be faced with the opposite challenge: trying to drive something out of their audience's minds that has already been stuck there by someone else. In either case, they're trying to determine and work with whatever it is that makes ideas stick in people's minds.

Understanding this phenomenon -- why and how it works -- and teaching others about it has been the mission of Chip and Dan Heath, who wrote this book, for more than two decades. In addition to being brothers, they are management consultants and college professors. Chip is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business; Dan is a senior fellow at Duke University's CASE Center for social entrepreneurs. In addition to Made to Stick, they have co-authored five other organizational communication books that been on The New York Times best-seller lists.

Even before you reach the first page, the book's dust jacket highlights the paradox of trying to deal with the concept of stickiness as it applies to ideas: "Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas -- businesspeople, teachers, politicians, journalists, and others -- struggle to make their ideas "stick". Why do some ideas thrive while others die?" Phrased another way: Are ideas born interesting or made interesting?" [p. 5]

To put their work in perspective, you should know that the Heath brothers, particularly Chip who is 10 years older than Dan, were studying and researching these questions even before Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point was published in 2000. But, they became immediate fans of it when they saw how Gladwell's interests aligned with their own. (Personally, I also liked Gladwell's book, but I had previously taken a somewhat narrower view of it and thought of it as primarily focusing on fads and technological innovations.)

More broadly, and more accurately, The Tipping Point dealt with identifying and explaining what makes an idea, or a phrase or slogan, or a phenomenon (including, but not limited to, a new technology) "tip," i.e., to suddenly "explode" and leap from being virtually unknown to being wildly popular and used by everyone. -- In terms of ideas and slogans, think of "Remember the Alamo." or "Hell no! We won't go." or "global warming" or "Black lives matter." In terms of physical objects, think of television in the 1950s, PCs in the 1980s, or smart phones in the 2000s.

According to the second part of Gladwell's book titled "The Stickiness Factor,", one of the reason some things reach a "tipping point" while others don't is their inherent "stickiness." -- How memorable they are and how quickly and accurately people can recall them. -- However, Gladwell himself wasn't concerned about what made these ideas or objects sticky. That issue was beyond the scope of his book. All he wanted his readers to be do was realize that some things were more sticky than others and, therefore, more likely to tip than things which weren't sticky.

In contrast, what made things sticky was then, and still is, the central focus of the Heaths' research and writing. Ironically, though, when The Tipping Point came out, the Heath brothers had not yet started using the term "sticky." But, after reading Gladwell, they acknowledged, applauded, and began citing his 's work. Dan realized "stickiness was the perfect word for the attribute that he was chasing with his research into the marketplace of ideas." [p. 13]

With this new term to guide them, they explored the work of "dozens of folklorists, psychologists, educational researchers, political scientists, and proverb-hunters." [p. 15] What they compiled was a list of six key traits that alone or in combination tend to make ideas "sticky." Although firmly asserting, "There is no formula for a sticky idea -- we don't want to overstate the case," they say having one or more of these traits is likely to make an idea at least somewhat sticky: [pp. 16-18]

  • "Simplicity -- Saying something short is not the mission -- sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.
  • "Unexpectedness -- We can use surprise -- an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus -- to grab people's attention. But surprise doesn't last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.
  • "Concreteness -- We must explain our ideas in terms of human action, in terms of sensory information. ... In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.'
  • "Credibility -- We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves -- 'a try before you buy' philosophy for the world of ideas. Maybe something like President Ronald Reagan's suggestion: 'Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.'
  • "Emotions -- Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.
  • "Stories -- Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively."

The bulk of the book is devoted to fleshing out these six traits, explaining them and citing vivid and wonderful examples. Most are successful examples. There are, however, some very insight examples of attempts at being sticky that went awry or didn't work out quite as they were expected to. There are also discussions of how these traits can interact with one another and/or be influenced by situational circumstances. Many of them are quite notable and have proven that they can stick, at least in my mind.

But, I'm not going to repeat them here. The book itself is easy to read and is also quite well-written, so it deserves to be read in full and in context rather than being over-excerpted here.

I'll also caution you that this book does not offer ready-to-use and easy to apply templates or how-to-do-it checklists, so don't waste your time looking for them. It also won't give you pat answers to your questions. What it will give you is a lot to digest and think about, insights that could help you as you're going about your work as a communicator and public relations practitioner. And, in time, if you keep it in mind and periodically re-examine it, I expect it will ultimately help you be a better, more effective, and more efficient practitioner.

Let me share just one more closing quote with you. "For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it's got to make the audience:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Understand and remember it.
  3. Agree/Believe.
  4. Care.
  5. Be able to act on it.

"This book could have been organized around these five steps, but there's a reason they were reserved for the conclusion. The Curse of Knowledge can render this framework useless." [p. 246]
If you want to learn about the Curse of Knowledge, (The Heath boys always capitalize it "to give it the drama we think it deserves.") read the book. I think you'll find it worthwhile.


by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
       Random House
       New York; 2008

Public Relations Playbook: Your Gold Mine of Insights

Playbook new edition

No longer just for students as
the previous edition (Shown below, not to scale.)
seemed to be.

The Public Relations Playbook has evolved from the book formerly known as The Public Relations Student Playbook, and I'm delighted to see it has adopted this new name. I never thought its value was limited to students, and I didn't like seeing it labeled as if it was meant only for students.

Although The Playbook has a lot to offer students, I think it is even more valuable to relatively inexperienced public relations professionals who are early in their careers. Such young, working practitioners -- particularly those with five years or less of public relations experience who encounter unfamiliar situations they have to immediately address -- are in far more need of quick, easy-to-understand guidance than most student are. They're the ones who will benefit most from having this Playbook available as a desktop reference.

But, regardless of its name and the current status of whomever is using it, this new, 484 page Playbook will be a wide-ranging, extremely useful and insightful tool for any newcomer to public relations work. Compared to the earlier version, it includes 15 completely new chapters, totaling more than 90 pages, in addition to the updates and revisions in other chapters.

Some students and professors may use The Playbook as a "supplementary textbook." That's very appropriate; it's really not comprehensive or detailed enough to serve as a stand-alone textbook. It doesn't, for instance, offer a complete overview of public relations or even of a particular sub-section of the discipline. While it covers a lot of the territory, it does it in a piecemeal fashion rather than following a logical framework. It is, however, a great companion to many of the most popular PR textbooks. It fills in some of the typical gaps in these textbooks and in many class lectures by addressing topics that weren't mentioned at all or were only superficially glossed over. And sometimes, it offers alternate perspectives on topics that may have been covered but adds additional explanation of why a particular strategy or tactic did or didn't work in a given situation. And, sometimes, it lays out step-by-step, how-to instructions readers can apply to their own situations. It also urges readers to reflect on their own experiences and suggests ways of performing a guided self-evaluation.

Other teachers and public relations practitioners may see The Playbook as more of a handbook, guidebook, or deskbook than a textbook. They might even see it as akin to the once-beloved Dartnell's Public Relations Handbook which is now sadly out-of-date and largely useless in today's fast changing world of social media.

Tom Hagley, the author, describes The Playbook as "a collection of teaching points" that students he met during his ten years of teaching college-level public relations said they needed or wanted to learn about. That's why he drew on his 30 years of experience as a public relations professional -- Most notably as vice president and general manager of Hill & Knowlton Public Relations division in Portland, Oregon, as the northwest regional public relations manager for Alcoa, and as the director of public and investor relations for Alumax Inc. (Atlanta). -- to write and publish it.

Tom wrote most of the book himself but collaborated with other experienced professionals as co-authors on a few chapters. (In a spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I collaborated on the chapter about government public relations.) His expressed hope is that the lessons in this book will help "students learn from the School of Experience" represented by him and his collaborators rather than suffering through "the School of Hard Knocks" on their own.

Previously, the book consisted of only three sections. The new, expanded edition has had an additional section inserted.

Part I deals with public relations as a whole. It touches on the underlying purpose, philosophy, history, and current status of the profession. In many ways, -- some subtle; some much more direct -- it encourages readers to ask themselves if public relations is really the most appropriate and most suitable career choice for them.

Part II is less conceptual and more concerned with helping aspiring practitioners successfully complete their public relations studies and move into and through their first few entry-level positions. If you're one of them, it can help you assess yourself and your professional performance so you present yourself in the best possible light to supervisors and prospective employers. Even more important, it will encourage you to be honest with yourself about your professional development. The author wants you to view the book as "a companion" that you keep close by when you're dealing with public relations matters, especially "when you are deep in thought about a situation, an action, a difficult decision, a worrisome or burdensome challenge," or feel that you need to be nudged forward.

Part III which is called "Professor Candello Interviews" is the new section added in this edition. It encompasses 12 of the 15 new chapters mentioned earlier. Each one is a transcript of a "magazine-style interview" Dr. Candello of Arizona State University conducted with the author in front of an audience of college students. The eclectic topics they discussed were specifically chosen to meet the needs and interests of those particular students and ran the gamut from issue management to artificial intelligence, measurable results to budgets and billing, and online community engagement, with several others sandwiched in between.

Part IV, however, is the longest section. It's also my personal favorite because it's the most nitty-gritty part of the book. It deals with the day-to-day realities and tactics of performing public relations for different types of organizations -- non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions as well as profit-centered businesses -- in a variety of different settings. It also explains how to develop a public relations strategic plan from doing the initial research and establishing a network of contacts, through writing and producing various types of projects. It also offers tips for dealing with crisis situations. And, through it all, it stresses the need to develop your own personal and professional relationships at the same time you're working to enhance your employer and/or your client's relationships.

Speaking as a retired professor and a former public relations practitioner, myself, I think The Public Relations Playbook is a wonderful resource with a wealth of helpful information and perspective for beginning public relations practitioners, and I thank Tom Hagley for all the time, hard work, and heart and soul he's put into publishing it.

My only criticism remains its current lack of an index. -- Although, Tom has assured me the next edition will have one. -- In the meantime, without an index, readers are somewhat in the dark about which topics, tools, people, and incidents are actually discussed in the book and which aren't. Short of reading the book cover to cover, their only clues come from skimming the table of contents and, with 83 chapters, that's neither quick nor easy. In fact, it's rather frustrating given the obliqueness of some of the chapter titles. Some are pretty straight-forward and clearly reveal what the chapter is about, e.g., Chapter 41. Preparing to write a public relations plan or Chapter 50. Improve your public relations writing in 16 controllable ways. Others aren't. Chapter 18. Shape your character by design and Chapter 78. Think of donors as 'lost patrons,' for instance, are a bit vague. And, still others seem to be more intent on being cute than being informative, e.g., Chapter 23. Shud job inerviews inclood spelling tests? and Chapter 59. 'Supreme' lesson in writing testimony.

Note that I'm not complaining about the content of these chapters, or any of the others, for that matter. -- Most of the chapters are actually quite good and include relevant, informative, and well-written information. Some are exceptionally well-done. -- It's just that some of their titles make it difficult to know what's included in them. and in the book as a whole, without reading the book from cover to cover.

However, that may not be a bad thing to do. -- There's a lot of worthwhile information to be found in it.

[revised, based on the new edition: 4/15/2021]    

by Tom Hagley Sr.
       Independently Published
       Available on Amazon.com; starting Feb. 2021

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984


George Orwell's novel 1984 is not a public relations book in any way, so reading it will not make you a more effective public relations practitioner. However, using it as a blueprint, as some recent White House communicators did, will make you a horrible public relations practitioner. That's what makes it an appropriate topic here on this website.

It's now been a few years since I posted on the homepage of this site that 1984 was no longer merely a fictional threat. It was a living, breathing threat to Americans because President Trump's White House minions, especially the communication staff headed by Kellyanne Conway and ineptly abetted by co-conspirators Sean Spicer and sarah Huckabee Sanders, seemed to have adopted the entire playbook of 1984's Ministry of Truth as their operations guide. That assessment seems as true today as it was then.

The Ministry of Truth is the fictitious government agency that loomed throughout 1984, providing information to all the newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programs, and other media outlets helping Big Brother and his party of true believers stay in power. Among the Ministry's most well-know slogans were:

  • "War is peace."
  •  "Freedom is slavery." and
  •  "Ignorance is strength."

In the real world of Washington, D.C. from Inauguration Day 2017 through January 2021, President Trump's White House staff brought 1984 to life and blithely bombarded us with "alternative facts" that had no basis in reality and no evidence to support them. Like the three statements above, many of them were demonstrably false oxymorons. But, President Trump wanted us to automatically accept and believe them whether he personally spoke or tweeted them or had his minions do it for him.

Sadly, his "true believers" swallowed, echoed, and supported whatever he said without regard for truth, verification, ethical standards, or human decency. And, many of these utterances precisely fit Orwell's definition of "doublespeak." It's mildly disturbing to read such things in a novel, but it was downright appalling and frightening to hear them come from the President of the United States, his staff, and his followers.

It was against this background that I became aware of Dorian Lynskey's book. Its subtitle, "The Biography of George Orwell's 1984" was particularly intriguing. It's not a biography of Orwell; it's a biography of the book he wrote. -- What an interesting concept!

According to the book jacket, Lynskey addresses 1984's "literary sources, its composition by Orwell, its deep and lasting effect on the Cold War, and its vast influence throughout world culture at every level." That's a lot to cover but, after reading it, I'm convinced Lynskey did just that. And, it's fascinating!

"Nineteen Eighty-Four has not just sold tens of millions of copies; it has infiltrated the consciousness of countless people who have never read it. The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth. ... No work of literary fiction from the past century approaches its cultural ubiquity while retaining its weight." [p. xiv]

Like most American baby-boomers who grew up during the Cold War, my first exposure to 1984 was in high school. And, like most of my generation, I was quick to accept that it was meant to be a cautionary tale about the horrendous fate that might befall us if the Soviet Union became the dominant world power. -- A false but very wide-spread belief that remains popular today. -- However, when I studied 1984 once again in graduate school, I came to realize that Orwell was not warning us of a Soviet threat. He was a life-long Socialist and a dedicated anti-Fascist who feared that even democracies could be transformed into totalitarian states. Indeed, this is one of the central themes of Lynskey's book. He introduces it by quoting one of Orwell's personal letters: "Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it." [p. 19]

"Orwell didn’t say much about Nineteen Eighty-Four, but what he did say, very firmly, was that it was not a prophecy. A satire, a parody and a warning, yes, but not that." He also said: "I do not believe that the kind of society which I described necessarily will arrive, but I believe ... that something resembling it could arrive." [p. 234]

In addition to summarizing what Orwell wrote and thought, Lynskey describes his life experiences that included being a tramp in England, a dish-washer in Paris, a journalist and war correspondent, a book reviewer and commentator for the BBC, a revolutionary freedom fighter during the Spanish Civil War, and a successful best-selling author and public speaker. Lynskey carefully describes each of these experiences, sometimes in greater detail than is actually needed, and then explains how each of them shaped and infused Orwell's writing.

For example, Lynskey admits, "It is unclear whether Orwell went to Spain to fight and ended up writing as well, or vice versa." One elderly Spaniard Lynskey interviewed "remembered Orwell walking into his office and declaring, 'I have come to Spain to join the militia to fight against Fascism.' But, in Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s finest non-fiction book, Orwell suggests that the journalism came first. Either way, within only a few days he had decided to do both." [p. 12]

Equally important, Lynskey provides a literary context for 1984 by tracing the evolution of previous utopian and dystopian novels as well as citing other best-sellers that were popular when Orwell was writing. He also gave a lot of attention to H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, both of whom heavily influenced Orwell, not just because they were successful writers but because they were his personal friends as well.

Lynskey's discussion of Huxley's Brave New World is particularly interesting. "Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are awkward literary twins. Most readers discover them around the same age, in a kind of two-for-one deal on classic dystopias, and therefore see them as rival prophecies, as if both authors were, at the same point in time, given the same brief to predict the future, and now we have to decide which was the more accurate. Pleasure or punishment? Sex or death? A hit of soma or a boot in the face? Who got it right?" [p. 74]

"Orwell admired Brave New World, up to a point. He had fond memories of being taught by Huxley at Eton in 1918... But as someone who was fearful of pain and suspicious of pleasure, he was unconvinced by Brave New World’s tyranny of gratification... So both writers found each other’s version of a bleak future implausible. The similarities are negligible, the differences profound, but the two books do overlap in one area: the status of the proles." [p. 76]

In wrapping up his book, Lynskey observed: "Nineteen Eighty-Four is about many things, and its readers’ concerns dictate which one is paramount at any point in history. During the cold war, it was a book about totalitarianism. In the 1980s, it became a warning about invasive technology. Today, it is most of all a defence of truth." [p. 265]

"Nineteen Eighty-Four remains the book we turn to when truth is mutilated, language is distorted, power is abused, and we want to know how bad things can get." [p. xiii]

I've often recommended 1984 as an absolute must-read for any thoughtful adult. From this point on, I'm also going to recommend Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth as an ideal companion piece to provide context and assessment for 1984. It's an insightful and thought-provoking read.

[2/13/2020; rev'd: 5/1/2021]    

by Dorian Lynskey
       New York; 2019

Barnum: An American Life


As much as some contemporary public relations practitioners would like to, Phineas Taylor Barnum -- more often referred to as P. T. Barnum -- cannot be ignored or down-played in the history of public relations or, for that matter, in the history of the United States. He was one of the richest and best known Americans of the second half of the 19th century.

According to Robert Wilson, this book's author, "Americans often saw him (Barnum) as an exemplar of what it meant to be one of them, and the Europeans he encountered on his many trips abroard also saw him as a representative of the American character... Through hard work, a lot of brass, and a genius for exploiting the new technologies related to communication and transportation, he became world famous and wealthy beyond his dreams." [p. 7]

This book isn't the first, or even the second, third, or fourth, biography of Barnum. There have been dozens of them, as well as three autobiographies. Barnum wrote the first one when he was only 44 years old. He wrote the second, a greatly expanded version, 14 years later. The third, a more legacy-minded version written just two years before his death, includes an appended final chapter written by his widow.

So, you might ask, is this book even necessary? -- Wilson apparently asked the same question and was answered by another Barnum scholar and author, Neil Harris who wrote a 1973 book entitled Humbug. Its focus wasn't limited to Barnum but offered a much broader view of social and cultural history. Harris told Wilson: "Each generation seems to need its own new take on Barnum" to match the shifting perspectives and values that are apart of its new age. [p. 288]

What's different about Wilson's book? -- First, it's much more balanced than many of the earlier books about Barnum. It's not a paean of praise from an idolizing fan of Barnum. Nor is it a vitriolic rant spewing from a rabid critic. Like me, Wilson apparently believed there were already too many of these extreme treatments and that someone needed to counteract or at least moderate the predominantly negative light that's been cast on Barnum in recent decades. His introduction to the book says: "We live in an ahistorical age, one that is quick to condemn historical figures using the standards of the present. We too easily dismiss them for their worst qualities even if they are counterbalanced or even heavily outweighed by their best qualities. Barnum's reputation today has fallen so far that his name often evokes comparisons to scoundrels... But this doesn't do justice to the full story of who he was." [pp. 7-8] This book seems intent on restoring some of that balance and presenting a more complete picture of Phineas Taylor Barnum.

Barnum was born in 1810. By the mid-1840s, he had made himself nationally and internationally known. And, he remained constantly in the public spotlight as a business man, author, public speaker, and civic activist until he died in 1891. His best-known and longest-lasting legacy was the Barnum and Bailey Circus which he dubbed "The Greatest Show on Earth." Although he died only a decade after it began touring, the circus continued to flourish long after his death. In 1919, it was merged into The Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus and continued to tour the United States every year until 2017.

But, the circus wasn't Barnum's only claim to fame. Decades before founding his circus, Barnum was established as one of the greatest showmen and entertainment promoters of all time. He achieved this prominence by making international celebrities of Tom Thumb, a young boy he passed off as a sophisticated adult "little person;" Jenny Lind, an opera singer he brought to worldwide fame as the Swedish Nightingale; Joice Heth whom he touted as George Washington's 160-year old nanny; Mme Josephine Clofullia, a bearded lady who eventually went to court to prove she wasn't a man; and Chang and Eng, a pair of adult conjoined Siamese twins. He also turned numerous non-humans into celebrities, including Jumbo the Elephant whom he imported from the London Zoo despite Queen Victoria's objections; the "Feejee Mermaid," a desiccated, semi-mummified corpse he claimed had been a beautiful, full-breasted mermaid but which looked like a monkey head and torso sewn onto the lower-half of a large fish; and hundreds of exotic living animals he had collected and shipped to the U.S. from all over the world.

There was no denying the reality of his American Museum or of Madison Square Garden or of his exotic animals or of performers like Jenny Lind, but many of the other attractions he promoted and exhibited were, by his own admission, "humbugs," objects that weren't quite what they were advertised as being. -- For instance, most patrons quickly realized the Fejee Mermaid wasn't really an actual mermaid and that Joice Heth wasn't really 160 years old. Some, in fact, even came back to see them again after figuring out they were fakes.

Even when he was promoting such things and trying to sell tickets, Barnum sometimes called himself "the Prince of Humbugs" and admitted that he sometimes resorted to "mildly deceitful ways" of getting people into his shows. But, he said, and apparently believed, that such "humbuggery" -- stunts, schemes, and performances that fooled thousands of people and helped him earn tens of thousands of dollars -- was all in good fun. The outlandish claims he made were, he said, completely tongue-in-cheek and meant to entertain the public. And, perhaps surprisingly when looked at from today's vantage point, most of the people who paid to see these shows agreed with him. They said Barnum's humbugs were so much fun that it was worth paying the admission price to see them.

Barnum's critcs, however, -- And, there were many. -- called these activities fraud or hoaxes and bitterly condemned Barnum for perpetrating them.

No one, however, denied his ability to attract audiences, to stage spectacular events, or to turn a previously-unknown person into a celebrity. And, for decades after his death, well into the 20th century, that's how he was remembered by both the general public and the public relations profession.

But, in the 1970s and `80s when political correctness began to assert itself and public relations practitioners became overly concerned with their professional image, they began looking more and more askance at P.T. Barnum and tried to distance themselves and their profession from him. Largely because of the assertion "There's a sucker born every minute," a statement attributed to Barnum but which there is no evidence he ever said, he was retroactively made an outcast and no longer recognized for his contributions to the emergence of public relations as a profession.

Wilson explains: "The cynical saying implies that he was no better than a huckster, whose chief goal was using fast talk to trick people out of their money while giving them nothing in return... but no evidence exists that he ever wrote or spoke them. What's worse, they utterly misrepresent the man as he really was." [p. 3]

If you want to know more about the man that P.T. Barnum really was, -- And, if you're a public relations practitioner, I think you should want to know this. -- I urge you to read this book for yourself. It is a well-balanced biography that reveals a full-picture of the subject, his warts as well as his beaming smile and his missteps and shortcomings as well as his accomplishments. It also includes information that was only recently uncovered about Barnum's second marriage, about his political career that included being defeated by his cousin (also named Barnum)in an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives, and the philanthropic bequests he made in his will. It has clearly displaced The Fabulous Showman: The Life and Times of P.T. Barnum by Irving Wallace that had previously been my favorite biography of Barnum and the inspiration for Barnum, the 1986 movie starring Burt Lancaster.

Wilson, the author of this biography, is editor of The American Scholar magazine and a former book editor and columnist for USA Today. He has also written biographies of Mathew Brady, the Civil War era photographer, and Clarence King, the first director of the United States Geological Survey.


by Robert Wilson
       Simon & Schuster
       New York & London; 2019

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media


Given the plethora of articles in public relations, business, as well as popular magazines and blogs that talk about the need to master social media if you want to stay in touch with your friends, customers and the public, I couldn't ignore a book titled LikeWar that focused on the "weaponization" of social media. So, I immediately got hold of a copy and began reading it.

Now that I have read it, I'm conflicted. Part of me is glad I read it. At the same time, I can't get LikeWar out of my mind, and much of what it says is very distressing. Make no mistake, I now have a much better understanding of social media and their ramifications. Regrettably, this knowledge now makes today's world of social media seem a much scarier and more dangerous place than I previously believed it to be.

This should not be interpretted as a criticism of the book. -- That would be too much like killing the messenger. -- LikeWar is a critically important and wonderfully written book. It's well-researched and highly documented. It is also very readable. Even more critical given its over-arching theme, it is not one-sided; it is well-balanced and thoughtfully presents a wide range of differing personal and political viewpoints, a balance that is necessary to accurately assess social media.

Social media are neither one-dimensional, nor all-good, nor all-bad. These assertions are true in terms of both how they operate and in terms of their impact on individual users and on society as a whole. They are high-tech communication tools that enhance our abilities to interact with other people and, like all other communication tools, they can be used for good or ill. And, they can have a wide-range of widely varying effects.

Social media have brought a wealth of important and useful information to us in a timely and inexpensive way. They have also allowed all manner of people to interact with one another in ways that had previously been nearly-impossible or extremely difficult and/or incredibly expensive. They have brought many blessings of technology to us and, hopefully, will bring even more in the future. At the same time, they are a curse. They can quickly and easily spread false information (fake news), plant doubts, create suspicion, destroy reputations, and spark angry and violent reactions that could incite riots, wars, suicides, and other destructive behavior.

It's not a stretch to think of them as a genii that's gotten out of its bottle and is running amok, or, even more fatalistically, as a Pandora's box that is now fully opened.

As Singer and Brooking see it: "Those who can manipulate this swirling tide (social media), to steer its direction and flow, can accomplish incredible good. They can free people, expose crimes, save lives, and seed far-reaching reforms. But they can also accomplish astonishing evil. They can foment violence, stoke hate, sow falsehoods, incite wars, and even erode the pillars of democracy itself." [p. 23]

"Through the weaponization of social media, the internet is changing war and politics," the book's jacket proclaims. "Terrorists livestream their attacks. Twitter wars produce real-world casualties, and viral disinformation alters not just the flow of battles, but the very fate of nations. ... war, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battlespace that plays out on our smartphones."

And, it is not just happening in America. Numerous conflicts of varying intensity and body-counts have used social media as weapons all around the world in the last two decades.

One of the bloodiest was a 2014 campaign in northern Iraq launched by ISIS. "Far from keeping their operations a secret," which would have been a traditional military strategy, ISIS "... made sure everyone knew about it. There was a choreographed social media campaign to promote it, organized by die-hard fans and amplified by an army of Twitter bots. They posted selfies of black-clad militants and Instagram images of convoys that looked like Mad Max come to life. There was even a smartphone app, created so jihadi fans following along at home could link their social media accounts in solidarity, boosting the invaders' messages even further." [pp. 4-5]

Other countries have also been affected. The Arab Spring uprisings that spread through several middle-eastern nations in 2011 were probably the widest-reaching. "The deadliest Indian terror attack in a generation" occurred in Mumbai in 2006. The Rohingya people faced genocide in Myanmar. And, even though the body count wasn't as high, don't forget the violent responses of both the supporters and opponents of Rodrigo Duterte during his presidential campaign and election in the Philippines in 2016. All were fed and spread by widespread use of social media.[p. 62]

So was "what became known as financial jihad." It wasn't just an effort to spark anger or get people motivated to go out into the streets; it was pure and simple fund-raising to benefit terrorism. "Much as you might sponsor your cousin's 'fun run' to fight cancer, you couild sponsor a rocket-propelled launcher for a Syrian rebel (It cost $800.). Or you could back the rebels' opponents. Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored terror group that allied with the Syrian regime, ran an 'equip a mujahid' campaign on Facebook and Twitter." [p. 65]

Closer to home for Americans, gang violence in many cities has taken on a new dimension since the spread of smartphones. "Chicago has famously become the epicenter of a new kind of battle that we would call 'war' in any other nation," according to Singer and Brooking. "More people were killed by gang violence in 2017 in Chicago than in all U.S. special operations forces across a decade's worth of fighting in Iraq and then Syria. At the center of the strife is social media. ... Much of this violence starts with gangs' use of social media to 'cybertag' and 'cyberbang.' ... These online skirmishes escalate quickly... and not just in killings; 80 percent of the fights that break out in Chicago schools are now instigated online." [pp. 12-13]

And, let's not forget the intense, near-rabid reactions, both pro and con, to President Trump's use of Twitter. His social media efforts "to rebrand himself and then win the White House was not just a marketing or political campaign; it was also a globe-spanning information conflict fought by hundred of millions of people across dozens of social media platforms." [p. 4]

All of this, but especially the Trump impact, should have taught us something and alerted us to the danger. But, "the American election system remains remarkably vulnerable, not merely to hacking of the voting booth, but also to the foreign manipulation of U.S. voters, political dialogue, and beliefs. Ironically, although the United States has contributed millions of dollars to help nations like Ukraine safeguard their citizens against these new threats, political paralysis has prevented the U.S. government from taking meaningful steps to innoculate its own population." [p. 264]

The book's threatening conclusion is: "Until this (social media interference in our election process) is reframed as a nonpartisan issue ... the United States will remain at grave risk." [p. 264] This should scare every one of us. We can no longer take social media for granted or ignore their effects and their power.

I urge you to read this book carefully and critically and then tell other people about it.

[revd. 7/04/2019]    

by P.W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking
       Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
       New York & Boston; 2018
These two books can help you assess how much folklore and how much public relations went into developing many of our current Christmas traditions.

The Battle for Christmas    &
Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be

Battle book cover

How do you view Christmas traditions? -- Most people seem to hold one of two divergent views of Christmas "customs" like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, caroling, and miniature replicas of Christ's nativity scene. Some sentimentally revere them as long-standing, perhaps even ancient, traditions that are rooted in religion, family values, and national or ethnic culture. Others, often claiming to be pragmatists, sneer at these so-called traditions and characterize them as manipulative commercialism that is being foisted upon us by greedy merchants who are trying to encourage us to buy extravagant Christmas gifts for one another. The truth probably lies somewhere between these extremes.

For starters, many Christmas traditions are neither as ancient nor as deeply rooted in folklore and religion as we were led to believe. A great many of them date to the second-half of the 19th or early 20th century. Additionally, there is no doubt that a number of the more-recent "traditions" have at least been commercially exploited by advertisers and public relations practitioners if not wholly concocted by them.

If you're still in doubt and are trying to figure out where you stand on these issues, one or both of these books may help. Each, in its own way, offers a thoughtful perspective on Christmas traditions and celebrations. Elliott's book is the more humanist and nostalgic of the two. Nissenbaum's is the more analytic and scholarly.

Nissenbaum's book is predominantly text and approaches everything in much more depth and detail than Elliott's. It is, by far, the more serious of the two and the one you'll want to read if you're interested in doing serious research. It's definitely scholarly and was very well-researched and documented. And, it apparently expects readers to approach it seriously and studiously as well. It thoroughly and carefully explores each topic it tackles. -- Perhaps, a little too thoroughly at time. In some places, it becomes rather slow-going and almost ponderous. -- And, it includes very few illustrations.

by Stephen Nissenbaum
       Vintage Books (Knopf Doubleday Publishing).
       New York; 1997

Unlike Nissenbaum's book which is meant to be studied with care and will probably only be read once, Elliott's book is truly a "coffee table book." It's over-sized, has glossy pages, loads of great illustrations, and a limited amount of text. That makes it much easier and more fun to read, which is what most people expect of a good "coffee table book."

This one can be brought out at Christmas each year and prominently displayed where family and visitors can casually thumb through it, reading tid-bits on a hit-or-miss basis. It offers an overview of Christmas traditions rather than an in-depth exploration and history of them. In short, it's more family-friendly than pedantic.

It's also important to understand that neither of these authors is particularly interested in the role of public relations in developing of Christmas traditions. Neither offers any step-by-step analysis of what or why various public relations or advertising practitioners did, but there are plenty of public relations insights if you look for them.

These books have been around for about two decades and have stood the test of time and the challenges of their critics. They remain popular and respected resources and are definitely worth reading.


by Jock Elliott
       Harry N. Abrams:
       New York; 2002

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself while the Rest of Us Die


If Donald Trump wasn't in the White House, this might be the hottest book in Washington and the one most likely to shape a re-examination of America's commitment to itself and to the future. Alas, the revelations and scary implications that Raven Rock reveals have been largely overshadowed by the drama and horrors now playing out in the Trump presidency.

Let me confess: this is not a book about public relations. That's not why I've included it here. It is, however, a book that I think is important enough for every citizen, including public relations practitioners, to read and think about. Its topic and circumstances affect every one of us and could ultimately affect what kind of future we and our children may have. For this reason, I think the public relations practitioners among us should get busy getting the word out and helping the government to present these issues for everyone's consideration.

Graff's story begins in the aftermath of World War II, soon after the genii of atomic weapons had been released from the bottle. Almost immediately dire predictions began and doomsday scenarios became a recurring nightmare. Along with them came the hopeful, and possibly hopelessly naive, believers in survivable nuclear war who touted fallout shelters and made plans for the continuity of government.

Such planning eventually took on a life of its own, and Graff's book summarizes much of it. Secret bunkers were built hundereds of feet underground and scattered throughout the country. Classified evacuation plans were drawn up to whisk hundreds of irreplaceable bureaucrats safely out of harm's way. Stockpiles of food, gas, water, and weapons were cached. A shadow government of business executives were recruited to step in and run government agencies whose leadership was lost during a sneak attack. Emergency presidential executive orders were pre-written as was draft legislation for a new Defense Resources Act "that laid out an entrely new structure and entirely new rules for how the government would function during a national emergency -- effectively suspending the Constitution and Bill of Rights." (p. xix)

Looked at in retrospect, the threat of atomic war launched an incredible litany of policies, programs, expenditures, and deceptions of the American people. Surprisingly, they didn't lessen any when the tensions of the Cold War eased and the threat of nuclear annihilation became less of an every day threat. In fact, justified by the war on terrorism and fueled by deep-seated suspicions, expanded plans and programs for ensuring the continuity of government (COG) further accelerated.

"Even as the nation's nuclear weapons seemed to rust, emotional traits from the Cold War had clearly made the leap to American life post-9/11. The ethos of the disproportionate response -- the same mentality that led superpowers to stockpile tens of thousands of nuclear warheads -- led to a period of fifteen years in which counterterrorism and homeland security spending dwarfed all other government investments, militarized local police departments, and turned airline travel into a security nightmare. But the most enduring artifact of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race seems to be the era's broad paranoia -- the fear that the American way of life could be wiped off the face of the earth in a moment." (p. 393)

Reading about that mindset didn't surprise me. -- It scares the shit out of me. -- But, it wasn't surprising to read about it. I've been informally encountering it on the streets and among people I talk with for more than a decade now.

I was, however, stunned to learn the extent and magnitude of official COG programs. I first learned of and studied the concept of continuity of governance decades ago and, because of a somewhat high-profile state government communication job, had even been briefed on some limited, operational aspects of it. But, I had no idea how huge and extensive these projects had become until I read Raven Rock. What I learned in this book, took my breath away and continues to deeply disturb me.

I'm still trying to come to grips with it all, and I certainly have no clear ideas of what needs to be done about it. I just know that we,the American people, can no longer push these concerns into a deep, dark closet, pour inordinate amounts of money on them, mask them with secrecy, and blindly trust that everything will work out for the best. It's time for us to wake up, open our eyes, and take responsibility for America's future by bringing continuity of governance discussions out into the open.

Right now, I urge you to get hold of this book, read it carefully and critically, and tell other people about it.


by Garrett M. Graff
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2017

Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon


The first lesson this book taught me was just how little I had actually known about Florence Nightingale and how much I had been influenced by the beatified image of her that has been projected by her fans and by the nursing profession. -- Shame on me!  I'd been a victim of misleading public relations. -- This is undoubtedly a very informative, well-written, and thoroughly documented book, but it did disappoint me on two different levels.

First, and most disheartening, was how drastically it changed my view of Florence Nightingale. It completely knocked her off the pedestal I had placed her on in my mind. I previously viewed her as a "ministering angel" who nursed wounded soldiers. Now, I can't help but see her as a haughty, domineering, upper-crust British bitch trying to make a name for herself as a great medical administrator/dictator and insisting that everything be done her way.

Bostridge makes it blatantly clear that Nightingale never really wanted to be a nurse to care for patients; she wanted to be a hospital administrator who directed a corps of nurses. Among the many sources he cites to support this view is Laurence Housman's 1932 classic The Great Victorians which included a chapter on Nightingale, but not for having a caring or nurturing spirit. Housman first observed: "It was inevitable that Florence Nightingale ... should be hailed as an Angel of Mercy. But," he then continued, "had she been asked to choose her own motto, it would not have been 'Blessed are the merciful' ... but far more probably, 'Blessed are the masterful, for they shall have mastery.'" (p. 521)

My second disappointment was probably due to misreading the cover of the book. Being public relations-oriented, I interpreted the subtitle, "The Making of an Icon," as promising an explanation of how Nightingale's image and reputation were created, presented, and preserved over the the decades. But, that was never the author's intention. His goal was simply to write a comprehensive biography of Nightingale, looking back from the perspective of 100 years after her death. And, he did it quite well, but that's not what I was looking for when I picked up his book.

I don't mean to suggest that Bostridge ignored Nightingale's image and reputation; he didn't. The book talks about them, especially the iconic 1855 newspaper illustration of Nightingale as "the lady with the lamp." However, his treatment is more like a reminiscence or sharing of anecdotes rather than an analytic assessment of a public relations phenomenon.

That illustration was first published in the Illustrated London News in February 1855 in the midst of Nightingale's service during the Crimean War. However, neither the illustration nor the article it accompanied were intended to feature or promote Nightingale. She wasn't the focus of the story; it was a general discussion of hospitals in the war zone. And, the illustration was purely incidental as far as the editor was concerned. It wasn't signed, and neither the staff artist who drew it nor the engraver were identified. But, something about that illustration struck a chord with those who saw it. Today, we'd say: it went viral. Almost immediately, other newspapers and magazines began reprinting it. Within weeks, prints suitable for framing were being produced and sold throughout England. Almost as quickly, poems and songs were written and published about Florence being "the lady with the lamp." And, as you can see to the left, it was still being reprinted on the cover of books more than 150 years later. It is the iconic image of Florence Nightingale still recognized around the world today.

From a purely public relations perspective, the last chapter of the book is by far the most useful. It centers on how she has been viewed in the years since her death in 1910 and focuses on her image and how she's been perceived rather than on her specific actions. Entitled "A Hard Nut to Crack," its central theme is the difficulty of fully understanding Nightingale even after more than a hundred years of analysis, interpretation, and scores of biographies. According to Bostridge, "The pendulum has continued to swing backwards and forwards between the reductive extremes of saint and sinner," (p. 541) with some biographers praising her as a saint while others paint her as a self-absorbed tyrant or worse. In his eyes, both approaches are wrong; each of them "grossly oversimplifies, and sometimes obscures, a complex historical reality." (p. xxi)

"But," Bostridge concluded, "the legend goes on drawing us in, more than 150 years after it first captured the imagination of the world." (p. 545)

If you want to learn more about Florence Nightingale, this 650+ page biography could be appealing. But, if what you really want to know about is image-making or other aspects of public relations, skip this book. The few insights you might glean from it aren't worth the extensive and extraneous reading you'd have to do. There are other much better books that focus specifically on these topics.


by Mark Bostridge
       Farrar, Straus and Giroux
       New York; 2008

Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters' Eyes


Primarily focused on art history and revolutionary politics, this book offers valuable insights into many dimensions of public relations during the American Revolution -- the one in the late 18th century, not the current one. -- Remember: that political movement and the colonies' subsequent break-away from England was a landmark in public relations pre-history, the era before public relations emerged as a profession or even an intellectual discipline. -- It was, however, a time when progressive American communicators frequently used strategies and techniques that today would be called "public relations."

Admittedly, the author never talks about "public relations," nor does he claim to have any public relations expertise. But, he writes extensively about image-making, uniting people with images, conflicting political perspectives, and the artist's (communicator's) need to accommodate and accept the consequences of any differences between his/her personal thoughts and actions and the needs, interests, and demands of his/her patron (client).

This author would certainly agree with Andrew Schocket, author of Fighting over the Founders (see below) who cautioned us to "be mindful when we see the Revolution and its many figures ... because each time we encounter it, we are encountering a bid for political and cultural legitimacy."

In this book, the emphasis is on five of America's greatest painters: Charles Willson Peale, John Copley, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart. All five were originally loyal British subjects. West, for instance, "spent more than a decade in the eminent post of court painter to King George III, who was both his friend and benefactor." (p. 63) But, all of them ultimately switched their allegiance to the revolutionary colonies that ultimately became the United States.

As Straiti explains, these painters "breathed visual life into historical events and figures, and over the centuries their images have become our indispensable icons, the American equivalents of what the Iliad and the Aenid meant to the ancient Greeks and Romans. We have come to believe in them and what they say about the Revolution and the Founders. They serve us as both historical documents and compelling mythology." (p. 10)

The public relations impact of these painters and their work on the fledgling United States was to promote a "shared national identity during an anxious moment of transition when political factions and public rancor threatened to break up the new political union. They helped steady the still-rocky United States by being an unwavering signpost for all the Americans perplexed by, and often resistant to, the urgent demands of a federal government that requested they set aside their entrenched local allegiances, or at least unlock regional identities enough to allow a sense of national purpose to enter their minds and hearts." (p. 238)

"Indeed," Straiti asserts, "even today our collective understanding of what America′s origins look like is still largely dependent on these five artists and their images." (p. 8)

And, their work was approved and appreciated by key members of the federal administration. President Washington, for instance, "understood that the arts were integral to his long-term project of reputation building." (p. 257) And Jefferson, who became our third President, believed "the point of a good painting was to stimulate strong sentiment ... to the awesome task of arousing patriotic feelings of viewers and of coaxing them to collectively imagine the dream that was American independence." (p. 289)

I've long known about and appreciated the public relations work of Revolutionary pamphleteers like Thomas Paine, speakers like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, printers like James Franklin, demonstrators like the Sons of Liberty, and numerous other Founding Fathers. But, I'm almost ashamed to admit I hadn't known about the painters of the Revolution and their contributions until now. But, now that I do know, I'm glad. I'm also impressed with this book and highly recommend it.


by Paul Staiti
       Bloomsbury Press
       New York; 2016

Fighting over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution



Like several of my other recent reads, this book wasn't meant to be about public relations. -- It addresses history, ideology, and contemporary political discourse. -- However, it can offer public relations practitioners marvellous insights into how politicians, jurists, legal scholars, and angry citizens "spin" the American Revolution and the alleged statements of its key players to justify their own current thinking and behavior. Many of them may not recognize it as such, or be willing to admit what they're doing, but it is clearly image-making and branding. And, it's an ongoing process.

Thus, the author cautions us to "be mindful when we see the Revolution and its many figures in so many facets of our lives because each time we encounter it, we are encountering a bid for political and cultural legitimacy." (p. 206) And, such appeals can exert a very powerful pull on many Americans.

The critical questions are: who's doing the pulling and to where are they trying to pull us when they talk about the Founding Fathers or the American Revolution. "Republicans use it one way in speeches, Democrats another... To show where they stand on pressing political issues, entire social movements (e.g., the Tea Party) name themselves after particular groups of Revolutionaries or Revolutionary-era events." (pp. 2-3)

The author admits his book "is not meant to be the definitive statement on our contested memory of the American Revolution but rather a call for more explicit, conscious understanding ... of the ways that we use those memories and the stakes involved." (p. 201) His goal is to ensure that we are "informed rather than manipulated by those who use the Revolution for their own purposes." (p. 206)

The bulk of the book walks readers through varying interpretations of, not only the Revolution, but history generally as they range along a continuum from essentialist views to organicist views. Essentialists look at history as if "there is a definitive past, a real past, an unchanging past we can study for guidance, wisdom, and understanding." (p. 25) In contrast, organicists look at history as "more ambiguous, more open to interpretation, and something to improve upon." (p. 33) When it comes to the Revolution, organicists try "to discern the broader promises of the American Revolution and find ways to realize those promises for Americans" of today even when it entails technology, social issues, or rights that weren't conceived at the time of the Revolution. (p. 33) It's a fascinating book, and its ramifications are staggering.

On the other hand, I was appalled by the poor copy-editing and deplorable number of typos, missing words, and grammar errors in a book published by a university press. Shame on you, New York University.


by Andrew M. Schocket
       New York University Press
       New York; 2015

Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

book cover photo

Coca-Cola is not only one of America's best-known icons, it's one of the most-profitable brands in the world. Now operating in more than 200 hundred countries, it sells more than 1.8 billion drinks per day and its distinctively shaped bottles, bright red cans, and white, cursive logo are immediately recognized worldwide. It is one of the great marketing and advertising successes of all time and has been widely studied and praised in numerous books.

This book presents a different and less favorable view. It looks at "the demands Coke placed on provider communities that served its needs for the last 128 years, to examine Citizen Coke as a consumer rather than as a producer." And, it found that "Over time, Coke placed heavy demands on ecologies around the world... (Its) perpetual growth was contingent upon the extraction of abundant supplies of natural, fiscal, and social capital in the places where it operated." (p. 5) Coke grew and thrived, but the same cannot be said of every place it did business.

The economic strategy behind Coke's success is very interesting and, as the author points out, worked for other mass marketing companies selling inexpensive products as well. It wasn't just a Coke strategy. But, he calls it "Coca-Cola capitalism because Coke deployed it so effectively." (p. 10) Others, including Pepsi and McDonald's, used similar strategies to earn huge profits during the 20th century. "These companies channeled natural resources through global production and distribution networks they did not own or directly manage. Often, this meant relying on public infrastructure to extract raw materials and transport finished products," (p. 10)

From a public relations perspective, the most fascinating aspect of the Coke story is Coke's uncanny ability to get other organizations - businesses, unions, special interest groups, and governments - to bear the burden and costs of providing the natural resources and agricultural products Coke needed to make Coca-Cola.

Water was the first and most dramatic. After all, Coca-Cola is over 90 percent water with just a few added ingredients. It requires an abundant supply of clean-tasting, fresh, sanitary, and inexpensive water. And, it was always meant to be produced locally, near where it would be consumed, so freight charges wouldn't jack up its otherwise low price. But, when Coke began expanding beyond its Atlanta home, few communities had existing water treatment plants that could guarantee a safe, consistent water supply, and Coke wouldn't build a syrup plant or allow bottling anywhere that didn't meet Coke's stringent water-quality standards. As a result, dozens of communities used tax money to build water treatment plants that would meet Coke's demands. Admittedly, citizens in those communities benefitted from having reliable and sanitary water, but Coke got an even better deal. Read the book to learn how Coke got other communities and government agencies to do its bidding with respect to sugar, caffeine, cocaine, corn, and other ingredients that Coke needed.

Even more impressive than getting others to pay the up-front costs for its ingredients was Coke's ability to side-step virtually all responsibility for the possibly negative effects of its products and packaging that first emerged in the late-20th century. By wrapping itself in a mantle of "consumer rights" Coke was able to deflect concerns, including proposed legislation, about obesity caused by over-consumption of soft drinks, caffeine addiction, depleted water sheds, and a mass of cans littering the highways and clogging landfills. According to the company, these problems weren't Coke's fault, and with . It wasn't Coke's job to police consumers' diets or their littering or to pay for container recycling programs. Nor was it Coke's fault if nature couldn't keep up with and restore the water that Coke withdrew from watersheds. By using aggressive and persistent arguments along with slick "astro-turfing" campaigns, Coke managed to get a majority of the public and numerous government agencies to agree.

In fact, Coke was massively successful in "astro-turfing" before that term was even coined in the 1980s. Don't feel bad if you don't know what it means. It's a fairly pejorative term that casts a negative light on certain public relations practices by sarcastically contrasting them with the positive and laudable term "grass roots." A grass roots. issue, campaign, organization, or political candidate is one that spontaneously emerges from average citizens and popular opinion rather than one put forward by a political party or special interest group. According to long-standing American political traditions, grass roots. efforts are good and positive. "Astro-turfing," on the other hand, is an artificial or false effort to look like a grass roots. movement that is actually secretly sponsored by corporate or special interests groups seeking their own selfish ends.

One of the first and still most notable astro-turfing campaigns of all time was the decades-long Keep America Beautiful (KAB) campaign launched in the 1950s. As the first nationwide anti-littering campaign, "KAB's greatest strength was its ability to appear as if it were merely a third-party organization interested in public service rather than a corporate lobbying agency with a specific agenda to protect big business... KAB's central objective was to deflect accusations that corporations were to blame for the country's growing litter problem... (and) to persuade consumers that private citizens, not corporate citizens, should be responsible for waste disposal." (p. 234) But, it wasn't driven by environmental concerns or a desire to beautify the nation. It was driven by a coalition of canning, packaging, and beverage companies, including Coke, to fight Congressional and state legislative efforts to make them responsible for cleaning up the glut of disposable containers they had unleashed on the country.

Over all, the book tells a fascinating story that every consumer and voter should know. Whether you approach it from a public relations perspective, a finance and economics perspective, or simply as a Coke drinker, it's definitely worth reading. What's a bit surprising is its origin. Unless you note its academically-stylized structure or its 90 pages of footnotes and bibliography, you might not realize it was written as a doctoral dissertation. - It is undoubtedly the most readable Ph.D. dissertation I have encountered. - I highly recommend it.


by Bartow J. Elmore
       W. W. Norton & Company
       New York; 2015

The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations

book cover photo

I latched onto and read this book -- at least twice, perhaps trice -- when it came out in 1998 because I was then teaching public relations and thought it might offer useful additions to my lectures. Its advance promotional materials touted it as a revisionist and critical look at the then recently-deceased "father of public relations," and it certainly lived up to that hype. Almost two decades later, it is still a good read filled with insight into Edward Bernays and the evolution of public relations. It is also, as the author claimed, "a book about America. It is about how public thought is routinely shaped or, some might say, manipulated by singular powers in our culture." (p. xi)

To traditionalists who abhorred any use of the term "spin" to describe public relations, the book's title told them everything they needed to know whether they bothered to read it or not: it was clearly an attempt to tear down and discredit "the grand old man" of public relations. (Bernays, who had lived to be 103, had died only three years earlier in 1995.)

But, the book is definitely not a one-sided hatchet job. It's true that it doesn't paint a glorious and saintly portrait of Bernays; it points out a number of unflattering foibles and shortcomings in his personal life as well as his professional life, but it's a fair and balanced presentation. In fact, re-reading it now, on the 20th anniversary of Bernays' death and 17 years after it was first published, I am even more appreciative of the balance Tye struck between praising and criticizing Bernays. He neither lionized him nor demonized him but cited the views of those who did, and there were plenty of people on each side.

Perhaps this is because, as Tye asserts, "Bernays was a bundle of contradictions." Among the examples he cited to support this, Tye said Bernays "rode roughshod over young staffers even as he ballyhooed the virtues of tolerance and democracy. He promoted cigarettes, which he suspected were deadly, at the same time he was promoting national health insurance. He espoused women's rights but often treated his female employees, and even his wife, like indentured servants." (p. x)

Whether it was in spite of or because of these contradictions, "Bernays was the man who, more than any other, got women to smoke and put bacon and eggs on breakfast tables, Ivory in soap dishes, books in bookshelves, and Calvin Coolidge back in the White House. Although most Americans had never heard of Edward L. Bernays, he nevertheless had a profound impact on everything from the products they purchased to the places they visited to the foods they ate for breakfast." (p. viii)

For seven decades Bernays "repeatedly proved that he could reshape reality. He also took clients to places they had never dreamed of going... Hired to sell a product or service, he instead sold whole new ways of behaving, which appeared obscure but over time reaped huge rewards for his clients and refined the very texture of American life. ..." (p. 52)

Placing him in the context of 20th century history, "Bernays clearly wasn't the first modern PR practitioner." According to Tye: "Ivy Lee deserves that title, or maybe George Michaelis. But, Bernays was the profession's first philosopher and intellectual. He saw the big picture when few others did, and he was the first to appreciate the nexus between theory and practice, or as he would have said between the art of PR and the science." (p. 264)

That's hard to dispute since Bernays wrote what became the de facto first public relations textbook, Crystallizing Public Opinion, and taught the first college-level course in public relations. He also wrote 14 other books and hundreds of articles on public relations. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, he was credited with these publications. Tye asserts that Bernays' young staffers and researchers often wrote and/or edited reports, speeches, and articles that bore Bernays' by-line, and still other items were written by Bernays' wife, Doris Fleischman.

What really lay behind this mass of contradictions? -- Even after reading and re-reading Tye's book, it's hard to tell, and I don't think even he is entirely sure what to think of Edward Bernays. He concludes, "in his relentless bid to shape his own legacy, he (Bernays) offered a perfect portrayal of the full array of PR tactics and strategies, of manipulations and embellishments, and how they could be used to redefine reality." (pp. 264-65)

So it could be that Bernays did such a good job of redefining his reality that neither we nor Tye will ever know who or what he really was. Over all, I think Tye did a pretty good job of trying, but he may have missed one important comparison. In my mind, the closest parallel to Edward L. Bernays may just be P.T. Barnum.


by Larry Tye
       Crown Publishers
       New York; 1998

The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security

hagedorn book photo

I didn't pick up this book looking for public relations insights. I further admit to being initially surprised when I learned how effectively public relations has been used by private military contractors trying to increase their role in maintaining America's national security and get rich in the process.

Fighters once romantically called "soldiers of fortune" or more crassly "mercenaries" were primarily characters in escapist novels or historical anachronisms such as the Hessians who fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. Now called "private military contractors," they have suddenly become front page news and a mainstay of U.S. military operations abroad. -- Examples include Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, Aegis Defense Services, DynCorp, the Blue Mountain Group, Halliburton, and dozens of other companies. -- The extent of the involvement of such companies in Iraq and Afghanistan was cited in a Congressional report as "outnumbering traditional troops in a ratio of 10-to-1, outnumbering State Department personnel 18-to-1, ... (furthermore) casualty totals for private contractors in both nations surpassed military losses." (p. 10)

The roots of this reach back decades, maybe even centuries, but the real boom in contractors going into combat and fighting in lieu of uniformed armed forces began in the 1990s and accelerated when the war on terror was launched after 9/11. As Hagedorn explains, much of it is a result of a good-old-boy system and the machinations of the "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned the nation about when he left office. It was fueled by the billions of dollars contractors earned by supplying guns for hire.

But, that image of hired guns was an obstacle that had to be overcome, and a new vocabulary would help. "No more `soldiers of fortune' or `hired guns.' ... They (former American and British soldiers now establishing themselves as contractors) were going to transform a decades-old mercenary image into a crisp new reputable look... The new term 'private military company' took a lot of emotion out of the situation." (pp. 37-38) It produced a smooth and rapid "trajectory from covert and infamous to acceptable and indispensable." (p. 87).

One of the most interesting -- some critics and moralists might say "frightening" or even "deplorable" -- aspects of this emergence of private military companies is the ability it gives governments which hire such contractors to distance themselves from unpleasant consequences. It's become a way for governments to keep from "getting their hands dirty." Even when U.S. tax money underwrites a contract with a private military company, the people on the ground using the weapons are not U.S. troops. Nor are they, technically, government employees, or even "workers" directly supervised by government employees. Thus, the government cannot be held legally accountable for what they do or don't do. "Like the sixteenth-century pirates, if they are caught in an embarrassing crime, or are killed, the U.S. government can deny responsibility for their actions." (p. 110) -- Personally, that's not necessarily something that makes me proud to be an American.

But, I think it's something all Americans need to know about. So, even though this book won't help you be a better public relations person, I think it's something you and every concerned, thoughtful American ought to read.

[revd: 11/17/2014]    

by Ann Hagedorn
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2014

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

Enchantment book

Guy Kawasaki has written close to a dozen books, -- possibly more by the time you're reading this -- all of which are meant to help readers change their worlds. On the dust jacket of Enchantment, Kawasaki claims: If you want to transform the world and change caterpillars into butterflies, "you need to convince people to dream the same dream that you do. That's a big goal," he admits, "but one that's possible for all of us." Enchantment is intended to help us do that.

But, don't expect step-by-step directions or handy checklists; it's not that kind of self-help book. It's more of a philosophy book than a workbook, and that's very appropriate. After all, as the subtitle proclaims, enchantment is an art, and true art is not achieved by following a set of prescribed instructions. It has to emerge naturally from the artist's fundamental beliefs, values, and life experiences. These elements can, however, be highlighted, guided, and encouraged, and that's what Enchantment does very well.

According to Kawasaki, your goal in enchanting someone should never be limited to getting what you want at the moment. Whether you're engaged in a one-time transaction or a continuing relationship, you should always try "to bring about a voluntary, enduring, and delightful change in other people. By enlisting their own goals and desires, by being likable and trustworthy, and by framing a cause that others can embrace, you can change hearts, minds, and actions." And, when you can do that, you're enchanting.

In many ways, Enchantment is all about attitude adjustment. It might initially seem that the attitudes most in need of adjusting would be those of the people with whom you interact, but that's not how Kawasaki sees it.

You don't have to read very far into the book to realize that the primary and most-significant attitude adjustments Kawasaki urges are of your own attitudes because, as he persuasively demonstrates, it's by behaving in likeable, trustworthy, and engaging ways that you can enchant others. To illustrate this, he offers dozens of delightful anecdotes and examples of enchanting behavior by individuals, small businesses, and even large corporations. Some of the best feature Apple, the computer giant so enchantingly led by Steve Jobs and which Kawasaki, himself, served as "chief evangelist" for many years.

One of Kawasaki's most insightful Apple stories centers on the company's in ability to crack the business market in the early days of Macintosh computers. He explains: "The fundamental flaw of our approach was that we did not understand what potential customers were thinking. Indeed, we believed they should leave the thinking to us. We were so enchanted by our own product that we could not understand why everyone else did not feel the same way.

"That's when I learned that one must understand what people are thinking, feeling, and believing in order to enchant them," he concludes. "The fix is to imagine yourself as the person you want to enchant and ask questions. If you can't come up with reasonable answers, don't expect your enchantment to work." (p. 3)

Right now you may be thinking, I'm not Apple Computer, does any of this apply to me? Is Enchantment a realistic approach for an average business or person to use, or is it overly idealistic or only suited for a few, select users?

Actually, neither the term "enchantment" as it's commonly used nor Kawasaki's approach to it is alien to public relations. In fact, most public relations practitioners would consider achieving enchantment a grand accomplishment. And, few would see anything radical in Kawasaki's suggestions. They would agree that Enchantment reflects essentially the same mindset advocated by practitioners who successfully help their clients create mutually beneficial, symmetrical relationships with their publics instead of trying to manipulate or spin those publics with half-truths or chicanery.

Enchantment is not only a practical approach to relationship-building, it's a highly ethical approach that emphasizes valuing and caring for other people.

Kawasaki insists that enchanting people does not involve conning them or manipulating them. It isn't about playing games with them or their emotions. It's about carefully and thoughtfully approaching the people you interact with and thinking about them as high-value, sensitive individuals who deserve your full attention and concern. As such, Enchantment is a totally appropriate and very appealing motivational reader for public relations practitioners. I highly recommend it.


by Guy Kawasaki
       New York; 2011

Who Owns the Future?

Lanier book

Although it offers marvellous insights into social media and other networked phenomenon, this book won't help you become a better public relations practitioner. -- It doesn't even address public relations, but it's a book everyone concerned about quality of life in our increasingly high-tech and networked world ought to read. -- It focuses on the well-known and little-known but very substantial ways computer networking is impacting our privacy, personal identity, human dignity, economic survival, financial stability, security, and other rights and privileges.

Jaron Lanier's credentials as a techno-geek, futurist, and humanist are impeccable. Wired magazine said he was "the first technology figure to cross over to pop-culture stardom," and Time listed him in the "Time 100" as one of the most influential people in the world in 2010. He's built and experimented with networked computers and virtual reality for at least three decades, launched and sold mega-million-dollar start-up companies that are now parts of Adobe, Oracle, and Google, and currently does special projects as a consultant for Microsoft Research.

Given this background and his unabashed enthusiasm technology, it behooves us to pay attention when he says: "the particular way we're reorganizing our world around digital networks is not sustainable." (p. 9) And, it's producing serious, negative consequences. Two of the many problems he cites are: "Network-empowered finance has amplified corruption and illusion, and the Internet has destroyed more jobs than it has created." (p. 19)

"If we go on as we are," Lanier warns, "we will probably enter into a period of hyper-unemployment, and the attendant political and social chaos." (p. 8) It's not quite doomsday he's describing, but it won't be pleasant for average working-class people.

Lanier may or may not be right, but I don't think we should not blithely proceed down what may become an increasingly steep, treacherous, and de-humanizing path without carefully considering what we may be getting ourselves into. We need to become more aware of, and begin to discuss the consequences of how we use technology. Otherwise, we won't look at alternatives.

Such alternatives are what this book is about. As Lanier said, "The choices we make in the architecture of our digital networks might tip the balance between the opposing waves of invention and calamity." (p. 19)

Essentially, Lanier is advocating the development of a more humanistic online economy that truly respects the average consumer/user, offers opportunities for lots more people to make a little money for the information they now freely "share," and lets hard-working online wage-earners make enough to be self-supporting. It would financially and informationally benefit average people and strengthen and support the middle class while making the system more ope, more transparent, less "Big Brotherish," and less dominated by a few mega-billionaires and huge, secretive corporations. The details and explanations, however, are too extensive to recap here.

So are all the insights and explanations he offers about how our current system is operating and how it got to be that way. Even if you don't buy into his view of a better future, you'll come away with a much better understanding of some of the tools and systems you're now using.

I'll end with a personal challenge. Lanier presented it as a suggestion, but I dare you to do it. "Experiment with yourself. Resign from all the free online services you use for six months to see what happens. You don't need to renounce them forever, make value judgments, or be dramatic. Just be experimental. You will probably learn more about yourself, your friends, the world, and the Internet than you would have if you never performed the experiment." (p. 366)

by Jaron Lanier
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2013

A History of the World in 100 Objects

100 objects book cover

This is another book that doesn't purport to deal with public relations but nonetheless offers interesting public relations insights. Particularly fascinating are the author's observations about an Egyptian Pharaoh, the first modern hundredth anniversary celebration, tea's emergence as England's "national drink," and suffragettes defacing coins.

As its title ambitiously asserts, this book describes 100 objects from the British Museum highlighting key points in history. The object representing Pharaoh Ramesses II is a massive sculpture of his head and torso that the Museum brought from Egypt to London in 1816. MacGregor claims the statue "inspired many later imitations, not least the vast faces of American presidents carved into Mount Rushmore." (p. 126) Its acquisition and that of other objects brought to London during the glory days of the British Empire are interesting stories in their own right. So is the psychology behind this book which offers inadvertent insights, which I suspect would be strongly-denied by the author, into the remains of England's imperial mindset.

Given the book's premise, you might think the importance of the 100 objects would be inherent in the objects themselves or in how they were used and, in some cases, the book reflects this. In other cases, the object's importance seems to relate more to its presence in the British Museum than to its innate existence or its original use. The Ramesses sculpture, for instance, was created 3200 years ago and probably awed and inspired the Egyptians who saw it at that time. But, by 1800, it was a point of contention between the British and the French whom MacGregor said "vied to acquire the image." Ultimately, it went "finally to London. On arrival, it astounded everybody who saw it and began a revolution in how we Europeans view the history of our culture." (p. 128) MacGregor's inference is that this impact, like the impact of many other objects he discusses, would have never happened without the British Museum which opened in 1753 to take up "the Enlightenment enterprise of gathering together all the world's knowledge." (p. 562)

As for public relations insights, MacGregor describes Ramesses II, the ruler not the statue, as "a consummate self-publicist ... (who) would not only convince his own people of his greatness; he would also fix the image of imperial Egypt for the whole world." (p. 126; 128) -- Quite an accomplishment three millennia before public relations emerged as a profession. -- Of course, MacGregor doesn't say Ramesses engaged in formal public relations, only that he was one of the "supreme masters of propaganda." (p. 127)

"The first of all modern centenary celebrations seems to have been organized in Germany, in Saxony in 1617; ... a hundred years earlier ... Martin Luther picked up a hammer and nailed what was effectively his religious manifesto -- his ninety-five theses -- to a church door." (p. 552) The museum object representing this is a broadsheet poster of Luther nailing up his statement. But, according to MacGregor, it wasn't a celebration; it was a Protestant call to arms to rally opposition to the Pope. "All the familiar razzmatazz was there: ceremonies and processions, souvenirs, medals, paintings, printed sermons, and the broadsheet -- a woodblock print which illustrated the critical day the Protestants now saw as the beginning of the first step on their radical religious journey." (p. 553)

MacGregor says, "It is one of the ironies of British national identity that the drink which has become the worldwide caricature of Britishness has nothing indigenous about it, but is the result of centuries of global trade and a complex imperial history... By the middle of the nineteenth century in Britain some luxuries came to be seen as not only desirable but essential. The most ubiquitous of all was tea, a vital ingredient of life for every part of the British population." (p. 601)

A 1903 coin is another intriguing public relations tool cited in the book. "It is a British penny with King Edward VII in elegant profile, but his image has been defaced... Stamped all over the king's head in crude capitals are the words VOTES FOR WOMEN." (p. 621) MacGregor called it "a stroke of genius" as a campaign tactic because these coins "were big enough to carry easily legible lettering, but too numerous and too low in value to make it practical for the banks to recall them, so the message on the coin was guaranteed to circulate widely and indefinitely." (p. 624)

The book has much more about these and the other 96 objects it features. It's loaded with interesting historical tidbits. Some are serious and deal with important events; others are more light-hearted. It's an interesting mix that could prompt long debates about the author's choice of these 100 objects. However, I suspect that the content was more effective in its original form as a radio series on the BBC. There, listeners heard the story of each object as an entity unto itself and that probably worked very well. In a book, however, readers tend to expect all of the chapters to hang together and mesh into a single comprehensive story, and that just doesn't happen here. The stories of the individual objects are fascinating, but they aren't effectively tied together in a meaningful way. While I enjoyed many of the individual chapters, the book as a whole left me feeling oddly unsatisfied as if I had spent too much time grazing on hors d'oeuvres instead of eating a balanced meal. And, I must also admit, by the time I was half-way through the book, I was more than a little put off by its not-so-subtle pretentiousness and tone of intellectual superiority about the British Museum.

by Neil MacGregor
     Director of the British Museum
       Viking Penguin Group
       London & New York; 2011
Eliot Ness and his personal image-building as assessed in two recent books:

Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions
        Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster

tucker book photo

After reading the Tucker book almost five years ago, my suspicions that Eliot Ness was a bit of a glory-hound whose image was based more on publicity than on reality were confirmed, but I still believed Ness had been significant in Al Capone's downfall and the "clean up" of Chicago in the 1930s. Eig's book (below), however, challenges that.

Eliot Ness is, as Tucker describes him, "an established icon in the American psyche" and our image of a dedicated law enforcement officer. Though most people today don't realize it, he was the inspiration for Chester Gould's cartoon character Dick Tracy, created in 1931 at the height of Ness's prominence. Less positively, Tucker described Ness as "a glory-grabber, seeking his own publicity - at times at the price of endangering the effectiveness of his raids by telling reporters when and where a strike would take place."

Personally, I've been trying to understand Ness from a public relations perspective since I found photographs from the 1930s that showed him standing with an axe in his hand and one foot resting on an overturned whiskey barrel. His pose was identical to prohibitionist Carrie Nation's pose that appeared in newspaper photos three decades earlier when she was smashing saloons in her anti-liquor crusade. The images were so alike I wondered if Ness intentionally copied Nation's stance. And, I found further irony, or perhaps truth, in the fact that this same pose was recreated by both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner in publicity photos for the 1959 Untouchables TV series and the 1987 movie.

Expecting this book to provide a detailed treatment of the real Eliot Ness with references to how he was portrayed on television and in the movies, I was deeply disappointed. The book is the exact opposite of what I expected. It focuses more on fiction than reality. Only one chapter, a scant 18 pages, discusses "The Real Eliot Ness," while 135 pages are devoted to an episode by episode treatment of the two TV series (which were almost entirely fictional except for the names of historic figures and a few headline events) and the movie (which, like the TV pilot, was only loosely based on actual events). While this book may be of interest in terms of television/movie history and the re-making of a classic TV series, it has little to offer students seeking an accurate biography or an understanding of public relations.

by Kenneth Tucker
       McFarland & Company, Inc.
       Jefferson, North Carolina; 2000
Eig's Capone book photo

Eig's book focuses on the overall efforts of city, state, and federal authorities to indict and convict Al Capone. Much to my surprise, it barely mentions Eliot Ness, other than citing his current image as a gang-buster. According to Eig, who is a well-respected reporter who had broad access to previously unknown and/or restricted files, Ness did listen to wire taps on Capone's phones and transcribed some interesting/incriminating conversations. He also led a few raids on boot-legging operations but, according to Eig, he actually had very little to do with Capone's conviction.

Eig's book asserts that Capone and Ness probably never even actually met. He specifically poo-poos Ness's claim of a confrontation with Capone at the time Capone was being transported to prison, saying: "Later, Ness would dramatize his account ... giving the impression that he and Capone exchanged terse words, even though newspaper accounts made it clear that the two men traveled in separate cars. In all likelihood, they never met: not on that day, not ever." (p. 373) This certainly isn't consistent with the impression of face-to-face and gun muzzle-to-gun muzzle confrontations between an intrepid G-man and his criminal arch-enemy that were presented in The Untouchables.

Eig does admit that Ness was popular with reporters and that he frequently made the papers. But, he contends, it was because Ness courted the reporters, gave wide-ranging and colorful interviews, and provided great photo opportunities. Here's how Eig reported one of Ness's raid. "Ness and his men used a truck as a battering ram to smash through two sets of reinforced doors... There were no shots fired, no punches thrown, no dynamite blown. Ness and his men found twenty-three thousand gallons of beer in fourteen vats, and when they cracked them open with axes - as much for the cameramen on hand as for the disposing of the beer - a thick wave of foam several inches high spread across the floor... In the newspaper photos - with Ness, there always were newspaper photos - it looked as though the agents were clomping through snow." (p. 317)

But, fame is fleeting. Ness was somewhat known in the 1920s and `30s, but his greatest fame didn't come until three decades later. And, as Eig ironically and ruefully noted, Ness didn't live long enough to fully enjoy it. "When he was old, washed up, drinking heavily, and trying to cash in on the glories of his youth, he would sell his life story for $300 to a writer named Oscar Fraley. Ness typed twenty-one pages on onionskin paper and gave them to Fraley, and from those slender sheets Fraley spun a marvellous fable, with Ness as the lonely warrior battling against Al Capone, the most notorious criminal who ever lived. Fraley called his book The Untouchables... It was utter bull, but it was some of the most successful bull $300 ever bought... It would make Ness one of the most famous crime fighters in American history, a paragon of virtue, an archetype for the hard-nosed Prohibition agent... Unfortunately, almost nothing in Fraley's book checks out." (pp. 238-39)

by Jonathan Eig
       Simon & Schuster:
       New York; 2010

Lies Across America; What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

Lies book cover

If I hadn't read U.S. Grant by Joan Waugh (below), I probably wouldn't have read this book, nor would I have commented on it here. My initial interest in Grant was to learn how his reputation had changed so dramatically from great to God-awful in only a few decades after his death. Waugh's book presented a convincing explanation but left me wondering how many other important historic images were transformed, for better or for worse, during the early twentieth century and how many of these distorted images we accept at face value today.

This book surfaced in a sea of books challenging the currently dominant interpretations of history. Both it and Loewen's earlier, award-winning book, Lies My Teacher Told Me represent relatively recent scholarship but have been around more than a decade and have thus far stood the test of time and criticism. They were widely reviewed and primarily well-received, and they continue to be cited as reliable sources.

The first thing I wondered was whether Loewen agreed with Waugh about the transformation of the Confederacy's image between the 1870s and the 1920s to make the "Old South" appear more charming and its role in the Civil War more noble and heroic. And, indeed he did. In fact, Loewen appears to be much more emotional and angry about this and other conscious spinning of historical facts than Waugh. He is particularly critical of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) who aggressively re-shaped history with a multi-decade campaign that built monuments all across the the country to honor confederate soldiers, even in cities and states hundreds of miles north of the Confederacy that hadn't even been founded at the time of the Civil War and in places that were clearly pro-Union. "In the border states," Loewen wrote, "the UDC and SCV erected pro-Confederate monuments and markers that make Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri -- states that were predominantly Unionist -- look predominantly Confederate."

But what, you may be asking, does this or any of Loewen's book have to do with public relations?  How will reading this book make me a better public relations practitioner? - The bottom line is: many of the views Loewen has labeled "lies" were carefully crafted and managed public relations images. Some were long-standing, traditional beliefs. Others were new but popular viewpoints. And, still others were once minority viewpoints that only gained acceptance after frequent repetition that gradually overcame opposing arguments. And, some of these ideas ("lies") were created and promoted by professional public relations practitioners. Others were the work of community and fraternal organizations, the National Park Service, or enthusiastic amateurs promoting their own relatives. But, ultimately, the entire process of winning popular support for them, whether you agree or disagree, like them or not, was public relations.

Loewen's greatest anger is reserved for the intentional misrepresentations that he has documented at historic sites across the county, but he is also troubled by lies of omission, the minimalization or absence of women, minorities, and certain other classes of people from monuments and memorials and their failure to tell of wars, slavery, mistreatment, and other atrocities. But, this too is a way of practicing public relations.

For example, Loewen claims that few Americans can accurately identify Jeffrey Amherst's most significant claim to historic recognition. Those who happen to think of the cities named Amherst in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire, or possibly Amherst College, they may guess that he was a colonial era pioneer or a prominent political figure or some other type of early American good guy. After all, the institutions that memorialize Amherst are all noteworthy and laudable. But, few people would guess that Amherst's greatest contribution to American history was a plan to wage germ warfare and destroy the Indian Nations by giving them smallpox-infected blankets, a plan he and troops under his command actually implemented during the French and Indian Wars in 1763.

Loewen does his best to describe the origin of the "lies" he has uncovered, but he rarely provides detail about how they were promoted. His book isn't a how to do it guide for image-building or public relations. It won't tell you how to shape a politician's or a businessman's or an organization's public image. Nor will it tell you how to counteract public criticism of your company or its policies, but it will give you a lot to think about. And, it clearly illustrates how long-term and lasting the impact of an effective image-building campaign or planned forgetfulness can be.

by James W. Loewen
       A Touchstone Book
       Simon & Schuster
New York; 2000

U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Grant book cover

The combination of a very thoughtful review by Julia Keller (Chicago Tribune; 11/15/09) and the current congressional debate about replacing Grant's portrait with Ronald Reagan's on the $50 bill prompted me to read this book for possible insights into late 19th and early 20th century public relations. After all, in the roughly 50 years from the end of Grant's presidency in the late 1870s to 1930 his public image fell from being one of the most loved and highly respected American heros of all time to being one of the worst Presidents of all time and, in the eyes of many southerners, little more than "a whiskey-soaked barbarian."  What, I wondered, had he done to deserve this, and how could his public image have been so badly managed?

As it turns out, Grant didn't do anything to create his new negative image, but neither did he or his partisans actively try to manage his image. From a public relations perspective, that may have been the problem.

No one was working to preserve Grant's image, but lots of people -- academicians writing scholarly books and papers; populists trying to stir public opinion; historians and ancestorialists trying to enhance the reputation of their forbearers -- were trying to re-shape the image of the "Old South" to make it more charming and noble and to make the South's role in the Civil War appear more heroic. According to Waugh, trashing Grant, the Union's most visible and most successful general, became central to that process.

At the time he was inaugurated as President of the United States, Waugh said, "No man other than George Washington had come to the office with expectations as high as those that accompanied the forty-six-year-old Ulysses S. Grant (then, the youngest man to have been elected president) ... Even the former vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, praised the Union's hero."  And, there were numerous non-partisan medallions, posters, brochures, and articles displayed and distributed all over the country picturing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant as America's three greatest heros, the nation's father, martyr, and defender, respectively.

In 1880, four years after he left the White House and after completing a triumphal two-year world tour, Grant remained so popular that there was a nearly-successful campaign to nominate him for an unprecedented third term as President. When he died in 1885, some observers claimed there was greater public mourning than there had been for Abraham Lincoln. Waugh, for instance, wrote: "Befitting Grant's already larger-than-life legacy, a million and a half people gathered in New York City to view the funeral procession and burial ceremonies" which was only one "of the thousands of memorial ceremonies held in the United States on that sad day."

But, after that, as national politics radically shifted and Reconstruction was de-railed throughout the South and, in many ways and places, was actually undone, Grant fell from favor and harsh, negative views of him became dominant. Many were triggered by the rise of a new and revisionist view of the Civil War among southerners. Labeled a theory, a creed, or a myth depending on the speaker's commitment to the South and/or bitterness toward the North, this view became known among believers and non-believers alike as the Lost Cause.

"The elements that define the Lost Cause are familiar," according to Waugh. They had previously been individually cited as reasons for some Union victories, but the Lost Cause pulled them together into a grand and sweeping explanation of the South's impossible mission. It asserted: "the war was caused not by slavery but by state's rights; southern armies were never defeated, but instead were overwhelmed by numbers; the southern soldier was brave and true, echoing the perfection of the patron saint of the Lost Cause, that courtly Virginia gentleman of impeccable lineage, Gen. Robert E. Lee."

That Grant and his reputation became targets and victims of this growing and powerful romantic myth should be a warning to anyone who wants to operate in the political arena or manage the reputations of those who do. This is a very thought-provoking volume, but it does not offer direct how-to-do-it public relations advice; it's not that kind of book. Keller's review calls it "part biography, part military history, part social chronicle." But, regardless of what you call it, you have to agree with Keller that it is "a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of fame. ... History, too, can fall victim to fiction and fashion."

by Joan Waugh
       University of North Carolina Press
       Chapel Hill, NC; 2009

Communications and the Corporation

Marlow book photo

This book is long out of print, so you're unlikely to encounter it. But, if you do, grab hold of it, treat it with respect, and read it with care. Although it was written in the pre-Internet Era, -- actually in 1978, the decade before personal computers even came upon the scene -- it remains an outstanding explanation of the broad and strategic role communications can and should play in modern organizations.

It might be stretching the point a bit to call Marlow's small volume (only 64 pages) revolutionary for its day. -- It probably wasn't noticed enough to achieve "revolutionary" status. -- But, it was a breath of fresh air to those who were lucky enough to come across it or to hear Marlow speak. It was prophetic and forward-thinking compared to the much more limited and traditional views of communications that dominated that time. Most other public relations and communications books in those days, whether published as textbooks or as professional business books, accepted and promoted the long-established view that communications' role was to be a secondary support unit within a corporation or non-profit entity. It was expected to play a minor, back-up role to help, not to lead, the organization, and it certainly wasn't expected to be part of the upper management team.

Citing the then cutting edge Age of Information by T.C. Helvey, Marlow wrote: "The survival of the corporation in the marketplace will depend increasingly on the quality of communications professionals, technology, and systems. ... formal communications, managed by communication professionals, drawing upon high technology and 'systems' approaches, will make corporations more flexible, more responsive to internal and external needs." He was also in the forefront pushing video and other multi-media technologies as an alternative to publications for reaching both internal and external publics.

This isn't a book you can use to plan your next communication project, but it could give you a fuller and richer perspective on the role communicators can and should play within the organizations for whom they work. It's definitely worth an hour or two of your time.

It was delightful happenstance that I recently came across my copy and stopped to reread it while cleaning out my office. Quite a few books hit the trash that day. Many were clearly out-dated and deserved to be trashed. -- They were relevant in their day, but no longer. -- Marlow's book was an exception. It remains eminently readable and applicable more than 30 years after its publication. True, it doesn't mention the Internet or social media or even e-mail, but it was -- and still is -- right on the mark in suggesting that modern communications technologies and techniques would become instrumental in ensuring corporate success.

FYI, Eugene Marlow wasn't a one-trick pony; this wasn't his only contribution to public relations. In 1996, almost 20 years after this book was published and only two years after the formation of the World Wide Web, he wrote another landmark, Electronic Public Relations. It was one of the first, if not the very first book, to present a comprehensive view of how the Internet was affecting society and how it could be used by public relations practitioners.

by Eugene Marlow
       United Business Publications, Inc.
       New York; 1978

Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

Wyatt Earp book photo

Wyatt Earp has been one of my favorite "real-life heros" of the Old West since I watched Hugh O'Brien portray him in the "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" TV series. Since then, I've sought out and read numerous books and articles to learn the real story of the Wyatt Earp and sort out the facts from the fiction and from the legends. I was, therefore, delighted to see this book described on its dust jacket as "A biography and more -- a smart and informative look at how myths and legends are forged."

From a public relations perspective, the opportunity to learn how Earp's life was transformed into a legend and how his reputation continued to grow after his death in 1929 and even moreso in the last 50 years due to the impact of television and movies was tremendously appealing. And, I'm happy to report that the author delivered on this promise, although it's later in the book and less-detailed than I would have liked.

Readers who are not already familiar with Wyatt Earp and the controversy that surrounds his actual role in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath -- One group of scholars sees Earp as a noble, strong-willed, law-enforcing "good guy" while another equally reputable group sees him as a corrupt, power-hungry vigilante and murderous "bad guy" with a badge. -- will be well-served by and appreciate the book's structure and emphasis. Almost 350 of its 400+ pages painstakingly chronicle and analyze Earp's life and the conflicting interpretations that have been applied to it. Only the last 50-60 pages focus on the image-making efforts of Earp's biographers, novelists, screen-writers, and motion picture and television producers. While that's probably an appropriate balance for most readers, given my interests in public relations and image-building, as well as my previous familiarity with the conflicting interpretations of Earp's role in history, it was a bit disappointing. I don't object to any of the author's interpretations. I think he did an excellent job of making sense of Wyatt Earp and the people who have recounted conflicting versions of his story. I just wish he offered more insight into the image-making process and the people and companies behind it.

For me, it was fascinating to think about the ways Wyatt Earp's legend has changed over the course of time. It's summarized in the chapter titled "Hollywood Gunfighter" where the author says: "As police and the FBI battled gangsters and gunmen in the 1930s, Earp emerged as an inspiration for a return to frontier justice; after World War II and Korea, he represented the Cold Warriors who held the line against the enemies of democracy; and now, by 1970, he was seen as a point man for the military-industrial complex."

Don't, however, read this book expecting a to learn a lesson in image-building public relations skills. Although it describes what happened to Earp and his image/legend, it doesn't approach it in a how-to-do-it way. There is little, if anything, you could take from this book to help a current public relations client. But, if you're interested in Wyatt Earp or more generally in the Old West, I recommend it. As an Earp fan, I'm glad someone is still paying attention to both the life and the legends of Wyatt so they, in the words of the TV series theme song, "forever will live on the trail."

by Allen Barra
       Castle Books
       Edison, New Jersey; 2005

The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication

IABC Handbook photo

This book is cast in the mold of the now-outdated Dartnell Public Relations Handbook and Lesly's Handbook of Public Relations and Communications that tried to encapsule everything a communication practitioner needed to know in a single volume. It and they are meant to be desktop references that are rarely read cover to cover but are kept handy to be consulted when unfamiliar situations arise.

In recent years I've used it as a study guide to assist communication professionals preparing to take the IABC accreditation exam and, without exception, the accreditation candidates agreed that it is an excellent and very useful resource that was well worth reading. Taken as a whole, it provides a great overview of the knowledge, skills, and expertise that are expected of an experienced and accredited communication professional.

The biggest differences between this and earlier handbooks are (a) this IABC Handbook covers a much broader spectrum of the communication industry and incorporates all aspects of organizational communication while the earlier handbooks focused almost solely on public relations and (b) the earlier handbooks featured lots of how-to-do-it articles and step-by-step directions while this book offers very few how-to-do-it techniques but includes lots of conceptual explanations.

Topics include: the evolving nature and scope of communication; communication management; internal organizational communication; dealing with external audiences and publics; media relations; government relations; investor relations; marketing communication; planning and measuring success; and communicating during a crisis. In total, there are 41 chapters by 46 authors, many of whom are highly active and well known in IABC circles.

Article by article, every chapter offers solid, well-thought-out, and clearly presented ideas. Each is worthwhile in its own right, but few are truly outstanding. They're worth reading, but they aren't star-quality. Few would be cited as the best or most definitive article written about their topic. In most cases, given a little time to think about it and/or look through files, well-read and up-to-date communicators could probably come up with better articles about most of the topics in the book, but they would be hard-pressed to find a more informative collection of articles on all these topics in a single volume.

Ironically, this book is an almost perfect example of the philosophical paradox that the whole is often more than the sum of its parts. Although few of the articles are noteworthy as stand-alone pieces, taken together they become an excellent overview of contemporary communication practices. For new communicators, they can be a fine introduction to the broad range of organizational or corporate communication. And, for experienced communicators, they can be an effective refresher about basics that were once known but haven't recently been thought about, or they can be a helpful alert to some of the ever-changing trends in professional practices. I highly recommend it.

edited by Tamara L. Gillis
       Jossey-Bass and the International Association of Business Communicators:
       San Francisco; 2006

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

Jenkins book photo

This book was not intended to address public relations and, in fact, never mentions the term. Nonetheless, awareness of its analysis and projection of current media and audience trends is likely to be critical to communicating and working with all publics in the years ahead.

A cover blurb from media/computer/sociology guru Howard Rheingold compares the author, Henry Jenkins, to Marshall McLuhan, an assessment that may be right on in more ways than one. McLuhan was widely talked about and highly controversial during the 1960's and `70's but wasn't given wide academic credibility until decades later. Similarly, because much of Jenkins' work focuses on fan involvement in popular culture, video games, and reality TV, he also runs the risk of being dismissed as an intellectual light-weight or as someone with interesting things to say about relatively trivial matters. That, however, would be a mistake.

The final chapters of this book illustrate how the lessons and patterns Jenkins found in years of studying fan-involvement, cross-media convergence, and audience participation in creating media content for fun/entertainment purposes have been manifesting themselves in politics and elections since the breakthrough campaigns of 2004. Today, according to Jenkins, all media audiences are demanding opportunities for greater participation and at least shared control of their media content. When they don't get it, they respond negatively and sometimes with devastating impact on the media or the producers or the sponsors/originators of the unsatisfying content. To the extent that public relations practitioners hope to continue using the media to help maintain their relationships with key publics, it will be critical to be aware of these trends and adapt to them.

by Henry Jenkins
       New York University Press
       New York & London; 2006.

A Jackson Man: Amos Kendall and the Rise of American Democracy>

cole book photo

Little-known outside of scholarly circles today, Amos Kendall, depending on one's politics, was revered or reviled as one of the most influential Americans in the 19th century. As a newspaper editor and political publicist, he was an ardent partisan who helped Andrew Jackson get elected as President. As an adviser and member of Jackson's cabinet (and later Martin Van Buren's), he helped reshape federal government and the modern two-party political system. As Postmaster General and later a business partner of Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph), he helped establish the first high-speed communication networks to span the nation. And, in his old age, he founded and funded what became Gallaudet College, the first school for the deaf in the country.

My interest in Kendall was first sparked by the short, vague references to him that appear in several popular public relations textbooks. They're usually only a sentence or two with little detail, but they invariably refer to him as the first, unofficial presidential press secretary. (The actual title "Press Secretary" wasn't used until the 1930s. George Akerson, under President Herbert Hoover, was the first to have it, but it was only one of his duties, not a full-time responsibility. A few years later, Steve Early, working for President Franklin Roosevelt, became the first full-time presidential press secretary.) However, after extensive research during a summer/fall 2002 sabbatical, I concluded that Kendall was far from being a press secretary. He was definitely a great publicist for Jackson, and he wrote lots of stories and editorials supporting Jackson. He also wrote -- or helped write -- many of Jackson's important speeches and proclamations. But, he never wrote "news releases," issued presidential statements, or distributed material intended for any/all newspapers to use. He only wrote for, and was published in, newspapers owned and operated by him, his colleagues, and/or other Jackson supporters. Nor was he a resource, intermediary, or facilitator for reporters or editors. What Kendall did was tell the President's story to people who read his and other Jackson-controlled newspapers; he never worked with or through other newspapers. He spoke only to his own readers, rather than trying, as today's press secretaries do, to get messages disseminated to all media users by speaking to reporters/editors who then convey the story through their media.

Consequently, this book has little to offer those seeking insights into public relations or the role of the President's press secretary. It is, however, a fascinating look at an important historical figure. I just wish it had been published in 2002 when I was researching Kendall. I was fortunate to have talked with Professor Cole at that time, and he was generous in sharing insights from his research up to that point, but having the entire book finished would have been even more helpful.

by Donald B. Cole
       Louisiana State University Press:
       Baton Rouge; 2004

Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions

tucker book photo

Eliot Ness is, as Tucker describes him, "an established icon in the American psyche" and our image of a dedicated law enforcement officer. Though most people today don't realize it, he was the inspiration for Chester Gould's cartoon character Dick Tracy, created in 1931 at the height of Ness's prominence. Ness was also "a glory-grabber, seeking his own publicity - at times at the price of endangering the effectiveness of his raids by telling reporters when and where a strike would take place."

Personally, I've been trying to understand Ness from a public relations perspective since my earlier research uncovered photographs from the 1930s which showed him standing, axe in hand, with one foot resting on an overturned whiskey barrel. His pose was identical to newspaper photos of prohibitionist Carrie Nation taken three decades earlier when she was smashing saloons in her anti-liquor crusade. The images were so alike that I had to wonder if Ness intentionally copied Nation's stance. And, I found further irony, or perhaps truth, in the fact that this same pose was recreated by both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner in publicity photos for the 1959 Untouchables TV series and the 1987 movie.

Expecting this book to provide a detailed treatment of the real Eliot Ness with references to how he was portrayed on television and in the movies, I was deeply disappointed. The book is the exact opposite of what I expected. It focuses more on fiction than reality. Only one chapter, a scant 18 pages, discusses "The Real Eliot Ness," while 135 pages are devoted to an episode by episode treatment of the two TV series (which were almost entirely fictional except for the names of historic figures and a few headline events) and the movie (which, like the TV pilot, was only loosely based on actual events). While it may be of interest in terms of television/movie history and the re-making of a classic series, it has little to offer students of biography or of public relations.

by Kenneth Tucker
       McFarland & Company, Inc.
       Jefferson, North Carolina; 2000

The Great Rascal: The Life and Adventures of Ned Buntline

buntline book photo

After the disappointment of reading Larry McMurtry's The Colonel and Little Missy, it was delightful to read about the fabulous adventures of Ned Buntline, an even more fanciful but less well known contemporary of Buffalo Bill's. Although Buntline, whose real name was Edward Zane Carroll Judson, never achieved the "superstar" status of Buffalo Bill and was never as much of a household name, either in his own time or now, it wasn't for lack of trying.

In the mid to late 19th century, until he was surpassed by Mark Twain, Buntline was the best-selling and most money-making author in the United States. But, like Michael Crichton or Tom Clancey of today, he wrote action adventure tales for mass audiences, not carefully crafted literature for the cognoscenti. He wrote tales of pirates and sea-faring dare and do, graphic and exciting tales of warfare, and legend-building stories of the American frontier. His works are often characterized as "pot-boilers" or "pulp fiction," but he wrote so many of them and they sold so well that Monaghan dubbed him "the ten-cent millionaire" in recognition of the scores of dime novels he penned. He also wrote serials for illustrated journals, newspaper and magazine articles, and stage shows that played on Broadway and around the country. He also produced and toured as the star of a Wild West Show that briefly competed directly against Buffalo Bill's "Wild West." He also undertook other highly successful publicity-seeking activities. In one of the most notable, he arranged with the Colt Firearms Company to produce a special, limited edition pistol known as the "Buntline Special" and then went on a grand tour of the West, where he stopped in such locations as Dodge City and Tombstone to present engraved Buntline Specials to Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, and other notable lawmen.

This book wasn't written from a public relations perspective, so Buntline's PR savvy isn't highlighted or analyzed in detail. You have to spot it for yourself and do a little bit of reading between the lines. But, unless you were specifically looking for these insights, you'd never miss them. The book is a scholarly, well-researched, and very readable biography written by a respected scholar and historian. Whether you're interested in the pop culture icons and superstars of 19th century or just looking for an intriguing biography, this book should be on your reading list.

by Jay Monaghan
       Little, Brown and Company:
       Boston; 1952

The Colonel and Little Missy

McMurtry book photo

Larry McMurtry, who is best know for his novels and movie/television adaptations of them - The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, Buffalo Girls, and dozens of others - begins this non-fiction work with the assertion: "Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley were, in my opinion, the first American superstars - in the 1880s and 1890s, at the height of their fame, their images were recognized the world over. Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous American of his day; he was easily more famous than any president, more famous even than Theodore Roosevelt." This statement is neither surprising nor unusual. Countless others share this view, especially about Buffalo Bill.

McMurtry's ostensible purpose was to explore and explain the professional and personal relationships that brought William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and Annie Oakley to this then-unprecedented level of stardom. And, he does regale us with anecdotes and episodes related to their various tours, some of the techniques used in their performances, and, in the case of Buffalo Bill, a number of sexual and financial peccadillos and personal indiscretions. Regrettably, it's all very superficial. There's a lot of rambling repetition and a general lack of substance. In both style and content, the book reads more like a fan magazine than a serious work of biography or of scholarship. Very few sources are directly cited, and readers are presumably expected to accept what's being said based on the author's presumed credibility and reputation. In fact, it's my rather cynical assumption that it was only the reputation and name-recognition of the author, not the quality of the content or even of the writing, that convinced the publisher to bring out this book. Reading it was a huge disappointment and, if I were Larry McMurtry, I'd be embarrassed to have my name on it.

Readers interested in learning more about Buffalo Bill and his rise to prominence would be far better served by Buffalo Bill: Last of the Great Scouts, written by his sister Helen Cody Wetmore in 1899 and republished in 1994. Its book jacket begins with the statement: "Arguably Buffalo Bill was America's first superstar."

by Larry McMurtry
       Simon & Schuster:
       New York; 2005

Full Frontal PR: Building Buzz about Your Business, Your Product, or You

full frontal PR book cover

This is another of the numerous books cast in the mold of Jay Levinson's Guerilla Marketing or David Yale's Publicity Handbook that strive to be one-volume how-to-do-it guides to attracting attention and/or customers. Like the others, it's written in a slightly hyped but clear and confidence-boosting style that emphasizes how you or your company, using the simple and easy to understand techniques outlined in the book, can achieve the same kinds of results produced by large corporate public relations or marketing departments. In fact, Laermer boldly asserts: "Most enterprises probably do not need a large PR budget, no matter what people, well, like us tell you. The fact is, many don't need firms to do PR for them. They can do it on their own."

That quote may be a great way to sell a book being touted as a do-it-yourself guide to PR, but it seems a bit disingenuous coming from someone who makes a major portion of his living as a PR consultant. And, it seems to inappropriately undermine the belief that a college education, and especially a major in public relations or communication, is important career preparation for students aspiring to success in public relations.

Despite these reservations, and certainly not accepting the notion that this book is an indispensable key to PR success, it does have a lot to recommend it to inexperienced practitioners who already have a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals but need tips on applying their knowledge to unfamiliar situations. It's loaded with bulleted lists, guidelines, mini-case studies, and other suggestions for turning abstract theory into action steps that produce practical results. It's great information but, I must admit, I found the writing style a bit annoying at times. It's a bit too hip, too loaded with buzz-words, too edgy, and too overly optimistic for my taste.

by Richard Laermer
       Bloomberg Press:
       Princeton, New Jersey; 2003

Master bibliographic index On-line readings table of contents Practicing Public Relations home page

Last revised: 8/20/2023