I wish I could think of more negative things to say about “Do the right thing: PR tips for a skeptical public.”

But it’s one of the best books that I’ve found for people who aren’t in the PR business.

The book grew out of two things: first, James Hoggan is the founder of Hoggan and Associates, a Vancouver-based PR firm. Second, Hoggan and his company wrote a PR column for the Vancouver Sun for five years, from 2002-2007. It would appear that  Hoggan and Littlemore then took the columns and built on them to create this book.

THE GOOD

Thankfully, it dosn’t really FEEL like they’re rehashed columns. The book reads exceptionally well, and is written in a clear, simple style that any writer would be happy to claim as his or her own.

Hoggan and Littlemore divide it into two parts, and hold three principles or rules as sacrosanct:

1. Do the right thing

2. Be seen to be doing the right thing

3. Don’t get #1 and #2 mixed up

What they mean by #3 is a little unclear, and I wish it weren’t. Essentially, they’re arguing that you don’t do the right thing just for appearnaces or as a “PR ploy”; you do it because it’s right.

Part one is named Strategy: the basics, the background and the big ideas, and has eight chapters that outline the elements of PR strategy as they see it, using concepts like storytelling, framing, dialogue, and persuasion. They then go through a case study from their company’s history involving a hepatitis incident at a local food retailer.

Part two: Tactics – hands-on tips for everyday success, is just what the title suggests. Twelve short chapters each dealing with one or another aspect of communications.

THE BAD

Not surprisingly for authors who were intimately involved in the creation of the DeSmogBlog (Hoggan is also chair of the David Suzuki Foundation and Canadian chair of Al Gore’s The Climate Project), there are a lot of environmental examples and case studies in the book. And Hoggan doesn’t shy away from criticizing individuals and organizations he feels are on the “dark side” of the PR industry, calling out APCO-Worldwide‘s use of “astroturf” (fake grassroots) groups and  JunkScience.com‘s Steven Milloy among others.

Hoggan goes on to praise John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, founders of PR Watch and authors of books such as Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Banana Republicans, which have been heavily critical of public relations tactics. Why? Hoggan writes “[If the implication is that] Stauber’s criticism of bad public relations means that he and all those associated with him should recoil from all public relations…I couldn’t disagree more.”

THE UGLY

I suppose it would have been impossible for someone with Hoggan’s interest and track record in the environment to avoid this discussion, but there were times when I felt there were some personal axes being ground, particularly when Hoggan dismisses climate change skeptic Tim Ball as a “self-styled expert” and spend a fair amount of space taking shots at climate change critic Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition.

THE WRAPUP

With Hoggan and Littlemore’s focus on their three core principles, the book hangs together very well. And it would be easy for someone looking for a quick tip on, say, employee communications to flip to chapter 21 and spend 10 minutes perusing. In fact, the best part of this book is its ability to be read as a book and as a collection of tips. I’d figure it’s easy to do either, but hard to do both.

Hoggan and Littlemore have done a remarkable job of distilling PR theory and best practices down into a relatively short and well-organized text that I plan on using in my worklife. But I think it might be of even more use for people who don’t have a PR person or can’t afford one.

The INFO

  • Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for a Skeptical Public, by James Hoggan and Richard D. Littlemore
  • Capital Books, 2009
  • ISBN: 9781933102863

Help keep me doing book reviews: if you buy using this link, I get a wee chunk of the price, which helps support this part of my blog: Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for a Skeptical Public. Thanks.

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