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Seven Timeless Books for Every PR and Marketing Pro

Bookshelves.  Are they going away?

Maybe, but there’s something nostalgic about a collection of books.  A bookshelf represents a substantial investment of time in reading and learning.

As I glance at my own bookshelf nearby, I’m amazed at how some of these books seem to transcend time.  That is to say that, every now and again, there’s a book that is so forward-thinking, with ideas so powerful, that many years later, the concepts remain relevant.

Here are seven books that every marketing and PR professional should buy, read and keep on hand.  The bookshelf itself is optional.

1. The Cluetrain Manifesto. Markets are conversations, according to this book that’s at least 13 years old.  What’s amazing about this book is that its manifesto neatly fits social media marketing, despite being written long before Twitter and Facebook were conceived.  However, the authors saw trends in a Web of discussion forums, links and web sites that effectively cover the principles now commonly bantered about in today’s “How to be awesome on social media” posts.  Ideas like authenticity, transparency and listening are all central themes.  In the spirit of transparency, this is the only book on this list I haven’t actually read; I listened to it on iTunes.  That’s my little secret for keeping on top of the latest.

2. Value-Added Public Relations. This 1998 title proposes PR as “The Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing.”  PR is part of marketing, though we’d contend today, in a social media world, marketing looks a bit more like PR. What’s interesting is that the foreword to this book is written by Philip Kotler, a legendary author in marketing circles out of Northwestern University’s esteemed MBA program at the Kellogg School of Management.  More recently, Kotler fired up Richard Edelman, of Edelman PR, over words in his latest book called Marketing 3.0.

3.  Confessions of an Advertising Man. Obviously David Ogilvy got big in the advertising space, but his book is the perfect bible for any PR agency professional too.  I flipped my copy open to page 57, where I had placed a green tab many years ago.  This was highlighted:

“There are certain steps you can take to reduce the turnover.  First and foremost, you can devote your best brains to the service of your clients, instead of diverting them to the pursuit of new ones.”

Maybe Ogilvy would agree that good customer service is good marketing.

4. The New Rules of Marketing & PR. This book isn’t that old.  Or maybe it is.  It was first copyrighted by David Meerman Scott in 2007 – at least according to the revised and updated version I bought a few years back.  Twitter was perhaps an embryo in 2007 and the book includes an endorsement by Jay Conrad Levinson, of old school Guerilla Marketing fame.  I think Scott nails the changes new media have brought for PR – and challenges us to think differently about “interruptive marketing” tactics.

5.  Amusing Ourselves to Death. This book was assigned reading in an undergraduate college class.  It so moved me that I purchased another copy to keep on the shelf. Neil Postman attacks “infotainment” as competing with news and criticizes the common news transition, “Now…this.”

“The phrase, if that’s what it may be called, adds to our grammar a new part of speech, a conjunction that does not connect anything to anything but does the opposite:  separates everything from everything.”

The irony of Neil’s appearance on The Daily Show is funny, but not lost.

6.  Positioning:  The Battle for Your Mind. Al Ries and Jack Trout may have popularized the term “positioning” but they also explain why it’s a deeply strategic marketing endeavor:  positioning isn’t a logo, it’s what’s in the mind of your customers:

“’We’re better than our competitors’ isn’t repositioning. It’s comparative advertising and not very effective.”

7. The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR. It’s hard to believe this book was written a decade ago – another hit by Al Ries – only this time co-written with his daughter Laura. What strikes me the most is Al is better known in advertising circles than he is in PR, and yet the book states:

“Whatever you call the function (publicity, PR, or public relations) the objective is the same.  Tell your story indirectly through third-party outlets, primarily the media.”

Especially today, the media is just one of many ways to tell a story, at least in the traditional sense.

Got a timeless book you’ve read?  Share it in the comments and I’ll pick a few folks to mail a free copy of Marketing in the Round by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston.


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