Eight Ways The ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ Guy is a Boon to PR

Posted by: in Communication Strategy, Integrated Communications, Public Relations Practice on July 24, 2012

via Flickr user jburgin

Ryan Holiday is a self-professed manipulator and all-around provocateur, and he has done a masterful job of stirring the pot with his new book, Trust Me, I’m Lying. Holiday has boasted about essentially seeing to it major media have been punk’d into quoting him as an expert on all kinds of subjects, and he has public relations types breathing into paper bags because of the fear that Holiday’s lies will smear all professional communication. (Gini Dietrich’s take on the matter — and the accompanying comments — is well-thought out, but her take is a typical of the general hand-wringing.)

Here’s the reality: Holiday is a gift to anyone who deals with the media, anyone who dabbles in social media or communications or PR. He so wonderfully embodies everything bad about the industry that he has made himself into an excellent straw man: few in the business world take his worldview seriously, and it gives the rest of us a chance to better define what we do. Here are the eight ways the Holiday is helping communicators:

  1. He’s a walking ethics lesson. If you mislead people in this industry, you lose credibility. And — especially now, in the Internet age — if you lose credibility, you’re sunk. Holiday might be able to promote himself going forward. (There is always a market for colorful jerks, as his old boss Tucker Max has demonstrated.) But he’s now radioactive for any serious business. Which is what happens when you mislead.
  2. He’s demonstrated why you hire professionals. I don’t want to imply that large agencies can’t have ethical lapses. But having an organization run by grown-ups, with checks and balances, makes out-and-out lying that much more difficult. Holiday has proven that a twenty-something with no moral compass can generate press. But there is a cost to doing business that way.
  3. He’s demonstrated it’s about metrics, not ink. Holiday has taken credit for provocative American Apparel ads, conveniently missing the point that the much-discussed ads didn’t seem to do much to prevent the company from entering into a free-fall from which it’s only just recovering. (As Jim Edwards put it in November: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but [doesn't] AA currently possess one of the worst reputations in the retail business?”)
  4. He’s demonstrated it’s about strategic directions, not ink. And while we’re on the American Apparel ads, it’s probably debatable whether having a porn-star-centered campaign is wise when the company was in the midst of a number of sexual harassment lawsuits. It’s hard to imagine that Holiday’s ads didn’t add fuel to part of the company’s reputation that was already ablaze.
  5. He’s demonstrated experience matters. The other hot story in the communication world this week is a verging-on-parody post by a college kid arguing that social media managers shouldn’t be over 24 years old. Holiday makes the counter-point nicely, if unintentionally: if you haven’t built 5 or 10 or 40 years of trust in your business, you’re a potential liability to your clients.
  6. He has raised the bar for reporters and sources. No one likes to be duped, and reporters are going to be twice as vigilant now to ensure they don’t fall victim to Holiday-style hoaxes or manipulation. Who does that favor? People who have already established a reputation for trust.
  7. He has  generated attention for “Help a Reporter Out.” This is a fantastic, thoughtful service — which Holiday abused though blatant falsehoods in pulling off his stunt — and if this whole escapade means more people become aware of HARO and that the community policing of HARO gets better, then we all win. (Check HARO founder Peter Shankman’s take on the situation, too.)
  8. He has probably screwed up his ability to deliver his best messages. I haven’t read the book yet (I’m hoping my library gets it, so I can avoid padding Holiday’s coffers), but I’m willing to bet there is some decent advice amidst the stupidity and bravado. And I’d be willing to bet that — no matter how much press he gets – any focus on the bits of good counsel will be totally swamped by the stunts. Which is the best possible punishment for this kind of guy.

Communications can be a hard field to define. Integration means that we’re a little bit advertising, a little bit marketing, some advocacy, some public relations, some HR. But what we’re not is whatever Ryan Holiday is selling. And by allowing us to make that distinction, he’s doing us all a great favor.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a director at WCG in the product group, where he specializes in media. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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5 Responses

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  1. I’m mad at you. I wish I’d written this blog post. I see red when people make our industry look bad and I let my emotions take over while I pounded out the blog post on the same topic earlier this week. Of course you’re absolutely right. There will always be companies who hire people like Holiday for the sake of having any kind of ink, but he really just makes those of us who do it the right way look better.

  2. Hi Brian. Followed Gini’s tweet here. :-)

    I read Holiday’s book, and I agree that Holiday is a gift to our profession, but not for the reasons you list. We all know that the media can be gamed. Holiday demonstrates how the rising influence of blogs creates even more opportunities for exploitation. I, for one, was happy when it was ruled that bloggers had to disclose their financial relationships, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more regulation was on its way.

    I’d be interested to see if your judgment changes once you’ve read it.

  3. Brian Reid said

    Brigitte — I’m totally with you: if Holiday makes bloggers more accountable or amps up fact-checking, we’ll all be better off (I’ve yet to make peace with the “sponsored post”). But the reality is that his approach to promotion is what’s generating the interest here. As point #8 makes clear, Holiday’s strongest messages in all of this will be totally lost in his desire to be provocative at all costs. The risk (and the opportunity) comes not from the book itself (which has *not* been at the core of the Romanesko/Forbes/Shankman/etc. coverage) but from his stunts and checkered past. It’s not about the book. It’s about Holiday himself. Which is good for Ryan, but not so great for a sober, thoughtful discussion of PR.

  4. I can’t help but find his promotion a little cheeky. He uses the very same blogs he exposes in his book to promote it, which lends credibility to the veracity of his claims. I can’t help but laugh at their eagerness to get the pageviews, knowing what a small percentage of people will actually read the book.

    I agree the Shankman thing is off. If I have one criticism of Holiday’s book, it’s that he gives all the blame for bloggers and puts journalists on a pedestal. The HARO thing is incongruous with that line. In a way, I see it in much the same light of a hacker breaking into a government system and then alerting the gov of the flaws.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Trust me, I’m not lying or manipulating the media (unless my lips are moving. | PATRIOTS AND PAULIES ) linked to this post on July 28, 2012

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