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Ronn Torossian, CEO and Founder of 5WPR, on Best PR Books

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Ronn Torossian is the CEO and founder of 5WPR, one of the 10 largest independently-owned PR agencies in the US.

Ronn is specialized in crisis management and has a background of more than 20 years of experience in public affairs, crisis management and the entertainment industry.

He started 5W Public Relations company in 2003, with three people in a basement office in New York, and now has a team of over 175 professionals in its headquarters. The firm offers full-service marketing and PR services, and is known for its nonconformist, innovative and cutting-edge approach.

Ronn is the author of “For Immediate Release“, a book that shows you how to effectively use the power of public relations, with lessons learned from his own experience, case studies from big brands, interviews with industry experts, and more. The book is required reading at many universities, and he has also lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School.

From our interview you’ll find out the best books recommended by Ronn on various PR-related topics, key lessons learned in business, how he handles information overwhelm and social media noise in an industry that requires you to be always on, his reading habits, and more. Here we go!

What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path?

Over the course of my career, there have been so many books that I have read that have had a lasting impact or defining shift in my perspective. Books are among my favorite possessions, and in my home have thousands of books literally on display.

However, two of the most influential are How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward L. Bernays.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, referred often times as the Public Relations Bible, has remained an incredibly important book since its release in 1937. In my profession, I am consistently reminded of this essential concept presented by Carnegie: “Success is due 15 percent to professional knowledge and 85 percent to the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.

Crystallizing Public Opinion, on the other hand, was written by the Godfather of PR. Bernays combined crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to become the first thinker to explain how PR could thrive by managing public opinion. It’s truly incredible how poignant his insights and analysis remain in popular culture.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?

PR is notoriously a hard industry to succeed in. And as an entrepreneur, it’s really hard – and sometimes you have to make decisions that are not always easy but best for the company. A great book — necessary reading for everyone at 5WPR — is the great business book, The No Asshole Rule. The book’s theory, while seemingly obvious, is quite difficult to adhere to for many people – learn to cut your losses. We’ve had to resign clients when they no longer fit our business. It’s an unfortunate reality that you must eliminate aspects of your business that are no longer serving your mission.

One can be tough without being an asshole. A key lesson in business, and in life.

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What five books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path? Why?

  • For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations by Ronn Torossian – my PR book has become a staple within the industry, as well as required reading for many college courses throughout the country. The book details how valuable public relations is – how public relations can define brands; help companies and individuals court the press or avoid it; grow business; resolve crises quickly; improve search results on Google and so many other things. Effective PR makes such a difference, and I have many case studies and great stories to illustrate it.
  • Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley – While the title is more recognized for the movie, it is the book that provides the greatest perspective and strategic insight. Buckley provides an inimitable window into the development and creation of narratives, and how imperative it is for industries and brands to understand how to shape them.
  • Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy – Considering the overlap of similarities between PR and advertising, it is vital to learn from such legends as Ogilvy. His concepts, tactics, and techniques and are a must-read for not only those in marketing and PR but business in general.
  • Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset by Daniel Diermeier – Diermeier, a professor from the Kellogg School of Management, examines and explores how a company can “face humiliation and possibly even ruin within seconds of a negative tweet or blog post.” As a crisis communications veteran, I am fascinated by his analysis and tactics on reputation.
  • Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage by Michael S. Sitrick – Written by the founder of a major crisis PR firm, the book is an insider’s guide into the world of crisis communications. It’s a crisis PR handbook!

Tell us more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? How often do you read? What format do you prefer?

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t read something. Whether it is newspapers, online content, or the hard copy books next to my bed, I am obsessed with gathering knowledge and insights to always remain at the forefront of not only PR but business as a whole.

Do you have any note-taking system? How do you retain and apply what you read?

In my experience, one of the most important skills for retaining and converting information into action and strategy is note taking and repetition. My notes live on my cell phone and in a collection of notebooks which I never throw away. However, it’s not enough to simply take the notes; it is important to constantly revisit them, ensuring it is retained and eventually becomes second nature.

There’s such an abundance of information and sources available at our fingertips, that we risk to become “digitally obese”, and even be paralyzed by the extra information. Is there any way that you try to handle information overwhelm or manage social media? For example: are there any things that other people spend way too much time doing that you generally stay away.

PR is an industry that never stops. A crisis can occur at any moment, and remaining consistently aware and engaged is paramount to success. However, it is also important to disengage. As a proud father of two amazing daughters, I make a concerted effort that when I spend time with them, I am present.

Another practice I have to maintain a positive relationship with information is I put my phone away at night. When I go to bed at night, I don’t bring my phone with me. I make sure to disengage and allow time for my mind to absorb the day without distractions.

Links where you can follow Ronn Torossian or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Ronn Torossian in our interview:

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