Between The Pages: Mastering The Masters Of Communications (Part 1)


Today, like it or not, we live in a culture of images. Almost any college textbook on media can encapsulate both the events and innovations that have shaped what is today known as public communications, or communicating with your designated publics, whoever and wherever they may be. But how does one combine textbook theories with real world experience to become an effective business communicator? The best way is to study the history of ideas about the discipline, and read the biographies of successful communications executives. When in doubt, remember that simple is better than complex. For the sake of simplicity, let's split communications people into two general categories: the thinkers and the doers. In chronological order by publication date, here are six books, which, depending on your category, will provide a year's worth of reading. The three books on ideas are for the thinkers, and the three on workplace warfare (which will be addressed in Part II of this article, appearing in an upcoming issue of PRN) are for the doers. *Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann, Harcourt Brace (1922) Early on, Lippmann was an optimistic believer and proponent of American democracy. When the optimism of youth morphed into the pragmatism of his middle years, he formulated ideas and wrote books that would shape the national political agenda for the rest of the 20th century. Public Opinion has several important observations relevant to communications execs: 1. People make up their minds before they define the facts instead of gathering and analyzing the facts before reaching conclusions. 2. Most people are too self-centered to care about public policy, except as it pertains to local issues. 3. There needs to be a "special" group of people trained to sort through facts and devise strategies to "manufacture consent" among the general public. Published over 85 years ago, the book is still in print, but also available as a free download at Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org/etext/6456]. So get a copy, put it on your laptop and read it on your next cross-country flight. *Propaganda, Edward Bernays, Horace Liveright (1928) In 1990, Life magazine named Bernays among the 100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, whose books and theories were discussed at his parents' dinner table, Bernays was among the first to formulate methods to use the social sciences and the subconscious to manipulate public opinion. He built on Lippmann's ideas about politics, coined the phrase "engineering of consent" and took social science research into the world of commerce, using techniques such as third-party experts to endorse products in the marketplace of ideas. *Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan, McGraw Hill (1964) McLuhan predicted much of the evolution of the information age and its byproducts nearly half a century ago. During his 15 minutes of fame (which actually lasted over two decades), many sobriquets were attached to him, including "Metaphysician of the Media and Theologian of Information." Yet, if he were alive today, his contrarian spirit would probably not allow him to have an e-mail address. For over four decades, college courses have been taught on this seminal book and McLuhan's ideas, but it's a fair bet that more than 95% of practicing communicators under age 30 would be hard pressed to recognize the man, his theories or his contribution to their profession. One of the obstacles readers have with this book is that it's not an easy read. McLuhan's work is difficult and unique because he never offers a static theory of communication. Rather, like a philosopher, he probes the effects of anything humans use in dealing with the world. So what is the take away from these three books dealing with ideas and theories? Simply this: All major events and accomplishments in recorded history are rooted in ideas. Not to know the history of the ideas that have shaped mass communications and all the people who work in the profession is definitely a career-limiting move. CONTACT: Peter Brinch directs marketing strategy and communications at CityBizList. He can be reached at info@citybizlist.com

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