By Rachel Huie
Somewhere along the way, we all decided to make our books our backgrounds. In these days when everything is virtual, it is almost impossible to turn on the news or log in to a Zoom meeting without seeing at least one bookshelf. Analyzing the titles on those shelves has become a fun pastime for people looking for their next read or trying to find something in common with their colleagues. After all, there’s nothing quite like discovering someone has the same reading taste as you.
In a year of uncertainty, books have been the one constant. While I was quarantined at my parents’ house over the summer, I read incessantly, taking comfort in childhood favorites, hiding away in poetry collections and seeking advice from career books. Here are the top four that I wish I had read earlier in my college career:
1. “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This” by Kate White
This candid guide by the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan answered all the questions I didn’t know I had about entering the workforce. From impressing recruiters and managing a team to embracing the power of rotisserie chicken, White offers suggestions for every step of the career arc, big and small, and often supplements them with witty anecdotes to remind us that the people we admire most were once just like us. If I could only keep one book that’s currently on my bookshelf, this would be the one!
2. “Contagious” by Jonah Berger
If you’ve ever wanted to make a video go viral or boost your organization’s word-of-mouth marketing, this book is the solution. Berger has spent more than a decade researching why things “catch on,” which he encapsulates in this readable rundown of famous (and infamous) marketing campaigns and the concrete steps to virality that they all have in common. Most importantly, he shows the readers that they, too, can easily implement the steps in their future projects to boost engagement and reach. This is the first book I read when I started editing the UA PRSSA blog.
3. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie’s classic book about how to make and maintain connections shows up in countless book recommendations, but I never got around to it until this year. Of all the books on this list, this is the one I most regret not reading sooner. With straightforward advice on topics like making a good impression and being a persuasive negotiator, this book is a must-read for everyone, but especially those of us who communicate for a living. Whether you’re pitching the media, launching a campaign or meeting clients, Carnegie’s advice fits almost any public relations scenario. Listen to him and you won’t end up, like me, flaming out in your first job interview.
4. “Crisis Ahead” by Edward Segal
Before 2020, I would never have included something as specific as crisis communications in a general recommendation list. (Frankly, that’s one area of PR that I always avoided.) However, after seeing so many organizations completely blindsided by COVID-19 and realizing how unprepared a lot of us were to deal with crises, I’m convinced that crisis readiness needs to be a bigger part of our training — maybe even a required class for public relations majors. “Crisis Ahead” is unique in that it was published during the pandemic. Segal begins by looking at what went right, what went wrong and what we should do differently in COVID-19 communications. From there, he walks readers through the before, during and after of communicating in a crisis, reminding them along the way that it isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.”