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Top summer PR reads and films

by Andras Sztaniszlav

What are your top books and movies about the PR profession?

In this post, I’ll share some of my favourites.

Although this year’s summer is not as nice and warm as last year’s, we are still in the middle of the holiday season.

After a very busy spring at CIPR International, which included Bessie Lee’s address at the 2015 Maggie Nally Lecture, focus on the Ukrainian Crisis in one of our events, and CIPR International Chair Eva Maclaine receiving Sir Stephen Tallents medal we could all take a deep breath and relax, myself included.

I wanted to introduce a lighter topic, but stay within the realm of public relations. I took two books and two movies with me on holiday. Needless to say, I will be registering these reading and viewing activities in my CPD.

Girls like us by Charlotte Ashby

This is the Bridget Jones book of our profession. Emily, an average London PR agency girl, is fed up with every aspect of her life (her job, her flatmate, her friends’ drinking habits) and wants to change. This is the pulp fiction of pulp fictions: with some wit, decent humour and funny stories we reflect on how we all spend parts of our lives at receptions, begging journalists to cover our spectacular clients’ spectacular products and at the end, find the white knight (or for some of us - a princess) we all deserve. This book is not aiming to be smart, nor does it try to teach us about life, but gives a few days or hours of laughs when we reflect on ourselves. After you read it, pass it to people who keep asking you about your profession and what your working day is like. But tell them it is only partly true.

The art of Perception by Robert S Leaf

Leaf is a living legend of PR (and also an honorary Fellow of the CIPR). I met him at a networking event some months ago and, when he learnt I was Hungarian, he immediately introduced me to the other Hungarian in the group of about 40 people and told us a story starting with: ‘when I was in Hungary a few decades ago…” Much like that story, this book is very interesting and captivating. It is full of his adventures while expanding Burson-Marsteller to a truly global PR firm and launching its offices and affiliates all over the world. It is not only about the golden age of public relations but rather offers some golden rules of PR and a snapshot of different cultures in different parts of the planet. A worthwhile read for everyone interested in global communications market and a must for CIPR International members.

In case you would rather spend your time watching a film, but keep the PR topic going, I have some suggestions for you.

Two of my favorite movies about our profession are ‘Thank you for smoking’ and ‘Wag the Dog’. I realise that both showcase a slightly unpopular side or public relations (namely public manipulation), but they are still high on my list. Aaron Eckhart plays a spokesperson for the big tobacco companies and he summarises the essence of the profession very well, while arguing with his son about the vanilla vs chocolate ice cream ‘issue’:

“I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that, Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty. “But you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best …” Because I did not have to. I proved that you’re wrong and if you’re wrong I’m right.” “But you still did not convince me … “ “It’s that I am not after you. I am after them (and points into the crowd…)”

‘Wag the dog’ raises the bar with an A-class cast (Robert de Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche). In it, a spin doctor hires a Hollywood producer to construct a story repositioning public opinion and making the president’s sex scandal disappear just before the election. Bear in mind, the film was released a few months before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and US bombing aimed at a Sudan factory. What timing?!

To summarise, I like these light entertainment pieces that give a brief reflection of our profession. And if you also think they paint a rather inconvenient and generally false picture about public relations (how we manipulate with our hands and words and how lazy we are) we really have to focus on our own professional reputation first. Are there any PR-themed books or movies that make your top list? Share your favourites and let’s build a library of fiction books and top films about our PRofession.

Andras Sztaniszlav is an expert in strategic communication and public relations with a solid track record of building bespoke solutions for different organisations in the UK and mainland Europe (mainly Central-Eastern Europe). He is a member of the CIPR International committee. His wide variety of projects include reputation, CSR, digital and content strategy as well as crisis comms and public affairs campaigns. He has an MA in media management, and is the envoy of the Hungarian PR Association to the UK market.

Connect with Andras on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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