A Public Relations Survival Kit

by S.E. Slack

Published by Grendel Press

176 pages, 2002

Buy it online







Getting it Right the First Time

Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa


Now this is how to do it right:

  • Spot the market for a book genre and create a successful product for it
  • Identify the readership needs of the buyers and write specifically for them
  • Fill the pages with a mix of hard fact and soothing presentation
  • Break all the design conventions of other titles in the genre and turn the result into an eye-grabbing standout

Sally Slack's A Public Relations Survival Kit scores as a publishing success on many counts. She should provide great encouragement to the world of small publishing -- it is possible to best the majors at their own game even with their budgets and clout with book distributors and retailers. Slack has such a clear vision of what she is doing it is worth quoting her strategy at length:

"I went into this with a long-term vision. After working with and interviewing small business owners and hearing their complaints and dilemmas, I researched the available business books on the market. I found a gaping hole: they were either too simplistic or too high-concept. The '101 Publicity Tips' types of books gave tips but didn't explain the principles behind the tips; the high-concept books buttressed their ideas with few concrete examples. They ignored the fact that if people don't know why they are doing something, they probably won't excel at it. As a small business owner myself, I wanted to teach others the way I need to be taught. Small business owners wear so many hats they don't have time to become an "expert" in everything. The PR Survival Kit was conceived with them in mind. Then business writer Lecia Wood and I expanded the concept with Corporate Storytelling: Planning and Creating Internal Communication. Finally I realized I could create an entire series of titles for the small and medium-sized business owners with 1 to 500 employees."

The Table of Contents is certainly promising:

  • Rocket Scientists Need Not Apply: A look at Public Relations and the myths surrounding it
  • The Art of the Buzz: What buzz is, why you need it and how to get it
  • Grabbing the Headlines: How the media works and ways to play the game
  • Lose the Soft Touch: Every business needs to establish philanthropic strategy. Here's how.
  • Are you Speaker Material? When and where you should be heard, plus speaker tips and speech outline
  • Your Cyberspace Image: Simple tricks for turning the Internet in your Public Relations partner
  • Yes, You Can Plan an Event: A checklist and ideas for your PR arsenal
  • Use Big Brother to Your Advantage: Put the government to work for you by earning the right to be heard
  • Building Your Public Relations Campaign: A twelve-week plan and long-term plan you can use over and over again

Clear as a bell, you're on notice of what you're going to get. Early on Slack tells us that "Smart public relations isn't rocket science, even though public relations pundits would have you believe it is."

Later, Slack writes that, "Unless your target markets have been living under a rock since 1993, chances are good that they may attempt to find your product or service online at some point. Therefore, we're assuming you need the Internet."

And later still Slack tells us that, "As business owners, let's admit it: We like to run things our way and we don't want any interference. I often think every entrepreneur has a defective gene -- the flat-out inability to accept rules and regulations created by others."

This is most certainly not the joyless buzzword slog one gets from many of the mainstream business presses. There's just the right sprinkle of reference to acknowledged industry professionals,, but there's also an easygoing directness. Indeed, "easygoing" is perhaps the most apt term for Slack's style.

This is hardly a surprise, for behind the charm of sentences you can actually understand lies a professional who worked as an executive in public relations for more than 10 years at IBM, State Farm Insurance, a startup computer company and two not-for-profit organizations. She is now a public relations consultant for small and medium-sized businesses and has written numerous articles for international business magazines and online business sites. The result is a prose style that resembles DK books only with pith instead of pictures.

She plans to expand into a series aptly logo'd "The ABCs of Business." The follow-on title is to be Corporate Storytelling: Planning and Creating Internal Communications by Lecia Vonne Wood due for release later in 2002.

Unpleasant though it is, one of the reviewer's jobs is to get picky. After two read-throughs, A Public Relations Survival Kit frothed up the following:

The dedication on page 9 should have been on page 8.

There's an unaccountable pair of blank pages on page 10 and 11 (Slack must be planning on some really impressive book-signings).

There are widows on pages 14, 26, 32, 36, 45, 58, 92, 126, 131, and 140; and an orphan on 134. Oh dear. Dickens could do a whole new novel with this lot.

The bottom line of the text is often uncomfortably tight to the footer.

At $24.95 it's a bit pricey for 176 pages even if it is warbled as from the boughs in spring.

If this is the best the picky-picky patrol can come up with, Slack's book fares no better or worse than what you get from most business presses with their scads of proofreaders. All in all, this first-effort is a tour-de-force in getting it right. | March 2002


Dana De Zoysa has a passion for developing-country authors. He commutes between Bombay and his writer's paradise in Mirissa, Sri Lanka. He can be reached at DanaDeZoysa@aol.com.