I recently Googled “must-read PR books” and found some good lists. Since PR and marketing is refined and updated quite a bit, in addition to incorporating constantly changing consumer trends and figures, I don’t read many books about the subject that have been out for more than two or three years. So, without further ado, here’s a list of five books that are on rotation with me right now: four I’ve read, one I’m currently reading, and all my versions of good “beach reads!”
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer (2010, Mariner Books): In order to be effective and successful PR and marketing specialists, we need to understand the psychology behind why people buy, what’s important to them at each life stage, and how they come to conclusions in general. Lehrer explains the use of our rational and emotional sides of the brain, and how each factors into how we decide. The single-most important factor in building better decision-making skills, he says, is making mistakes: the best decision makers are “students of error.” That is, making mistakes is a good, necessary thing: it allows us to reconfigure our brains so that the next time, we get closer to making the right decision. Or the more correct decision. Your brain’s neurons actually think about what they could have done differently so that next time they know what to do. The brain always learns the same way, accumulating wisdom through error. The really fascinating part of about this book is the author’s stories of folks whose brains lack the ability to learn from their mistakes: sociopaths, gamblers, and others on the fringes of society.
Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom (2008, Doubleday): I first listened to this book about a year ago and fell in love with it and Lindstrom. Since then, I’ve listened to it at least three times and have passed it onto friends. Lindstrom is a pioneer in “neuromarketing,” first incorporating lessons like the ones offered by Lehrer (above) to figure out what makes the brain tick when it comes to consumerism. Lindstrom takes his research a step further in actually examining the human brain as it reacts to certain stimuli, like advertising and product placement. Guess what? His research has concluded that, among other such messages, anti-tobacco messages not only do not work, but actually encourage more tobacco use. If you’re a smoker or have ever smoked, this really isn’t so surprising. Think about it.
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller (2009, Viking): I’ve purposely put these books in the top three because they share a common thread: exploring the psychology behind consumerism. Miller applies evolutionary psychology to modern-day consumerism. I’m just 100 pages into the 300+ page book, but his message is becoming clearer: Why have we lowered ourselves to purchasing symbols of wealth, intelligence, and strength when evolution has given us ways of doing this without going into debt? Furthermore, if we go into debt purchasing symbols of wealth, these symbols are rendered false and therefore potentially misleading and dangerous when it comes to mate selection.
Here’s a thoughtful quote I’ve highlighted and underlined: “If we buy products primarily as signals of our underlying biological strengths, their signal effectiveness—especially as carried by brand recognition—is, logically, paramount, while their efficiency in serving their normal purpose (as a garment, appliance, or vehicle) is only of secondary concern.” He then says, “The fact is perfectly clear to every marketing professional, but it must remain perfectly obscure to most consumers” (85).
Manager’s Guide to Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations by Barry Callen (2010, McGraw Hill): This is a textbook and guidebook for any PR pro. Its initial messages are basic, and so it’s a good source for beginning professionals. However, we all need refreshers from time-to-time, and this is a fabulous place to get them. Tip: for more seasoned PR pros, start in the back. The more advanced, “hard” marketing is there.
The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott (2009, Wiley): I’ve saved the best for last. Scott’s book is my Bible, and just like every other person who loves the book, my copy is covered in highlights, ink and Post-It notes (see to the left?). Much like the Manager’s Guide above, The New Rules covers basic techniques in marketing and PR; again, good for beginnings and great for refreshers. It does, however, go a step forward to offer case studies and examples of the lessons he provides. In addition, the origin of the book shows that Scott doesn’t just speak from a textbook: the man knows his business. The book began as posts on his blog, and he actively sought input from readers. Combining his experience with input from outsiders, he created this book. Which is always either in the backseat of my car or in my bag. Thanks, David, for such a great book, in case you’re reading this. And I think you just might be!