Look Smart by Reading Effectively

By Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, one of the 20 largest independent PR agencies in the U.S. Born and bred in NYC, Torossian resides on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and was named to PR Week and Advertising Age’s “40 Under 40” list. Torossian was a semi-finalist for Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and his PR agency works with a roster of iconic brands. He is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization, and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.

As a self-made entrepreneur, I believe in the power of reading, and wasn’t surprised last week when Amazon’s Kindle book sales surpassed print books’ for the first time. Information is always being changed and updated, and now the ways in which we retrieve information are following. So, how are people to choose the right way to get their news, books and journals in today’s uber-information age?

The “Newsreading Theory” by William Stephenson Ludenic asserts that people don’t merely seek information delivered via newspapers, but actually stick to print-editions for another reason: they receive a certain joy from holding on to a newspaper.

A newspaper is a collection of chosen happenings that informs you of “what’s important” for that specific day. It also puts, and keeps, things in order for its reader.  It is limited to only the most relevant information, so you know by the time you’re done reading, your “need-to-know” thirst is quenched, and you are informed enough to go on with your day.

Digital readers, on the other hand, can only fit so much on their screens. You can’t predict where you will end up; links in stories can lead you far and away from your starting point. The coverage of a news item can consist of multiple links that, by clicking on them, will delve deeper into the topic, but away from the home page where other news is offered. In addition, the endless amount of sources online gives you a sense that there is an infinite amount of information to gather – it becomes a challenge. You can actually spend days just gathering information online from various sources.

So why is this important? Let me relate it to the late President Ronald Reagan, of whom it is said throughout his career he was always the best dressed in the room, regardless of the social forum. They say he would stand out from any crowd by simply appearing as the smartest person there – again, regardless of the issue at hand.

In order to stand out one needs to always have that extra piece of information among his cards. By reading, one can know something more; share an insight others don’t possess. Here are some personal guidelines which have served me well:

1.       If you only have so much time: Get the newspaper at your front door and read it first thing; know what goes on around you (A necessity for me as a PR firm owner). Enrich your engagements and opportunities will follow. Meet with new people, have discussions with colleagues and friends, and engage in business. Before long, uncertainties can look much different if you have the upper hand on the latest developments both locally and internationally.

2.       The arena you play on: Often how mavericks differentiate themselves from the laymen. Your industry is a global story – that’s a fact now no matter what field you’re in. Are you familiar with the trends and transformations in your industry? In what direction is the service/product/firm predicted to go and where should it aim to reach? This information would be found in trade magazines and analyses reports online. Make sure to subscribe to several to get a wide and progressive perspective.

3.       Global trends: Many in the last decade lost their jobs because they were “asleep” when global trends were shouting that jobs of their kind will be exterminated. They didn’t listen. By following vital stories, pictures become clear and problems can be avoided. Recently, the Motorola Company sold major assets from its wireless division. This means thousands of job cuts worldwide. Following news over the last 8 months, one would have seen Motorola gradually getting rid of operations in its wireless branch; it would not have come as a surprise.

4.       All the rest: Yes, this includes this article. The 2.0 era and the social media environments have lead to an unprecedented amount of sharing. So, don’t rule other people’s advice. Read 5 random sites of your choosing – whether they are related to your field or not. Another person’s opinion can contribute to you in many ways, whether it’s personally or professionally. Content like tips, motivational notes, how-to lists, and even personal obstacles are valuable. You never know where your next idea may come from.

Communication is all around us, and the wise will find enrichment inspiration, and strategy through their reading. Once you’ve developed a strong reading habit, take a few moments to write, too. Contribute back to the places you’ve borrowed from, and share.

Make a strong impression in your next engagement. Show that you know.