Book Reviews

Public Relations

Press Releases Are Not a PR Strategy!: An Executive's Guide to Public Relations

Author: Linda B. VandeVrede
Publisher VandeVrede Public Relations LLC
Publication Date: January 2005

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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For more than two years Howard Hudson, the esteemed publisher of PR Quarterly, would call every few months and ask when we were going to write our own book on public relations.  Or perhaps we could jointly publish a book on all of the book reviews to give people an elevator view of the great books in the field.  Our response was always the same  time and our feeling few would be interested in a complete book of our opinions, views.

We received Ms VandeVrede’s self-published book and it piqued our curiosity.  The title Press Releases Are Not a PR Strategy! is certainly valid even though most executives (and far too many PR people) seem to believe that effective PR is all about cranking out a ton of releases.  Then they measure that effectiveness by how many clippings they receive.

The book is undoubtedly the distillation of Ms. VandeVrede’s 25 years of experience in the field. Press Releases Are Not a PR Strategy! is far more than just a marketing tool for her Phoenix-based agency (which you might believe when you read the acknowledgements and forward), this is really a compilation of good points and information for newcomers to the field as well as senior executives. 

We both agree and disagree with the author’s basic premise for writing the book  the consumer/prospect isn’t the PR target audience but rather the editor, reporter and analyst who write about your product category, your products, your company.  If you don’t listen to, understand and work with these gatekeepers reaching the ultimate product or service buyer is almost difficult and expensive. 

Certainly you can by-pass the press (print, radio, TV and online) if you have the experience and expertise to leverage blogs and on-line 1:1 communications.  But most PR people abuse this approach as much as they abuse the members of the press.

Ms VandeVrede has broken the book down into palatable, easy to read bites.  Actually, 25 chapters peppered with a number of quotes from reporters, editors and analysts that certainly add to the credibility of her explanations and the points she makes. 

The author gives her favorite list of PR misconceptions which we have certainly heard over our career but found to be more simplistic than we may have spelled out.  The heart of her book’s message seems to be that management believes public relations is free, public relations is something that you can manage and public relations is based on news releases.   Fortunately she takes you beyond those points and outlines the strategy rather than the tactics of a good PR program and the results it can achieve.

Press Releases Are Not a PR Strategy! is the type of book you certainly want to give to your CEO and head of marketing, preferably chapter by chapter because they would only read the sections when the specific subject came up in a conversation or meeting.  In addition, it makes an excellent gift for anyone who graduated with his or her PR degree and landed their first job since Ms. VandeVrede makes an excellent point of noting that few people with five or fewer years in the industry have any training or background in journalism.  Without that expertise or understanding it is extremely difficult for a practitioner to understand what editors, reporters or analysts really want and need to do their jobs.

In a time when so much of public relations efforts and activities seem to bend the rules of legality and ethics, Ms. VandeVrede does a good job of discussing Sarbanes-Oxley and how it relates to public relations work (from the executive and practitioner perspective).  The author does a very good job of distilling the essence of the S-O Act and how it should be interpreted and followed in your many communications activities.  The chapter on ethics lacks some of the punch we would like to see discussed in light of recent events.   The hiring of journalists as paid spokespersons and the work public relations had to do to further the management messages of Adelphi, Enron, MCI and other financial tragedies over the past few years most certainly crossed the line of the PRSA's (Public Relations Society of America) code of ethics.   But to her credit she does give sound advice to practitioners and management that PR people shouldn’t be and can’t be simple vehicles of blindly disseminating management’s messages. 

In addition to a very useful directory of resources to help organizations with their PR efforts, the author clearly and concisely discusses important aspects of a complete public relations program including management media training, white papers, websites, trade show activities, editorial tours, competitive positioning and speaker programs.  She also helps readers understand what a news release should and should not be as well as how to use and abuse the lowly release.  Finally she defines how the release can be disseminated to specific individuals and target groups rather than the entire world. 

While the author uses quotes from respected members of the journalistic field to reinforce her premise that the press is the real boss of public relations -- not the company or the management  it is the one point we take issue with.  We believe PR serves and negotiates with two bosses  management and the media.  Knowing how to serve them both  as well as the consumer public  is the true test of the practitioner’s talent and expertise.

But Ms. VandeVrede makes an excellent point in her book… Press Releases Are Not a PR Strategy!  For that reason alone it is a book you’ll want to buy and circulate to your bosses (after reading it of course) chapter by chapter!