The Best PR Books of the Decade
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

The Best PR Books of the Decade

Good books about public relations are still alarmingly few and far between, but the past decade provided a good crop. We list the five best, in order.

Paul Holmes

1. Naked Conversations
by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel


Many business leaders fail to understand, or prefer to ignore, the fact that conversations about their company—involving their customers, shareholders, communities and employees—are taking place every day. The decision facing corporate communicators is not whether those conversations will continue, because companies are powerless to prevent or control them; it is whether to ignore those conversations or actively engage in them. That was the message Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, authors of Naked Conversations, sought to convey in one of the first books about business blogging. The book was not a definitive picture of the new phenomenon—the technology and its adoption are both moving too fast for that—but it did provide a valuable snapshot of the blogosphere in its infancy, and plenty of first-rate practical advice.


2. Aligning the Stars
by Jay Lorsch and Thomas Tierney


Lorsch (the Louis Kirstein professor of human relations at Harvard Business School) and Tierney (former chief executive of management consulting powerhouse Bain & Company) produced a book on professional service firm management that deserves a place alongside the various works of David Maister on the desk of every public relations agency principal or partner. The thesis was simple: “Outstanding firms are consistently able to identify, attract, and retain star performers. To get stars committed to their firm’s strategy; to manage stars across geographic distance, business lines and generations; to govern and lead so that both the organization and its stars prosper and feel rewarded.” The book went on to  provide an effective guide to the kind of culture, strategy and organization needed to build a world-class professional service firm based on an alignment of the stars.


3. Tough Calls

By Dick Martin


During the five years—from 1997to 2002—that Dick Martin was executive vice president of public relations, employee communications and brand management at AT&T, the company faced more challenges and crisis than any other major company in America. Martin guided communications strategy during the company’s merger with John Malone’s Telecommunications, Inc., and later with MediaOne; the sale of AT&T Wireless and the company’s cable business; long-distance price wars and hard-fought regulatory battles; not to mention to arrival and departure of CEOs who were first hailed as potential saviors and later castigated for their inability to articulate clear strategy for the company’s future. In Tough Calls—which remains by far the best book about the realities of working in corporate communications for a large American corporation—Martin documents the five years with humor, candor and insight.


4. The Naked Corporation

By Don Tapscott and David Ticoll


In a 2003 nbook that defined one of the most significant trends of the decade—the emergence of a world of radical transparency, in which “corporations have no choice but to rethink their values and behaviors”—Tapscott and Ticoll helped to create an (under-appreciated) template for corporate behavior that would become even more relevant as the decade wore on and new media began to accelerate the changes the authors were examining. They warned that “armed with new tools to find information about matters that affect their interests, stakeholders now scrutinize the firm as never before, inform others, and organize collective responses.” They introduced the concept of the stakeholder web, and provided companies with a roadmap to take advantage of what they saw as the massive opportunity presented by the age of transparency. If any book of the past decade cries out for an updated, web 2.0 edition, it’s this one.


5. CEO Capital

By Leslie Gaines-Ross


Leslie Gaines-Ross, now with Weber Shandwick, was B-M’s chief knowledge officer when she wrote CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success, which built on the firm’s research and presented a roadmap for CEO’s who understand the increasing importance of both personal and institutional credibility. CEO reputation, Gaines-Ross said, is dependent upon three “C” factors—credibility, code of ethics, and communicating internally—and two “M” factors—attracting and retaining a quality management team and motivating and inspiring employees. The book built a formidable case that particularly in the post-Enron world, CEOs need to invest in their own reputations in order to build those of their organizations, a substantial addition to the literature of the profession, and a manifesto supported by compelling original research and informed by intelligent, sympathetic analysis. It was also a rare book about public relations that preaches not to the choir but to the choirmasters.

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