Book Reviews

Public Relations


Author: Gerry McCusker
Publisher Kogan Page, Limited
Publication Date: October 2004

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Talespin is like the morning newspaper or sitting down for breakfast.

The first thing you want to do is look at table of contents and index and hope your company or your client isn’t listed. Just as you scan the obits and check the side of the milk carton in the morning to make certain you aren’t listed.

Not listed?

Great! Now you can enjoy what not to do. Or you can secretly enjoy someone else’s misery.

McCusker’s book isn’t one of those infrequent and relatively unread hatchet job books that take public relations to task for the bottom-feeding things they do in the name of a profession. Nor is this a documentary study to explain away or justify lapses in professional judgement and recommendations.

The author doesn’t make excuses for public relations efforts in the disasters he cites and neither does he hang the professionals out to ridicule. Instead, the Australian author with more than 20 years of experience in the field presents a clear, concise and often humorous examination of 79 global PR disasters.

Frankly, reading best practice management and PR books as well as success and good ideas gone bad articles are the way we like to constantly improve our own public relations efforts and activities. We have always wondered why the professionals who consistently packaged and promoted the efforts of Enron, MCI and the hundreds of other financial and health risk disasters never faced prosecution like their bosses. We have been puzzled about how senior PR people can explain away such things as hiring a journalist to promote programs and activities never seem to face disciplinary action.

But these subjects are beyond McCusker’s book. Instead he does a very professional job of documenting the public relations efforts and activities behind the disasters that have occurred.

He constantly asks the rhetorical question we have probably all asked ourselves…”How could seemingly intelligent, ethical and professional PR people carry out and perpetuate these things?” Clearly simply saying we were only following orders isn’t the answer.

While he examines a series of public relations disasters with typical Aussie humor, he also clearly discusses and provides his professional insight into the malpractice and misjudgments that have lead to the PR disasters. McCusker doesn’t appear to have written Talespin as an expose of others or to show that his PR consultancy work is better than others who try to do the right thing on a daily basis. In fact even those professionals involved in the global PR disasters including Dow Corning, Starbucks, Coca-Cola/Pepsi, Nestle, Ford, McDonalds and others.

McCusker clearly shows that the issues, problems and solutions are not black or white but varying shades of gray. He shows that it is a lot easier to examine the disaster and 30,000 feet than when you are standing waist deep in the middle of the swamp.

Talespin clearly shows that our inability or unwillingness to throttle back management’s expectations of PR’s ability to “manage the news” or deliver specific editorial coverage is a big part of the credibility gap we have with management, the media and community at large. At the same time he is optimistic that the profession as a whole is moving in the right direction.

In some ways it appears as though McCusker researched and wrote Talespin for himself to define what he should and should not do to be a better and hopefully more successful public relations person himself. At least we believe the task of writing the book has probably had an indelible impact on his professionalism.

If you read Talespin a few times in an objective and soul-searching manner, you will undoubtedly improve the quality of your management recommendations and work.

Best of all, you won’t have to grab Talespin II to search the table of contents or index to see if your company or one of your clients has been included.