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A public relations casserole with a side of Fox News
on August 21, 2012
"Rethinking Reputation" is pretty much as it is described in the Book Description and Editorial Reviews of its Amazon page. The problem is I'm not sure if I liked it or not--based on what I was expecting when I bought it today on its publication date.
My expectation was that it would show how social media and the new world order of the internet has changed everything, and that public relations has had to adapt to keep up with those changes. There are definitely case studies and places in the book where that cause-and-effect relationship is covered explicitly. What I'm not so sure of is the way the book eclectically mixes together PR success stories and business case studies in Part I (How to Build Reputation) with a mixture of political, sports and disaster scenarios 'ripped from the headlines' in Part II (How to Protect Reputation). It's almost like PR 101 meets TMZ ... traditional media meets cable media ... with the authors then weighing in on who did good PR and who didn't -- even as many of these stories evolved over a period where PR was adjusting to the new realities of our internet- and social media-enabled world.
Something that's always been intriguing to me about two-author books is trying to analyze who wrote what so their writing styles and input blend together to appear as one. In this case I think the division of chapters between the authors contributes to the sometimes jarring transitions in the story-telling. Strictly from reading the authors' bios, it struck me that Fraser Seitel probably took the first shot at Chapters 1, 2 and most of Part II, while John Doorley wrote Chapters 3-5. Both authors were probably responsible for then editing the other's first-drafts and together summarizing the top 10 Lessons at the end of each chapter.
I was disappointed by the exclusive use of Democrats to demonstrate how politicians screw up when (probably) Seitel tells in detail how Charlie Rangle, John Edwards and Anthony Weiner tried to dig their way out of their PR problems and later how Bill Clinton became the ultimate political spin-meister. Just the use of one of many Republicans (think John Ensign, Mark Sanford, or David Vitter) might have provided a balanced view and not reminded me that Seitel appears a lot on Fox News. This was an unnecessary distraction away from the sincerity of the topic.
In general though, "Rethinking Reputation" does a nice job of showing how public relations can accomplish so much more when we are inundated by ads. The first chapter stars two young NYU graduates who use PR almost exclusively to blow up their shoe business. It was awesome looking at some of their YouTube videos to see how they were building personal relationships. Also in Chapter 2 you learn how unique PR ideas can do much more to draw excitement to your business or idea. If the book had continued down this path, it could have gotten more into the use of PR in a new media world.
Instead it shifts over to more of a Harvard case study approach in seeing how Roy Vagelos at Merck, T. Boone Pickens and Johnson & Johnson used/are using PR in their respective ways. And then in Part II the big shift occurs that intertwines a number of smaller, "pop culture" cases to illustrate how to protect your reputation when confronted by catastrophic issues. With all this variety, the book is a fast and entertaining read that in a way reflects the way we experience news of the world today -- news, politics, business, sports and entertainment -- all rolled together in our newspapers and websites.
I was hoping for a final chapter where they brought all of these perspectives together a little beyond the Lessons provided after each chapter. Instead they showed how it was possible for a company (Exxon) known primarily for a disaster (Exxon Valdez) to come full-circle to become one of the most PR-savvy companies in the world (ExxonMobil). The point being that if you understand how the world is changing it's possible for huge organizations and individuals to adapt.