Review: Introduction to Public Relations

About the author

Richard Bailey FCIPR MPRCA is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

Introduction to Public Relations by Sue Wolstenholme
Introduction to Public Relations by Sue Wolstenholme

Good book, wrong title

There’s now a crowded field of UK-published introductory textbooks to support study at university and towards professional qualifications.

There’s Theaker’s The Public Relations Handbook (now in its fourth edition) and Exploring Public Relations by Tench and Yeomans (third edition due later this year).

There are also several fellow first editions: Gordon’s Public Relations, Morris & Goldsworthy’s PR Today and Theaker and Yaxley’s The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit.

So what’s the point of Sue Wolstenholme’s book? Is it an introduction to understanding public relations or an introduction to doing public relations?

First, let’s review what it does well

The book takes a distinctively international perspective. While Sue Wolstenholme is listed as the author and has written much of the text, she is supported by six contributing authors most of whom are based outside the UK. Of the alternative textbooks listed above, only Averill Gordon’s Public Relations offers a comparably international perspective.

The book is structured into three sections.

Part one is called ‘What is public relations?’ and contains an interesting defence of the concept of publics (in a world dominated by stakeholder thinking), leading to the distinctiveness of public relations for its approach to issues management.

The expected discussion of definitions is enlivened by a comparison with social marketing (just the latest attempt by marketing to borrow, without attribution, PR’s clothing).

Part two is called ‘Skills in public relations’ and the four sections cover international, writing press releases, communicating by objectives and crisis management. Why no section on digital? Why no internal communication? While the advice on press release writing by Paul Noble is good, it’s odd to see this focus on technical skills given the overall emphasis on management techniques.

Part three ‘Reconceptualising PR’ is the most unexpected. This, as contributing authors Toni Muzi Falconi and Sven Hamrefors acknowledge, is not really a postscript but an alternative and more advanced introduction to the book. That’s because ‘what is public relations?’ is a much less interesting question than ‘what’s the purpose of public relations?’.

The book contains many good things, and I can see where it would be most useful. Not on undergraduate or taught postgraduate courses (the already mentioned alternatives are more suitable); nor with Diploma-level professional qualifications (Morris & Goldsworthy and Theaker & Yaxley strike a better balance between principles and practice and devote more space to management tools).

My advice would be for the CIPR to adopt this as the textbook for a revamped Advanced Certificate qualification, combining as it does professional thinking and practical skills with an international perspective (and an intellectual defence of the distinctiveness and importance of public relations).

The CIPR Advanced Certificate should be a much more attractive qualification as it’s the cheapest and quickest way to kick-start a PR career. I’m sure this has occurred to the author as she’s currently CIPR President and contributing author Paul Noble is the CIPR’s chief examiner for the Advanced Certificate course. I urge action on this as the Advanced Certificate is, in my opinion, a poorly-positioned course that needs life-saving surgery.

The promised review copy of the book was not received from the publishers, so this review is based on a reading of Pearson’s e-book. Though mine was a cursory rather than a detailed reading for review purposes, I did notice some errors (minor, but the sort we correct in student and practitioner assignments). Kevin Moloney’s name is given as Maloney in the text and in the index and the index also cites Yeoman when it should be Yeomans.

More problematic is the book’s name. This should be reviewed along with the course I think it suits best. But if the name of the course persists, then this book would be better named along these lines: Advanced Public Relations: Succeeding in Global PR.

Doesn’t that sound more interesting and challenging?