Rethinking Reputation: How PR Trumps Marketing and Advertising in the New Media World

by Fraser P. Seitel and John Doorley

This book gets off to a weak start. Chapter one is not about reputation management. It’s about how a couple of NYU students launched a shoe company on a shoestring budget. (Hint: Find a patent attorney who will work for you without charge.) Chapters three and five sound like they could have been written by publicists for Merck and Johnson & Johnson. In fact, coauthor John Doorley has held positions at both firms (and he teaches at NYU). The chapter on T. Boone Pickens’ energy independence campaign states that he spent $100 million “with more than half focused on paid media.”  That seems to undermine premise of the subtitle.

The real meat of this book begins on page 111. Part Two includes several examples of the right and wrong ways to handle a PR crisis. Cases include numerous sports and political scandals, a series of challenges at Hewlett-Packard, and the BP oil spill fiasco. The final chapter describes how ExxonMobil has changed its approach to corporate communications.

In a section where the authors (rightfully) skewer Nancy Grace for being fast and loose with the facts, they also make false assertions. They write that “Whitney Houston was found drowned in a Hollywood bathtub in 2012” and “the LAPD has already reported that Houston’s death wasn’t the result of foul play or force or trauma to the body.”  In reality, Houston died in a Beverly Hills hotel and the investigating agency was the Beverly Hills Police Department, not LAPD.  These details may not be material to their point, but the sloppiness is hard to overlook while the authors (rightfully) berate contemporary media for being more concerned with speed of so-called breaking news than with accuracy.

There are four memorable lines that stand out in this book:

  1. “The cardinal rule of public relations is never, ever lie.”
  2. “Silence grants the point”
  3. “In a crisis, a leader needs to take charge immediately.”
  4. “The truth will out.”

Although this may be tangential to the book itself, there’s something in chapter four that I find difficult to reconcile with the cardinal rule. The Pickens campaign hired “DCI, a political consulting and lobbying firm with a knack for creating grassroots organizations…” The term grassroots implies that rank and file citizens are the source of the movement, not the target of it. So, a lobbying firm creating grassroots organizations strikes me as less than honest and transparent.  (There’s a book about this sort of nonsense called Toxic Sludge is Good For You.) For what it’s worth, I agree with the goal of energy independence. My criticism is with what I perceive as deceptive PR tactics.

Seitel, Fraser P., and John Doorley. Rethinking Reputation: How PR Trumps Marketing and Advertising in the New Media World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Buy from