Tag Archives: Charlie Sheen

Media Strategy Saturday: Tim Tebow’s favorite word, ‘excited’

So the gym where I sweat plays ESPN without the sound on, but I didn’t need any sound to watch Tim Tebow‘s press conference.

He is excited to be a New York Jet. Very, very excited.

So excited, he said variations on “excited” 4.5 bazillion times.

ESPN kept a tally. Watch it:

Now, that’s funny.

HOWEVER: there’s a serious point to be made here.

“Excited” isn’t a bad word to have attached to your name. Yes, if you say it 45-flipping times, people will make fun of you on TV, on the radios and in papers of news. The word, though, isn’t horrible. And it fits Tebow, who is — all controversy aside (can he pass the ball? will he ever stop Tebowing?) — definitely energetic and excited. The man isn’t boring.

Here’s the deal: what is the one word you want attached to you?

One word. Not a sentence, not a paragraph, not a page.

Because you’ll be lucky (a) if even a fraction of people recognize your name at all and (b) those people associate your name with a word.

Let’s play a little game. I’m going to list famous and not-so-famous people. You think of the first word that pops into your head. I’ll put my word in paranthesis.

You’ll notice that bad things are sticky. There’s a good reason for that. I explain why, including references to Dunbar’s Number and all sorts of fancy-but-useful stuff, in this series of posts:

Name recognition is KING; also, famous peoples doing it wrong

So the one-word game, it’s easy with other people. Hard when you do it for yourself. Even harder when you do it for yourself plus something creative. Can you sum up you, as a writer / musician / artist in a word, then pick one word to describe your latest novel / album / series of black velvet paintings of dogs dressed like Elvis?

Hard to do. But worth it. Because people only have so much space in their brain. They won’t digest a sentence or a paragraph, not when their heads are already jam-packed with pop culture nonsense about Snooki’s engagement and who just got booted off Dancing With the Stars.

One word. Think hard.

Just don’t pick “excited.”


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

Hear me now and believe me later in the week:

  • flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection
  • the package matters more than the product
  • without legs, you are dead in the water

And now I’ll prove those three things to you with one word, a word that you will definitely recognize and understand.


Here’s that word: SNOOKI.

Does the Snooki (real name: I don’t care) have flaws and quirks? Oh yes. Her flaws may be uncountable by modern science.

Conventional wisdom is that talent trumps all. This is America, right? The cream rises to the top. No way will somebody like Snooki get magazine covers.

snooki is pregnant! stop the presses

The Snooki, she is pregnant! Stop the presses!

HOWEVER: Just a few miles from the Jersey Shore are 5.82 bazillion Broadway actresses who have more talent, beauty and brains in their pinky fingers than Snooki and all her castmates combined. Some of these Broadway stars approach perfection, being triple threats who can sing, dance and act while looking like supermodels.

Talent alone, though, doesn’t make them into stars.

Are they hidden gems? Not so much. They’re on Broadway, seen by millions of locals and tourists in one of the biggest media markets in the world.

If the people who place all of their faith in the viral power of the Series of Tubes were right, all that overwhelming talent plus a few tweets and YouTube videos would be launching people from Broadway into the stratosphere, week after week.

Except that doesn’t happen.

Instead, we have People covers of Snooki getting pregnant and in-depth interviews about Basketball Wives or whatever.

Let’s figure out the how and why of this. Then let’s put our evil knowledge to use.

Flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection

In the old days, back when we had these things called “papers of news,” some papers ran an interesting contest. Out of a page full of photos of pretty women, the game was picking not your favorite, but the photo you predicted OTHER READERS would choose.

Much more interesting. In the first case, it’s your preference. Maybe you like blondes with short hair. Who knows? Who cares?

The second question — which photo will readers choose? — is quite good. It takes brainpower.

And it’s the same game played by Hollywood talent scouts, music industry execs, literary agents and model agencies. Put yourself in the shoes of a diverse audience, young and old, city slickers and cowboys. Now bet your career and livelihood by picking not who you like the best, but who you think PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW will pay money to like.

With the old newspaper contests, readers went with quirks and flaws. If there was only one redhead on the page, picking her was smart. Because she stood out.

Think about some of the most famous supermodels. Lauren Hutton had a big gap between her teeth. Cindy Crawford had her mole.

Lauren Hutton, model, icon

Lauren the Hutton, model and icon.

When everybody seems equally perfect and wonderful, a little quirk or flaw makes them interesting, lets them stand out from the crowd and gives the audience somebody to identify with, because average Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t perfect, either.

A related idea is that quirks and flaws — even train wrecks — attract attention.

If you’re perfectly talented and perfectly balanced and sane, you’ll never make the news for (a) getting married and divorced every 72 days, (b) having spats with other stars, (c) being arrested for being a drunken idiot or (d) going into rehab.

Robert Downey, Jr. is the perfect example of this.

Downey is a supremely talented actor. If he had a perfect personal life, you might hate him. You’d want to see him brought down to earth off his pedestal of perfection. On the other hand, if Downey was drinking Charlie Sheen‘s tiger blood nonsense, you’d dismiss him as an idiot. Instead, people admire Downey for getting clean and sober, because everybody loves a redemption story. He still has an edge — plus flaws and quirky charm — but he’s no Sheen, who’s turned into a punchline.

Contrast also works. If you see somebody who looks great, it raises expectations. Time after time, an ugly duckling has shown up on stage at Britain’s Got Talent, underwhelming anyone watching until they opened their mouths and MADE PEOPLE CRY.

Here is Paul Notts, who definitely played the part of the ugly duckling. And the crowd loves him.

The package matters more than the product

The average person in the 1970s was exposed to about 500 ads per day. Today, it’s up to 5,000 ads per day, all professionally designed by Don Draper  to persuade you that yes, you have to buy that widget RIGHT NOW.

What Would Don Draper Do? He'd light a cigarette and have martini.

What Would Don Draper Do? He’d light a cigarette and have a martini.

It’s no exaggeration to say that a 1 percent response rate isn’t failure at all. That’s pretty dang good.

If the pros are happy to get something like 1 percent, don’t think that you are somehow immune from the mathematics. Your package has to be amazing to break through all that clutter.Because people are more media savvy than ever. They have to be. If people weren’t such hard targets, they’d blow the mortgage money on a garage full of Shamwows, Fat Magnets and DVD’s of the Brazilian Butt Lift.

This is why you can’t think, “I have 15,000 blog readers and 22,000 Twitter follows, so if they all buy my book / album / black velvet portraits of dogs dressed like Elvis, I’m home free.” Because 1 percent or less is far more likely.

Packaging is so important that it actually subverts true talent. I’ll let somebody smarter than me explain.

Malcolm Gladwell tells a great story in BLINK about classical musicians in professional symphonies. Used to be, the conductor watched people try out. Then he picked who’d be first violin and all that.

For the sake of fairness, symphonies switched to having musicians play behind a screen. You couldn’t see who it was. What they sound like is all that mattered anyway, right?

This little change turned classical music upside down.

Conductors freaked out, because they were picking women for manly instruments like the tuba, stuff that women couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung power to play.

Also, some people looked terrible when they played, but sounded great.

Other people were good-looking and looked great when they played, but they actually sounded bad, when you couldn’t see them.

The screen turned off the connection between our eyes, our ears and our brain.

It’s the same thing that happens when you’re sick and can’t smell. Food tastes entirely differently. Taste isn’t all in the tongue.

Here’s the other thing: a conductor can tell the difference between a room packed with world-class violinists, but you and I can’t. A professional food taster can tell you insane things about packages of Oreos, down to which factory produced the additives and flavorings. A scout for the New York Jets could talk to you for hours about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are totally different quarterbacks, but to you and me, all we know is they’re both really good and that Peyton has a younger brother who looks like he’s still 12 and plays for the New Jersey/A football team.

Eli Manning, the only 12-year-old to win a Super Bowl ring.

Eli Manning, the only 12-year-old to win a Super Bowl ring. HE IS AMAZING.

The intricate technical details about how each quarterback handles seven-step drops when facing a corner blitz, well, that’s beyond our ken.

Sidenote: I don’t even know if “ken” is a word anymore.

The point is, when we’re talking about the top 1 percent of talented people, doing whatever those talented people do, the package is more important than the product.

That’s because the professionals who pick winners and losers do have strong opinions, often about technical, high-level stuff, but those opinions actually don’t matter at all to the people WHO MATTER MOST, which is you and me, Joe and Jane Consumer, the people who’ll buy the movie tickets / books about sparkly vampires (please don’t) / music singles on iTunes.

The only opinions that matter are the uneducated ones. That’s the trouble.

We don’t care that professionals in the music industry say Madonna and sixteen other pop princesses have weak voices. Our eyes are hooked up to our brain, which also communicates with our ears. The whole package matters, not just the voice. So the showmanship of Madonna makes her a star when a zillion other singers, with better pipes, fail.

Unlike the symphony tryouts, there is no screen in real life.

You can take it further. There are all kinds of actresses, including Lindsey Lohan and Selena Gomez, who put out albums that sell. It’s because their name ID is crazy high. They know how the publicity game works. And so they get more attention, and sales, than musicians with far more talent, toiling in obscurity.

A great package + poor talent beats great talent + poor packaging.

The same is true of actors, writers and artists. This is why obscure artists suddenly sell all kinds of paintings and such when they die. Their name is finally in the news. They’re getting exposure and attention.

People finally see the package, and that leads to them looking at the product for the first time.

Without legs, you are dead in the water

Though I kinda sorta hate reality TV, it is the best possible laboratory for testing evil theories about media and publicity.

The structure of different reality shows makes stars out of people like Snooki and Kim Kardashian while denying fame and fortune to other people with more actual talent and potential.

Here’s why: legs.

Survivor is one of the original reality TV hits, and you probably remember the first guy who won it, the naked man, David Hatch, right? (I am not certain about his first name, and yes, the Series of Tubes would tell me, but I believe “naked man” and “Hatch” is close enough.)

Hatch was an interesting villain, and villains stick in our head better than heroes. But aside from getting in the news for going to prison (train wreck!), Hatch pretty much disappeared.

Same thing with Rupert, a bearded pirate hero full of mirth and charm who was on Survivor: Some Island Where It is Hot. A great character. Should have been a star. But except for some kind of Survivor All-Star thing, Rupert also disappeared.

Why? Because the structure of Survivor doesn’t give anybody legs. Except for the rare times they bring back people for a second go, you are one-and-done.

Jersey Shore, Basketball Wives and even the crazy stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters, Storage Wars, Southern Men Who Put Their Hands Into Swamps to Catch Man-Eating Catfish) have given us breakout stars not because those people are far more talented. It’s because the structure of those shows gives them legs.

They aren’t one-and-done. The people on those shows are on the Glowing Tube season after season.

And it is no mistake that we’re talking entirely about the Glowing Tube so far.

Movies are typically one shots. Unless you’re in a crazy successful series like STAR WARS or HARRY POTTER, a movie doesn’t typically have enough legs to get you even to Snooki status. You need movie after movie for that.

This is why TV is king.

Why? Because unlike all other forms of media, the Glowing Tube automatically generates all kinds of extra coverage in newspapers and magazines, blogs and radio, social media and regular old water cooler BSing.

Not accidentally.


Sure, they talk about movies and books a little on the radio when I drive to work, but mostly, they’re talking about TV shows. Mad Men, Survivor, American Idol.

So let’s look at American Idol for a second. Actual talent. Big exposure. But it’s one-and-done, right? That should blow my evil theory out of the water.

Except the producers of American Idol understand that their newborn and freshly hatched stars needed steady exposure. They understand the need for legs. So after the season is over, not only does the winner (and some also-rans) have albums released in a hurry. They also send the winner and runner-ups on a big long concert tour.

The reverse is not true. Being in the newspaper or on the radio doesn’t automatically get you on TV.

Are there exceptions? Sure. Scott Adams and the comic strip Dilbert are a great exception. He writes best-selling books now. He had some kind of Dilbert cartoon on TV.  This, however, is rare.

Being on a TV show, season after season, makes you a household name. TV exposure has launched some of the biggest movie stars (Michael J. Fox, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and 16.9 zillion other people I don’t need to name).

Recurring guest spots on Oprah have generated entire careers for Dr. Phil, the Dog Whisperer, Dr. Oz and 283 other people I’m not listing.

The next time you’re at the doctor’s office, pick up a copy of PEOPLE or US and count how many photos and articles feature (a) Hollywood actors, (b) pop stars, (c) reality TV stars versus (d) authors, reporters, cartoonists, politicians, dentists, plumbers or radio hosts.

I put a lot of people in (d), and even then, (d) won’t add up to much. If I were truly evil, I’d make it unfair by saying “authors not named J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.”

So: this is complicated, but not rocket science.

  • Flaws and quirks give people a hook, a way to stand out. Instead of saying, “You know, the pretty supermodel” or “That singer, the one who sings well,” you can say, “The amazing model with the gap between her teeth” or “That ugly British frog who sings opera that makes you cry” and PEOPLE GET IT.
  • The package is what people see first. If they never see it, you have no chance. If a great product is wrapped in bad packaging, you have no chance. And yes, a bad product in amazing packaging will beat true talent and brilliance. So work on the packaging, no matter what type of artist you are. Then work on it some more. Because you will live and die by the package.
  • Exposure is great, but you need legs. Even if you’re on TV, which is the King of All Media, and which automatically generates coverage in all other forms of media. Yes, Internet Boy, the Glowing Tube is even more powerful than the Series of Tubes. Sorry. All true.

Related reading for people who enjoy seeing conventional wisdom get all blown up, Michael-Bay style:

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

Forget the Twitter: free ink and airtime are your MOST DANGEROUS WEAPONS

Using free ink and airtime to BUST THROUGH



Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Name recognition is KING; also, famous peoples doing it wrong

The New York Times

For two years or whatever, I blogged three times a week about publicity, speechwriting, public relations and scandals for The New York Times’about.com.  If you are an author, actor, director, politician, professional athlete, rock star, user of social media or otherwise in the public eye, THESE POSTS ARE USEFUL TO YOU. If you live in an ice cave, you can safely ignore all this stuff and go back to tanning that elk hide.

Name recognition is KING

Why Name Recognition is Key in Public Relations: Name recognition 101

How Name Recognition Works: Name recognition 201

Four Ways to Boost Name Recognition: Name Recognition 301

Case studies – You’re doing it WRONG

3 Key Lessons from the Charlie Sheen PR Debacle

Facebook Gets Caught in PR Scandal: A Whisper Campaign vs Google Boomerangs on Facebook

The Gallagher Brothers Go to Court – Against Each Other

Pay No Attention to the Clown Holding a Shaving-Cream Pie

Hacking and Bribery Scandal Destroys The News of the World


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong

The Red Pen of Doom destroys FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen


By Jonathan Franzen

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally – (add spaces here to match dash format in 2nd graf) he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill did were not so loyal to their city as not to (if we can replace 10 words with one word, those 10 words are deader than Charlie Sheen’s acting career) read The New York Times, which ran According to a long, and very unflattering story in the Times, on how Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation’s capital. His old neighbors had some difficulty trouble reconciling the quotes about him in the Times (“arrogant,” “high-handed,” “ethically compromised”) with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle (maybe bicycle geeks know or care, but humans do not get into bike vs. commuter bike, and I’m entirely unclear whether Walter was a U.S. Senator or a staffer or a lobbyist, and how he made the transition from bigshot in Congress or whatever to 3M employee on a bicycle, or whether he started as a nothing at 3M on a bike and went to D.C. or is now pedaling to work after screwing up big enough to be in the Times yet not go to federal prison) up Summit Avenue in February snow;. (let’s use a period, because semi-colons at the end of endless sentences are for professors and pretentious chowderheads) It seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.

Walter and Patty were the young pioneers of Ramsey Hill – the first college grads to buy a house on Barrier Street since the old heart of St. Paul had fallen fell on hard times three decades earlier. They paid nothing for their Victorian and then killed themselves for ten years renovating it. (contradicts last sentence of the first graf, since buying a beater house and working crazy hard to fix it says there’s something very right about the Berglunds) Early on, Some very determined person torched their garage and twice broke into their car before they got the garage rebuilt. Sunburned bikers descended on the vacant lot across the alley to guzzle drink Schlitz and grill knockwurst and rev engines at small hours until Patty went outside in (Drunken bikers would be afraid of some housewife? Um, no.)

(end of page 1)

Time Magazine - Jonathan Franzen - Great American Novelist

Notes from the Red Pen of Doom

Yes, I know that critics went gaga over this book, and they loved THE CORRECTIONS, too.

I hate this first page. It rubs me wrong, and makes me feel like I’m about to read a 895-page doorstop of a book, something my sadistic Contemporary English Literature professor assigned me to read as punishment for my literary sins.

Here’s the deal: Franzen writes about families in the suburbs. Basically, the same topic that every sitcom has tackled for the last 50 years. Instead of making it funny, he makes it deep and depressing.

Is what Franzen writes – when he closes his eyes and composes after receiving inspiration directly from a muse that circles his head and descends, like a butterly, or a silken bat, to kiss his unshaven cheeks with the kiss of creative genius – is it fun to read? No.

Don’t care about Walter and Patty as characters. I’d rather read about that biker gang, guzzling Schlitz and grilling knockwurst while the talk smack and plan crimes that go epically wrong.

As with all literature – as Camryn Rhys or Elisa Logan would say, LIT-rah-SURE – the beginning is deep and mundane and depressing. It only gets worse from there. While the writing may be beautiful and amazing – though it is not beautiful or amazing on this first page yet – that’s not going to make me want to read more of the story. If I want to be depressed, I’d watch daytime TV.

The first page is all over the place. There are so many capitalized words and names that I have to read it twice to figure out he’s talking about Walter and Patty the entire time and not St. Paul or sunburned bikers drinking Schlitz.

Also, he adores adjectives and adverbs, while I believe, deep in my dark heart, that all those modifiers simply mean Franzen should’ve picked stronger nouns and verbs in the first place.

It pains me that Franzen is half-Swedish and spent time in Germany as a student, because I am Swedish and lived in Germany as a child. But we are nothing alike, and I care nothing for this first page.

Which is too bad. Franzen has talent to burn. I bet if he wrote about the biker gang instead, it would be seven separate flavors of awesomesauce, and the Coen brothers would make a movie out of it.

Verdict: From this first page, you’d have to hand me stacks of purple euros to convince me that reading FREEDOM would be a good use of my limited time on this planet.


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013).



Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Red Pen of Doom

Writers: social media is a tool — not a magic bullet

Every novelist, journalist and aspiring writer I know is all over social media. They’ve got a blog and a Twitter account, or a Tumblr and a Facebook page.

Or they have all four, plus three things that are so bleeding edge, I haven’t heard of them yet.

HOWEVER: you could spend all day banging out blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates. It could suck up all your free time. And you might not get that much out of it.

I see people doing it wrong all the time, and it kills me.

facebook doing it wrong

Many, many peoples are doing it wrong on Facebook and Twitter and whatever.

So let’s get some things straight:

  • It’s not about how many friends you have on Facebook.
  • It’s not about how many hits you get on your blog.
  • It’s not about how many people follow you on Twitter.
pearls before swine - goat's blog
Sadly, this is true, Internet Boy.

If you want to make more money writing for a living — or quit your day job to write full-time — then you need to look inside the media toolbox and see each type of social media for what it is: a tool.

Not a magic bullet. Not a sure-fire path to fame and fortune.

You also need to realize that social media can’t be your entire media plan. And no, you are not the exception, Internet Boy.

Here’s a quick-and-dirty look at each tool:

Continue reading


Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

Editing is everything.

I don’t care who you are — you need an editor. And you always will.

In fact, the more successful you are as a writer, the more editing you’ll need.

Here’s why:

1) The time crunch.

You’ll never have as much time as you did when you were struggling to break in.

A journalism student can get away with writing and polishing a major story for weeks or months.

Once you get a job as a reporter at The Willapa Valley Shopper, the first step on your path to The New York Times, you’ve got to crank out two stories a day, every day.

I used to write three or four stories before 10 a.m. every deadline day. You get used to it. But it’s a shock at first. The time crunch is real. Which leads to problem No. 2

time crunch

The time crunch will crush your poor little writing soul, unless you man up, or woman up, and fight back with all your writerly might.

2) The sophomore slump.

Think about famous debut novelists who had a tremendous first book, and when you hopped inside your automobile and raced to Borders — back when Borders existed, and sold these things we called “books” — to buy their second novel the day of its release, it made you weep like a Charlie Sheen who’s run fresh out of tequila and tiger blood because that second book SUCKED LIKE ELECTROLUX.

Why is this so?

Because debut novelists spend years polishing that first novel until it shines like a diamond made of words. Continue reading


Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Red Pen of Doom