Book Reviews

Public Relations

Beyond Spin: The Power of Strategic Corporate Journalism

Author: Markos Kounalakis, Kim Daus, Drew Banks
Publisher Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers
Publication Date: October 1999

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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The authors start the book with an interesting pair of premises:

  • what PR people really do is practice spin and spin control

  • because of their combined open, accurate and strategically weighted reporting SGI (formerly Silicon Graphics) is a better, stronger and more vital player in its markets

Someone will have to explain to us the difference between "strategically weighted reporting" and spin. We can only guess that truth is in the eyes of the beholder.

A few years ago, SGI was a strong and vibrant player in the computer industry. Today, it's an interesting niche player that doesn't appear on many market research firms' radar screen except when you're looking at high-end video production. Tomorrow it is difficult to tell but we believe focus, a lot of hard work, good branding and deep pockets will play a greater role than strategically weighted reporting.

Interestingly the authors - a business strategist, broadcast journalist and publisher - even though they admit they know nothing about corporate communications were tapped by management to establish and carry out SGI's communications program. Perhaps because the team was untainted they were able to develop a unique path for the company's internal and external communications efforts. At the time, SGI looked to many as though it was imploding as sales and earnings shrunk, staff reductions were becoming weekly occurrences and key/seasoned executives and technical personnel were yelling "Geronimo!" in record numbers.

At times like this opening the channels of communications was perhaps their only option because they certainly didn't have time to have meetings to discuss strategy.

To their credit; Kounalakis, Banks and Daus do a very good job of outlining how knowledge-based firms can use news and information to a company's advantage in our global environment. Moving away from SGI, the authors do add to their credibility by exploring how Charles Schwab, Microsoft, J.P. Morgan and QualComm are using their enterprise-wide databases, intranets, video-on-demand and on-line publications to keep fair and accurate news and information flowing to people in the organization…regardless of their location.

All of these firms have come to realize that clear, concise and instant communications of the company's plans, activities and actions is vital in today's internet-connected world. After all, when rumors begin to circulate - good or bad - employees can quickly access any number of Web news sites, user groups and chat rooms to obtain information…even though it is probably inaccurate.

We did get a little weak in the knees when the authors talked about the journalistic integrity and framework of journalist checks and balances that are key to the success of such programs. We do agree that too often management teams hold their missteps and successes to close to the vest and don't take employees into their confidence. Accurately informed employees can be one of the most powerful voices the company has in good times and in bad.

We can forgive the authors for thinking that most PR professionals do nothing all day but sit around all day spin doctoring to the organization's internal and external audiences. We don't believe what we do is propaganda but what they practice is open, accurate internal communications.

But they have done an excellent job of showing professional PR people how they can do a better job of leveraging information technology and an informed workforce to keep the company moving forward.