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Six books to add to your read list for 2020

The Strategy & Insights team share the writing that has inspired them this year.

We learn about the way people think and behave from the films we watch and the music we listen to. Reading compelling content is one of  the richest sources. Here, the Strategy & Insights team share the writing that has inspired them this year.

Milkman by Anna Burns – read by Corrina Safeio, Director of Strategy and Insights

Remembering this book gives me the chills. It is a book about The Troubles in Northern Ireland seen through the eyes of a teenager. Without doubt, the brutal violence and divided neighbourhoods shared through dark humour struck me. Moreover, it was the first-person storytelling of how communities create unwritten rules of conduct, totems of belonging and the behaviour that we are bound by.

Anna Burns has such a forensic style in sharing this foundation of unconscious day-to-day living. She balances the positive identifiers with how we also demonstrate where we reject others through the smallest of symbols.

About republic vs royalists she writes, “There was “the right butter. The wrong butter. The tea of allegiance. The tea of betrayal. There were ‘our shops’ and ‘their shops’.” 

This reminds me of the importance of qualitative research as a scientific method of observation to “gather to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and description of things” and how these crucial subtleties enable our strategists to do their very best job of inspiring our creatives to do their magic.

‘On Writing’ by Stephen King – read by Sam Hughes, Strategist

This work of non-fiction is part memoir, part advice about writing from the bestselling master of horror. It is a must-read and not just for copywriters.

All of us work in communications, so writing clearly and effectively is important. However, whether it’s getting across difficult ideas to clients, penning award entries that pack a punch, or finessing propositions, sometimes writing with simplicity is the hardest thing to do.

Thankfully, in On Writing’s ‘toolbox’ section, King gives his advice on ruthless editing, avoiding passive tenses, writing for impact and more.

This book will make you better at your job. Read it.

‘Why is social media ruining your life’ by Katherine Ormerod – read by Simone Stevens, Senior Influencer Specialist

Having read mixed reviews of this book and given my role within Pegasus, I was compelled to read it for myself.

There has long been talk about the impact social media has on people’s health, both physically and mentally so it is refreshing that the book is a mix of research, alongside Katherine’s own personal experience with social media, having herself worked in the world of journalism and seen the rise of social media up close.

Loaded with facts, the book is a wake up call to how social media channels are almost becoming hive minds of their own, and how the world has adapted to this way of living and thinking without even knowing it.

Given that this year we have seen key updates to some social channels to police content, such as new rules in place from Instagram on banning images that may encourage self-harm or suicide, the book goes some way to addressing parts of this conversation. Do we accept that this is now our reality and we should learn to deal with it, or should we be looking to ways in which we restrain or limit our exposure to a digital world?

It will make you think about you own relationship with social media.

Expecting Better by Emily Oster – read by Emma Marie Lea, Strategist

This book is a pregnant strategist’s dream-come-true. Not because it debunks myths about drinking wine in pregnancy (although this may be a small part of it) but because it’s jam-packed with clinical data and highlights the importance of critical thinking in healthcare.

Making decisions in pregnancy is impossible when every man and his dog seems to have an opinion on what you should do, and each shred of advice contradicts the last, including that of healthcare professionals. 

Emily Oster writes candidly about this aspect of pregnancy, particularly the lack of evidence supporting HCP guidance. Utilising her experience as an economist to seek out the real facts, she presents a series of evidence-based arguments that repeal standard guidance on topics such as caffeine, alcohol and cheese. A true critical-thinker, Oster provides references to all the data points and studies used to allow the reader to dig deeper and make their own decision.  The result is probably the most valuable and relevant manual for conception, pregnancy and birth.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – read by Ellie Madgwick, Strategist

Often in fields like healthcare, we assume a level of scientific rigour that means the production of studies, clinical trials, apps, and the like are free from bias. Not so, according to the data.

Caroline Criado Perez systematically deconstructs this notion of bias-free science by looking at everything from how medicine is taught (with the male body as default) to the under-representation of women in medical research. 

This data gap has real health consequences: women are 50 per cent more likely to receive an initial misdiagnosis than men when they are having a heart attack, according to the BHF. The lack of sex-disaggregated data is laid bare when you learn that only 50 per cent of studies into the impact of diet on cancer actually segmented their findings by gender, making it hard to establish any meaningful cancer prevention guidelines for either sex.

Part of our job as strategists is to be unfailingly questioning, and this book has taught me to question everything. When reading reports, academic studies, even raw data, we shouldn’t shy away from asking ourselves difficult questions about the quality of the sources we’re basing our recommendations on.

All is not lost, though. The gaps uncovered in Invisible Women pave the way for more equal design (and therefore better data) throughout our lives – an exciting prospect for us as communicators in the year ahead.

The Athletic by various – read by Joe Marshall, Senior Strategist

The fact that a website about football was the first thing to come to mind when I was asked to contribute to this article probably says more about my slightly dubious reading habits than anything else. But in a world that’s becoming increasingly governed by algorithms and the relentless drive to make every piece of communication shorter and more brutally direct, it’s heartening to see a publisher flying the flag for the virtues of long-form content.

Obviously, just because a piece is long doesn’t mean it’s actually any good. But given that football coverage has historically been associated with the lowest common denominator of journalism, this feels like a pretty big step. And articles focusing on the social and cultural context behind the world’s biggest game, as well the critical role that data and insights play at the highest level of professional sport, demonstrate the cross-sector relevance of what we deal with as a team every single day.

Whether it turns out to be a viable business model remains to be seen, but it’s a timely reminder that we shouldn’t lose sight of the value that embracing detail, craft and story-telling can offer in a world of transient short-form content.

is Managing Director at Pegasus. An expert in applying behaviour change to tackle real world challenges, she set up our Strategy & Insights team and has nearly 20 years experience working on integrated comms, both in house and in agency.