A Public Relations Survival Kit
S.E. Stack
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Buy *A Public Relations Survival Kit* online A Public Relations
Survival Kit

S.E. Stack
Grendel Press
176 pages
April 2002
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Now this is how to do it right:

  • Spot the market for a book genre and create a successful product for it
  • Identify the readership needs of the buyers and write specifically for them
  • Fill the pages with a mix of hard fact and soothing presentation
  • Break all the design conventions of other titles in the genre and turn the result into an eye-grabbing standout
Curled Up With a Good Book Sally Slack’s A Public Relations Survival Kit scores as a publishing success on many counts. She should be great encouragement to the world of small publishing — it is possible to best the majors at their own game even with their budgets and clout with book distributors and retailers. Ms. Slack has such a clear vision of what she is doing it is worth quoting her strategy at length:
“I went into this with a long-term vision. After working with and interviewing small business owners and hearing their complaints and dilemmas, I researched the available business books on the market. I found a gaping hole: they were either too simplistic or too high-concept. The ‘101 Publicity Tips’ types of books gave tips but didn't explain the principles behind the tips; the high-concept books buttressed their ideas with few concrete examples. They ignored the fact that if people don't know why they are doing something, they probably won't excel at it. As a small business owner myself, I wanted to teach others the way I need to be taught. Small business owners wear so many hats they don't have time to become an "expert" in everything. The PR Survival Kit was conceived with them in mind. Then business writer Lecia Wood and I expanded the concept with Corporate Storytelling: Planning and Creating Internal Communication. Finally I realized I could create an entire series of titles for the small and medium-sized business owners with 1 to 500 employees.”
So let’s see what she has done well where others have not. To start with, there is the cover and interior design. Business books are a designer’s nightmare because of the twin constraints that they must possess some kind of pull-me-off-the-shelf appeal, yet appeal to readers who are perceived to want things to look, well, businesslike. To let Ms. Slack tell her own story again,
“The cover designer is by Erik Watada. I told him I wanted something that would be recognized as a series but could be distinguished title by title. He produced both the logo and the cover concept. New titles could then adopt same design but drop in different colors.”
Baiting with brilliant color is not new to trade books, but it is with business books. Just as computer marketers settled on beige as the least disturbing hue for the tastes of business people, the cover and page designs of the major business publishers also aim at a perceived taste of bland dramalessness. Use three fonts and three colors and a design is considered daring. Ms. Slack’s answer is a cover with the traditional black and white, and on top of that, one primary blue, three secondary hues, and five fonts laid out with scripts blended with serifs and sans-serifs, oversize letters (some chopped off at the waist), dropouts, and outlines. Sounds ghastly. Works wonderfully. In the hands of a lesser designer Ms. Slack would have a guaranteed sank-without-a-trace on her hands.

Still, pretty-pretty is OK for what you nibble in airport lounges, but business folks want meat and potatoes and hold the salad. The Table of Contents is certainly promising:

  • Rocket Scientists Need Not Apply: A look at Public Relations and the myths surrounding it
  • The Art of the Buzz: What buzz is, why you need it and how to get it
  • Grabbing the Headlines: How the media works and ways to play the game
  • Lose the Soft Touch: Every business needs to establish philanthropic strategy. Here’s how.
  • Are you Speaker Material? When and where you should be heard, plus speaker tips and speech outline
  • Your Cyberspace Image: Simple tricks for turning the Internet in your Public Relations partner
  • Yes, You Can Plan an Event: A checklist and ideas for your PR arsenal
  • Use Big Brother to Your Advantage: Put the government to work for you by earning the right to be heard
  • Building Your Public Relations Campaign: A twelve-week plan and long-term plan you can use over and over again
Clear as a bell, you’re on notice what you’re going to get. Do you get it? Let’s inspect a few paragraphs. On page 14 we find:
“Smart public relations isn’t rocket science, even though public relations pundits would have you believe it is. They do a pretty good job convincing most businesses that PR is a tough racket. Subsequently, public relations is a $3.3 billion industry in the United States alone. (Source: Council of Public Relations Firms, 2000.) And a 1999 Thomas L. Harris/Impulse Research Client Survey showed that U.S public relations budgets had grown 24 percent in the one-year period between 1998 and 1999. In reality, effective public relations requires just three things:
  1. A solid definition of your business for the public.
  2. Doing what’s right, which means working hard to earn public acceptance and trust.
  3. Creativity.
From page 103:
“Unless your target markets have been living under a rock since 1993, chances are good that they may attempt to find your product or service online at some point. Therefore, we’re assuming you need the Internet.
What’s interesting is that just a third of small businesses had established Web sites by the end of 2000, according to International Data Corp. (IDC). So, while it may seem like everyone is on the Web, they’re not. You’ve still got a very good chance of establishing your business online before your competition does.
Now, from a public relations perspective, here’s how to determine whether or not you need the Internet:
  • Is there a possibility your target market may need information about the product or service you offer?
  • Is there a possibility that your target market may get that information from a competitor’s Web site?
  • Is there a possibility your target market could obtain erroneous information about the product or service while surfing the Internet?
  • Is there a possibility you could obtain new customers and/or sell more of your product/service if you could establish your Web site as the expert source for information on that product/service?”
From page 133:
“Use Big Brother to Your Advantage
As business owners, let’s admit it: We like to run things our way and we don’t want any interference. I often think every entrepreneur has a defective gene—the flat-out inability to accept rules and regulations created by others.
It’s not a character flaw, in my opinion. If entrepreneurs did everything the way someone else wanted them to, they would be working for someone else. Inherently, if you own your own business, you want to create the rules and regulations yourself. There’s only one small fly in this ointment: the government.
No matter what your political affiliation, as a business owner you’re affected by someone else’s rules and regulations every day of the week.”
This is most certainly not the joyless buzzword slog one gets from the likes of Wiley and Harvard Business Review Press. There’s just the right sprinkle of reference to the Real Pros like IDC, but there’s also an easygoing directness you’ll never find in one of their reports. Indeed, “easygoing” is perhaps the most apt term for Ms. Slack’s style.

This is hardly a surprise, for behind the charm of sentences you can actually understand lies a professional who worked as an executive in public relations for more than 10 years at IBM, State Farm Insurance, a start-up computer company. and two not-for-profit organizations. She is now a public relations consultant for small and medium-sized businesses, and has written numerous articles for international business magazines and online business sites. The result is a prose style that resembles DK books only with pith instead of pictures.

She plans to expand into a series aptly logo’d “The ABCs of Business.” And yes, the logo is in those wonderfully vibrant colors. The follow-on title is to be Corporate Storytelling: Planning and Creating Internal Communications

Sigh, unpleasant though it is, one of the reviewer’s jobs is to get picky. After two read-throughs, A Public Relations Survival Kit frothed up the following:

  • The dedication on page 9 should have been on page 8
  • There’s an unaccountable pair of blank pages on page 10 and 11 (Ms. Slack must be planning on some really impressive book-signings).
  • There are widows on pages 14, 26, 32, 36, 45, 58, 92, 126, 131, and 140; and an orphan on 134. Oh dear. Dickens could do a whole new novel with this lot.
  • The bottom line of the text is often uncomfortably tight to the footer.
  • At $24.95 it’s a bit pricey for 176 pages even if it IS warbled as from the boughs in spring.
If this is the best the picky-picky patrol can come up with, Ms. Slack’s book fares no better or worse than what you get from most business presses with their scads of proofreaders. All in all, this first-effort is a tour-de-force in getting it right. Why couldn’t Ms. Slack have been the one in charge when that hideous “Idiot’s Guide” series was cooked up? With content and image quality like hers, the idiots will learn enough to graduate.

© 2002 by Dana De Zoysa for Curled Up With a Good Book

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