7 business books for new communication pros

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A student and I were talking recently about the texts I had chosen for the class: The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott and This Is How You Pitch by Ed Zitron. The student liked their writing style, their use of intriguing case studies and the applicability of their advice.

The student was surprised to hear that these were not college texts, but rather from the genre of “business books.” He asked for a recommendation of other business books that would help him prepare for the real world.

In addition to the two mentioned above, here are seven books I recommend to him and to others starting out on a career in communication, public relations or marketing:

Suck-up-to-the-boss books:


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey.

This is one of those books your boss surely has read. You will hear the C-suite crowd making sage references to things like “sharpening the saw.” Wow them by saying something like, “if only we pay as much attention to sharpening the saw as we do to sharpening the axe.” Minds blown.

Reading the books that the bosses are reading is not only a smooth move, it saves you time. The bosses chew through these things, and the ones they talk about are the ones worth your while. Even though 7 Habits has been around for decades (updated this century), it gives as good a roadmap for handling yourself in the real world as any book out there.


WTF? What’s the Future of Business? Brian Solis.

Read this along with 7 Habits to get a more up-to-date take on business. This book will start you thinking about what is meant by being a “social business.” You’ll be surprised how many organizations are all about themselves and not enough about the customers. Solis puts the technology-empowered consumer at the center of the equation. This is the perfect business book for communication professionals.

Savvy communicator books


Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.

The CEO and CFO probably have not read this one. Good. Read this and let them think you’re a genius.

Non-communication pros — let’s call them civilians — know that word-of-mouth is a key consumer driver and they quickly glom onto social media tactics. This book goes below the surface and helps you discover the ways that people band together in social networks and how strategically placed communications can make waves across networks. It’s not about the technology; it’s how you use it.


Change or Die Alan Deutschman.

A physician leader turned me on to this book. Doctors are in the behavior change business, and she told me this book altered the way she practiced and counseled her patients. It isn’t easy convincing people to adopt healthy living.

When clients or operations leaders come to you for a communication or marketing campaign, they will come armed with all the facts about why the audience should see things their way. But if all it takes is facts to change people’s minds, no one would smoke cigarettes. Deutschman, combining research and case studies, provides the psychological keys to motivating people to change. Sales people know this stuff. Communicators shouldn’t be too snooty to learn from them.


Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear Frank Luntz.

Words are communicators’ building blocks. This book sorts out the blocks that have proven to resonate with people.

Luntz should know. For years, he has watched thousands of people in focus groups turn plus/minus dials as they react to words spoken on TV ads or by politicians. He has spotted specific words that make the needle spike into plus territory and he has noticed patterns. It’s he who convinced Republicans to call inheritance taxes “death taxes.” Even if you don’t agree with his politics, you will be nodding along with his observations on powerful words.

Sharpening the saw books


Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action Simon Sinek.

You need to set aside mindshare to work on improving yourself — what Covey calls “sharpening the saw.” Read this book and you might be one of the sharper blades in the drawer.

You won’t be on the job long before you’re in a meeting where you’ll be word-smithing a mission statement and mapping out a strategic plan. Watch. Everyone will be talking about WHAT the organization does. And depending on where they are in the organization, they will have decidedly different ideas about WHAT the organization should prioritize.

Sinek urges us to instead focus on WHY the organization exists. When you do, you will find purpose that is much more motivating to you and your customers than the widgets you make. PRO TIP: Watch Sinek’s TEDTalk and you’ll get enough of the basic idea that you can incorporate his concept into your work.


The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? Seth Godin.

Every now and then, pick up a book that just makes you feel good. Godin writes beautifully. He’s in the trenches with us, doing marketing and communication for companies. But he doesn’t let us sink into mediocrity. We are artists, he says. By embracing that aspiration, our work — and our souls — will reach new heights.

Steve Krizman is a communication and PR change agent who has led innovation in health care, journalism, and higher education. He currently is a tenure-track professor of PR and journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Steve is sole proprietor of Connected Communication, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations develop integrated PR, communication, and marketing programs. His particular expertise is in the health industry, including insurance, health delivery systems, and digital health.

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  1. Reply

    Steve, Great list here and I’m honored to be in such esteemed company. I’d add one more from Seth Godin: Linchpin.

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