Mandatory Reading for Marketing, Advertising and PR Students
Peter Panda

It doesn’t matter if you attend every class, ace every test, or join your school’s marketing club. Simply put, college does not adequately prepare students for careers in marketing, advertising, or public relations. In all honesty, it’s not the fault of universities or professors. They’re tasked with harnessing one of the most complex and rapidly changing industries in the world, and more often than not, the landscape changes as quickly as the syllabus is posted.

When I started my internship at Elasticity last May, almost everyone told me that they learned more in their first month in the professional world than they did in college. The same principle applies for internships. All the industry jargon means nothing unless you can put it into action.

But there’s something else that’s equally important as classes and internships that must be done to prepare for the workforce: read. I’m not an industry expert by any means – far from it. But I can’t overstate how the following books deepened my curiosity and jump-started my understanding of the industry.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

Boring things are expensive and difficult to promote. Make something remarkable, however, and your job becomes infinitely easier. Purple Cow is almost 9 years old, but it becomes more relevant each year as the marketplace becomes increasingly noisy.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising by Ryan Holiday

Brands such as Twitter, Dropbox, and Airbnb never spent a dime on traditional marketing. They threw out the old playbook which said that product/service development and marketing were unrelated and instead grew their brand using testable, trackable, scalable tactics. This book explains how to make it happen.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

At the end of the day, word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. Social influence shapes almost every aspect of our lives, and this book provides a framework for creating stories and messages that spread instead of going in one ear and out the other.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday

A great compliment to Contagious: if you can’t create a product or communication strategy that’s sustainable, going viral is pointless. In a world of endless social media updates and self-proclaimed gurus, this is a call to focus on the things that don’t change to ensure that your idea isn’t a flash in the pan.

The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

If anyone tells you the world isn’t a constant game of power politics, don’t believe them. A lack of understanding as to how humans operate and maneuver is to put yourself at a severe disadvantage. Both of these works by Robert Greene offer profound insights into strategy and the human condition that are indispensable, especially in our current media environment. There are summary versions available for both – DO NOT BUY THEM.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Conventional thinking says that brands must battle and defeat their competition to win in crowded marketplaces (red oceans). The truth, however, is that lasting success comes from creating new market spaces (blue oceans) and disrupting the status quo to reach untapped audiences. Your job becomes a lot easier when your competition is nonexistent.

All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

Great marketing isn’t about features or benefits. It’s about telling a story that fits your audience’s worldview. If you can connect a brand with a story that makes the world easier to understand, and do so in a compelling way, the rest will fall into place.

The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life Lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Emanuel Rosen

There’s plenty of data that proves how infinitely valuable micro-influencers are when it comes to reaching a target market. This book explains why that’s true and offers practical strategies for to how to strategically plant and spread ideas in a media landscape that’s more cluttered than ever.

Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

The Internet isn’t all LOLcats and cooking videos. It’s a place where reputations are built and destroyed within minutes, where stories spread like wildfire regardless if they’re true or not. Understand the motives and economics of system from the inside out and you’ll be better prepared to defend clients and put yourself at an advantage.

I guarantee you won’t feel the same way when you walk into class next semester after reading these books. Not to mention you’ll be way ahead of your classmates and better prepared to handle real work. Happy reading.


Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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