What novels will help make PRs smarter?

As an ice-breaker at a recent writing workshop, I asked attendees to discuss the novel they wish they had written.  This was a fascinating exercise and helped focus our minds on what constitutes good writing.  I firmly believe that the secret of being a good writer is to read widely and if you don’t love literature, you shouldn’t work in PR.

This has been backed up by Keith Oatley (writing in the New Scientist – subscription required) who asserts we should read novels, to be smarter (via Judy Gombita).  Not only will reading novels stimulate our brains, but assist our story telling abilities, according to Olivia Mitchell

Reading novels is also said to improve your interpersonal or social skills – another key requirement of the PR professional.

Businesses are also being encouraged to recommend reading to their staff in the “Adopt a Book” scheme that:

encourages businesses to choose a single book for all their employees to read. They buy copies at a discount from The Book People, and instigate reading groups and discussion, turning any old smoking rooms in the workplace into reading spaces.

I’m not sure that the latest book from prime minister Gordon Brown will be on many people’s list of must-reads when it is published next February.  However, Ethan Musolini, CEO of Success Africa, believes “leaders are readers” and makes some suggestions of how to free up the time to read. 

My house if full of novels and other reading matter – my preference being for reading in the bath.  I also carry a book in my bag when travelling or attending meetings so that I can read whenever I’m kept waiting.

I’ve noticed a trend for graphic novels (popular with younger readers in particular) which may also have a benefit as it is claimed “kids that read graphic novels are usually reading regular novels anyway.”

I like to read real paper books, but appreciate there are now many websites, such as Read Book Online, where you can access a wide range of free novels via the Internet.  You can also purchase books at eReader for a range of digital devices (I haven’t tried this for my itouch yet).

My CV includes a statement that I am a voracious reader of everything and anything.  But I’m always open to new ideas.  What novel would you suggest every PR person should read (my answer is Orwell’s 1984)?  Is there a title that helped make you smarter (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night shows how you can see the world through someone else’s eyes)? 

Do share your recommendations, please.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

4 thoughts on “What novels will help make PRs smarter?”

  1. Not so much bed time reading but I’d recommend Essential English: For Journalists, Editors and Writers. A PR person will understand what’s expected from journalist when they write for newspapers and so will gain an insight into what might get their material noticed if they adopt the same approach/skills.

    I also devoured the Confessions of an advertising man by David Ogilvy.
    Ogilvy was a copywriter and so right up my street and it gives advicea for anyone in advertising. A bit dated perhaps but I think I read it in just two sittings.
    I think it’s good for PR person to see things from an – albeit slightly over the top – advertising perspective.

  2. Jill – useful resources and there was a recent BBC programme on David Ogilvy that is worth catching if you can. But what about novels – how have these helped improve your communication skills?

  3. My favorite fiction authors are Christopher Buckley and Max Barry.

    Buckley satires spin in all its forms (you probably know Thank You for Smoking since it was also a successful film). His latest novel Boomsday includes the power of blogging as well as media relations and No Way to Treat A Lady emphasizes perception plays.

    He’s brilliant.

    Max Barry satires marketing and corporate life. His book Company is hilarious and has a scene that is a great example of ambiguous consultant-speak. His novel Syrup takes place within Coke’s marketing dept.

    These guys are both excellent novelists who write stories that are relevant to our industry.

    Beyond that, I’d recommend blogs over books for business acumen because the content is more timely. Check out Seth Godin’s blog and of course my blog: http://www.speakmediablog.com.

    Jennifer A. Jones

  4. I’m reading Losing You by Nicci French at the moment. The back cover says if you’re reading this on the train you’ll miss your stop. I was reading it coming back from Manchester the other day and although I didn’t miss my stop it did make my destination come around a bit quicker!

    This book describes people’s characters quite succinctly and reminds me of the way people like Catherine Deveney, Newspaper Feature Writer of the Year 2008 write their introductory paragraphs. Catherine describes the way people stride towards her when she’s going to interview them and how they adopt a certain position in a chair for instance. For me, I’m right there with her.

    I think this sort of fictional reading I’ve described could encourage PR practitioners to see beyond the facts to try to extract the real person perhaps a case study they might be working with for instance. If you can really relate to that person I believe you can put them forward as a stronger case study as you’ve delved below the exterior and connected with them on a deeper level. This is more than just asking the right questions, it’s seeing the real person. You can even hone these skills over the phone as people usually reveal a chink of their character as they talk and its knowing when to tap into this. I still keep in touch with some people who’ve accepted my invitation to become case studies. Caring matters.

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