David Henderson is, like so many of us in the public relations business, a former journalist. You can tell that by looking at the blurbs from former CBS newsman Dan Rather and ABC’s Greg Dobbs on the back of his book Making News in the Digital Era, which was published in 2009 by iUniverse.
This points to the fact that Henderson first thought of his job as a PR guy to be about media. Once upon a time, that would have made perfect good sense. When the main way to reach an audience was through the media, journalists were naturals to move to PR, since they had newsroom contacts and an understanding of newsroom culture.
But Henderson has seen that the changes social media has brought to light allow organizations to talk to audiences far more directly than ever before. A corollary to that fact is this: what allows organizations to speak to audiences directly also allows audiences to talk back, and to talk among themselves.
This 170-page book is one that ANYone interested in the practice of media relations or public relations today and into the future ought to have, for a number of reasons.
Henderson is an excellent writer. His sentences are well-constructed and his arguments are made logically and thoroughly. That makes the book useful.
The content is excellent too. He quotes from a number of top-shelf people from the world of business, not-for-profits, and from the public relations industry too (including Ottawa’s own Kathryn Schwab, I was pleasantly surprised to see!)
The book is divided into three parts: “Torrents of Change”; “Get in the Game. Make a Difference”; and “Reaching. Engaging. Influencing.” Some of the chapter titles are a wee bit cliché (“The camera never blinks” or “Crisis never takes a day off”), but they are appropriate for the content.
One of the great things about this book is that Henderson finds lots of examples that haven’t been beaten into the ground yet. My buddy Mark Blevis has been writing about the fact that some case studies in social media are getting tired. Not that Ford’s social media initiatives aren’t a great story, but how many times do you need to hear it?
This is NOT a gee-ain’t-social-media-cool book. This is a book that gives concrete examples of how organizations can USE social media to communicate with audiences — including the mainstream media — and do good media relations in the “digital age.”
One of the best case studies in the book is one that Henderson was personally involved with. In 2002, Henderson became involved in the plight of 12 Kuwaiti citizens who had been taken into custody by American forces and taken to Guantanamo Bay. In the chapter, he discusses how he worked to get media attention to this controversial topic, and how he helped shape the key messages that were important to get out. He follows that chapter with one on a lawyer named Layli Miller-Muro and how her Tahirih Justice Center works with the media. Those chapters alone are worth the cost of the book, in my opinion.
The other thing that I greatly appreciated in the book is Henderson’s willingness to point out that there are many PR firms that are either choosing to ignore social media or to merely put a gloss of social media on top of their proposals. He’s not shy about discussing what he considers unethical or less-than-competent practices in the industry, and he gives the reader some useful advice on how to choose wisely and what to look for in a PR counsel.
Overall, this is one of the best PR books that I’ve ever read. The biggest weakness I can point out in it is that its design is simple to the point of utilitarianism. It looks like a self-published book, which it is. If its cover design sends people away, that’s a shame — for Henderson and for the reader, who’s missed an opportunity to get a LOT of great advice.
- Making news in the digital era, by David Henderson
- iUniverse, 170 pages
- ISBN 978-1-4401-5307-5