by Michael L. Turney, Ph.D., ABC
Northern Kentucky University Emeritus Professor of Communication
IABC Accredited Business Communicator
The Public Relations Playbook has evolved from the book formerly known as the Public Relations Student Playbook, and I'm delighted to see it has adopted this new name. I never thought its value was limited to students, and I didn't like seeing it labeled as if it was meant only for students.
Although the Playbook has a lot to offer students, I think it is even more valuable to relatively inexperienced public relations professionals who are early in their careers. Such young, working practitioners -- particularly those with five years or less of public relations experience who encounter unfamiliar situations they have to immediately address -- are in far more need of quick, easy-to-understand guidance than most student are. They're the ones who will benefit most from having the Playbook available as a desktop reference.
But, regardless of its name and the current status of whomever is using it, this new Playbook of 500 pages will be a wide-ranging, extremely useful and insightful tool for any newcomer to public relations work. Compared to the earlier version, it includes 15 completely new chapters, totaling more than 90 pages, in addition to the updates and revisions in other chapters.
Some students and professors may use the Playbook as a "supplementary textbook." That's very appropriate; it's really not comprehensive or detailed enough to serve as a stand-alone textbook. It doesn't, for instance, offer a complete overview of public relations or even of a particular sub-section of the discipline. While it covers a lot of the territory, it does it in a piecemeal fashion rather than following a logical framework. It is, however, a great companion to many of the most popular PR textbooks. It fills in some of the typical gaps in these textbooks and in many class lectures by addressing topics that weren't mentioned at all or were only superficially glossed over. And sometimes, it offers alternate perspectives on topics that may have been covered but adds additional explanation of why a particular strategy or tactic did or didn't work in a given situation. And, sometimes, it lays out step-by-step, how-to instructions readers can apply to their own situations. It also urges readers to reflect on their own experiences and suggests ways of performing a guided self-evaluation.
Other teachers and public relations practitioners may see the Playbook as more of a handbook, guidebook, or deskbook than a textbook. They might even see it as akin to the once-beloved Dartnell's Public Relations Handbook, which is now sadly out-of-date and largely useless in today's fast changing world of social media.
Tom Hagley, the author, describes the Playbook as "a collection of teaching points" that students he met during his ten years of teaching college-level public relations said they needed or wanted to learn about. That's why he drew on his 30 years of experience as a public relations professional—most notably as vice president and general manager of Hill & Knowlton Public Relations division in Portland, Oregon, as the northwest regional public relations manager for Alcoa, and as the director of public and investor relations for Alumax Inc. (Atlanta)—to write and publish it.
Tom wrote most of the book himself but collaborated with other experienced professionals as co-authors on a few chapters. (In a spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I collaborated on the chapter about government public relations.) His expressed hope is that the lessons in this book will help "students learn from the School of Experience" represented by him and his collaborators rather than suffering through "the School of Hard Knocks" on their own.
Previously, the book consisted of only three sections. The new, expanded edition has had an additional section inserted.
Part I deals with public relations as a whole. It touches on the underlying purpose, philosophy, history, and current status of the profession. In many ways,—some subtle; some much more direct—it encourages readers to ask themselves if public relations is really the most appropriate and most suitable career choice for them.
Part II is less conceptual and more concerned with helping aspiring practitioners successfully complete their public relations studies and move into and through their first few entry-level positions. If you're one of them, it can help you assess yourself and your professional performance so you present yourself in the best possible light to supervisors and prospective employers. Even more important, it will encourage you to be honest with yourself about your professional development. The author wants you to view the book as "a companion" that you keep close by when you're dealing with public relations matters, especially "when you are deep in thought about a situation, an action, a difficult decision, a worrisome or burdensome challenge," or feel that you need to be nudged forward.
Part III, which is called "Professor Candello Interviews," is the new section added in this edition. It encompasses 12 of the 15 new chapters mentioned earlier. Each one is a transcript of a "magazine-style interview" Dr. Candello of Arizona State University conducted with the author for an audience of college students. The eclectic topics they discussed were specifically chosen to meet the needs and interests of those particular students and ran the gamut from issue management to artificial intelligence, measurable results to budgets and billing, and online community engagement, with several others sandwiched in between.
Part IV, however, is the longest section. It's also my personal favorite because it's the most nitty-gritty part of the book. It deals with the day-to-day realities and tactics of performing public relations for different types of organizations—non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions as well as profit-centered businesses—in a variety of different settings. It also explains how to develop a public relations strategic plan from doing the initial research and establishing a network of contacts, through writing and producing various types of projects. It also offers tips for dealing with crisis situations. And, through it all, it stresses the need to develop your own personal and professional relationships at the same time you're working to enhance your employer and/or your client's relationships.
Speaking as a retired professor and a former public relations practitioner, myself, I think the Public Relations Playbook is a wonderful resource with a wealth of helpful information and perspective for beginning public relations practitioners, and I thank Tom Hagley for all the time, hard work, and heart and soul he's put into publishing it.
My only criticism remains its current lack of an index.—Although, Tom has assured me the next edition will have one.— In the meantime, without an index, readers are somewhat in the dark about which topics, tools, people, and incidents are actually discussed in the book and which aren't. Short of reading the book cover to cover, their only clues come from skimming the table of contents and, with 83 chapters, that's neither quick nor easy. In fact, it's rather frustrating given the obliqueness of some of the chapter titles. Some are pretty straight-forward and clearly reveal what the chapter is about, e.g., Chapter 41. Preparing to write a public relations plan, or Chapter 50. Improve your public relations writing in 16 controllable ways. Others aren't. Chapter 18. Shape your character by design, and Chapter 78. Think of donors as 'lost patrons,' for instance, are a bit vague. And, still others seem to be more intent on being cute than being informative, e.g., Chapter 23. Shud job inerviews inclood spelling tests? and Chapter 59. 'Supreme' lesson in writing testimony.
Note that I'm not complaining about the content of these chapters, or any of the others, for that matter. -- Most of the chapters are actually quite good and include relevant, informative, and well-written information. Some are exceptionally well-done. -- It's just that some of their titles make it difficult to know what's included in them, and in the book as a whole, without reading the book from cover to cover. However, that may not be a bad thing to do. There's a lot of worthwhile information to be found in it.
Michael L. Turney www.practicingpublicrelations.com 1 May 2021