Tag Archives: publicity

Happy birthday to the Twitter!

A nice little video about the evolution of the Twitter, which is 6.942 bazillion times better than the Book of Face, which will one day go the way of MySpace — and not even powers of Justin the Timberlake will be able to save Zuckerberg’s baby.

I’d throw another “which” in there, but it’d just be piling on.

Also: What is the ONE THING you would delete about the Twitter, aside from nuking direct messages from orbit?

Also-also: What is the ONE THING you would add to the Twitter?

Also-cubed: Here’s a link to I THREW IT ON THE GROUND, because (a) it includes the lyric, “Happy birthday to the ground” and (b) it’s one of the funniest music videos in forever, with (c) a song that’s actually good.

Related posts:

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, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

3 ways to change the digital world FOREVER

It is official: social media now dominates the Series of Tubes.

Every year, these smart people produce a slick video about the interwebs, and this year’s video is especially good and interesting.

Now, having filled your brain with facts and numbers and industrial euro-pop dance music, WHAT DO WE DO?

Simple. We change the world.

Change # 1: One Contact Thing to rule them all

So you’ve got contacts in your gmail at home and Outlook at work, Twitter lists of followers and all kinds of Facebook friends, Tumblr buddies and Pinterest pals and a dozen other things.

It is an unholy mess.

Blessed be the app that gives us One Contact Thing, a single shebang with the magical powers to organize all your contacts, from all those stupid platforms, in one tidy place. The power will be unthinkable.

This means ending the nonsense about Instagram not talking to Twitter because she saw him flirting with Google or whatever. And yes, we need it to be easy and quick and on our phones. Because I’m not firing up the PC every time I need to look up a phone number or Twitter handle.

Whoever does this first — Apple, Google, Microsoft, some dude in his basement coding the app in his pajamas — will rule the interwebs forever and ever.

Change # 2: Obliterate voice mail and switch to texting

Am I saying  we should take voice mail behind the barn and shoot it? No. I’m saying take it behind the barn, hang it, set it on fire, THEN shoot it.

Nobody likes voice mail. Nobody.

Don’t call my cell phone and make me dial up voice mail, punch in a password I keep forgetting, then listen for two minutes. Especially when 99.99 percent of all voice mail messages are things you can sum up in a short text like, “Phone tag, you’re it” or “Pick up some milk, yo” or “I’m a reclusive billionaire with $400 million sitting around, and instead of handing it to Karl Rove, who I wouldn’t trust at this point to run a successful race for student body president at Willapa Valley Junior High, I’d like some return on my investment.”

Send a text, people. College kids these days don’t even use email anymore. They think email is so 1994.

If it’s too complicated for a text, send an email.

If you really hate me, send a voice mail. Make it long. Don’t leave your number or email — assume that I’ve memorized it. And then when I call back, make sure you don’t answer your phone so I can start the whole thing rolling with a voice mail of my own.

Therefore, we will nuke voice mail from orbit, and the world will rejoice.

Change # 3: Real photos, good bios and no anonymous trolls

Twitter, Facebook and every other social media shebang is full of photos and bios of people that may be human, and might be young or old, male or female, con artist or genius.

You can’t tell, though, because (a) their profile photo is a shot of a cat, Yoda holding a lightsaber or a pile of leaves, (b) their Twittter handle is @jkringer392 and (c) their bio is a train wreck of obscure references to Star Trek fan fiction and such. I have seen all of these things and more. Who will pay for my therapy?

Related post: 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

There are plenty of places for anonymous folks to say whatever they like. Sites like reddit will always be around. Have at it.

HOWEVER: papers of news, TV stations and serious blogs need to stop feeding the trolls by letting TrailerParkNinja and TexasMustSecede2016! dominate the comment sections with anonymous spam and hateful, nonsense. So let’s cut back on that by requiring commenters to use real photos and bios. Want to spew? Go spew in Anonymous Land.

If you’re going to be on the Series of Tubes, and want to be taken Seriously, you need a Serious photo — of you, not your cat — and a real bio. Period.

Long ago, only famous people needed public relations folks, who made sure actors, authors and other celebrities had good mug shots and nice bios. Today, everybody is online. Your photo, bio and name are what people see first. But average people don’t have a publicist. They’re flying in the dark with a blindfold, and yeah, it shows.  

Wonder why you aren’t getting many followers on Twitter or hits to your blog? Take a look at your photo and bio.

Trying to get a job / book deal / punk rock music contract? Take a hard look at what people see, in the first five seconds, when they check you out on Twitter and the Book of Face and such.

People don’t make a decision about you after reading your short stories or listening to three mp3s of sample songs on your blog. They glance at your photo and decide, in half a second, whether to interact with you or never give you a second thought. They do this all the time, in a hurry. Ten people just followed you on Twitter, and you follow back or not, clicking away with your mousity mouse, no-no-yes-no-yes-yes-no. You don’t ponder these decisions, right? Bam. So make it easy on people by taking it seriously. I’m talking to you, Miss Duckface, who shot your profile photo in the bathroom mirror using an iPhone.

duckface collage or montage or whatever

A duckface collage or montage or whatever.

People need a place –a Profile Doctor–to get easy and quick help with this sort of thing, without putting a public relations firm on retainer.

As an experiment, I just did a bit of profile doctoring for Lauren the Palazzo, recent public relations grad. Did she get a job? Yes, she did.

Yet I can’t doctor the profiles of all 3 billion people with profile photos of their cat, Spock or Darth Vader paired with  a train-wreck bios, not unless I quit my job and hire a crack legion of  minions with red pens and Photoshop skills. Though if such a crack legion of secret editing agents existed, it’s a good bet that the underground headquarters would include tiger sharks (lasers optional) swimming in the moat and komodo dragons next to the BBQ pit.


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, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

5 ways to make blog posts GO ALL VIRAL

There is no guaranteed method, no secret way, to make a blog post that causes the Series of Tubes to explode.

Anybody who says otherwise is a lying liar full of lying liaosity.

Because this is an art, not a science.

HOWEVER: There are things that are smart, and give you a chance.

yoda after the death star blows up

If your magical blog post causes the Series of Tubes to blow up like a Death Star orbiting the second moon of Yavin, then Yoda will celebrate by dropping it like it’s hot.

5) Swing for the fences

If all your blog posts are kinda the same — the same topic, the same length, the same tone — it’s a good bet none of them will ever magically shock the world.

Learn from PETA, which gets gobs and gobs of free ink and airtime by trying bold, crazy PR stunts.

Most of them fail. Sometimes, they get a little bad press for a stunt gone wrong.

But they keep swinging for the fences, because there is no real penalty for swinging and missing. Continue reading


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, Viral media math

Top 10 Myths of Journalism School

Oh, if I could go back in time, and whisper in the ear of my younger self during journalism school.

Not that I was busy screwing it up. Editor-in-chief of my college newspaper, graduated No. 1 in my class, won a bunch of awards, blah-blah-blah. (Related: Who is this Guy?)

But the traditional things that most journalism students think they SHOULD be doing — well, often those are seven separate kinds of wrong.

And there are other things Serious Journalism Majors scoff at, things that you actually should not only embrace, but hug tightly to your bosom.

So here we go with the Top 10 Myths of Journalism School.

Myth No. 10: Hard news is the only true love of a Serious Journalism Major

Sure, unfiltered Marlboros and Jim Beam come close. But nothing beats a scoop about an amazing scandal. You laugh at people trying to make the words flow for their feature story on dumpster divers, a story packed with all these photos, which are for nancypants who don’t have the stones to write more words.

Here’s the truth: hard news is all about news gathering and using the inverted pyramid, which is a horrible structure for any sort of writing and needs to be taken behind the barn and shot.

Hard news is worthy, and does the public a great service. Yet if all you do is hard news, you won’t truly learn journalism — or how to write.

Related posts:

Myth No. 9: Journalism school will teach you how to write

Once you get that pigskin from j-school, and land your first journalism  gig — at The Willapa Valley Shopper or The New York Times – you’ll go home after 12 hours of banging on the keyboard to stay up past midnight, banging on the keyboard some more while smoking Gallouise Blondes and drinking cheap whiskey sours as you write (a) the next Great American Novel, (b) a Broadway play involving a debutant who falls in love with a struggling young reporter or (c) a Hollywood screenplay about a vast government conspiracy unraveled by an intrepid young intern at CBS.

This will be a lot of fun, and you’ll remember this as being the Best Thing Ever until you’ve been doing it for seven months and turning every draft of your extra-curricular writerly fun into three-point attempts. Also, you will miss this thing we call “sleep” and these other things we call “money in the checking account” and “a social life that does not involve typing on a keyboard chatting with a person who may, or may not, actually exist.”

Continue reading


Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, Speechwriting, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Top 10 evil tips for authors, actors and artists

So, you’re a creative type — a writer of epic literary novels, an actor schlepping tables in Hollywood or a great artist in a black turtleneck who paints canvasses black because that’s HOW YOU FEEL about global hegemony.

How can you bust through and make it?

Oh, I’ve written all sorts of silly posts about free ink and airtime, and have sent my minions to start work on the Mother of All Evil Media Plans, as a special thing for my peoples.

But all that free ink and airtime stuff is somewhat Serious, and requires Work — while you are in a Hurry.

Who has time for all that sweaty work nonsense?

Here are my Top 10 Evil Tips for Authors, Actors and Artists

Continue reading


Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Fiction, Journalism, publicity and scandals

You need a TEAM and a PLAN

Call me crazy, but I believe that people should have some sort of plan — based on numbers and science and creativity — rather than copying everybody while praying to the Norse god of Thunder (also known as Chris Hemsworth) for a different result.

Chris Hemsworth will not listen. He is busy, and cares little for the affairs of men, though he doesn’t mind Natalie Portman.

Also, it is wrong to (a) try to do it all yourself, (b) put all your eggs in the basket known as the Series of Tubes and (c) try doing it all yourself, part time, on the Series of Tubes.

This is sacrilege to a lot of people who swear by the interwebs. To those people I say, respectfully, “To bad, so sad, tell your dad.”

Doctor, heal thyself

Even if you’re some kind of world-class expert on publicity / sales / marketing, it’s a mistake to be your own client. You’re too close to the work and you don’t have the specific contacts and knowledge for the field.

A pro athelete doesn’t need a good publicity and marketing person, but somebody who’s done PR in sports, hopefully pro baseball or football or whatever it may be.

A rock musician trying to break in shouldn’t try to be his own part-time hype man. If you want to do it right, you get somebody who’s done PR and marketing not just for rock bands, but for that exact type of band. Because the magazines, journalists and outlets for Swedish death metal is entirely different than for rap, techno or hip hop.

A team and a plan

So: if you are truly serious about whatever it is you love — punk rock, directing zombie movies, writing books where sparkly vampires get killed by elves with lightsabers riding dinosaurs — you need a TEAM and a PLAN.

Think about the best in the world at anything. Concert pianists train their entire lives to get to the top. Did they sit in the mom’s basement, plinking away on weekends until they became world-class? No. They had all kinds of teachers, tutors and mentors showing them how, and pushing their limits. They gave recitals out the wazoo and treated piano not like a full-time job, but an obsession.

NASCAR drivers focus on the driving — they don’t try to tune the engine, change the tires and fill the gas tank all by themselves.

If you’re working part-time, by yourself, going against a team of specialists who do this for a living, YOU WILL LOSE.

Fail Cat has a plan full of fail

Fail Cat has a great plan: ten pounds of fail packed in a five pound bag.

This is true on the football field, a MMA cage match, a piano duel, the music business, books, Hollywood, all over. A team of pros — doing very specific things very well — will kick your butt.

Now, 99.9999129312-whatever percent of people will ignore these facts. They’ll keep on plinking away and hope lightning will strike. That’s like chucking footballs in the backyard to a neighbor kid, praying one of those will be the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII.

They’ll say “I don’t have the time or the money for a team. And I don’t have the expertise to write some magical plan.”

Time: The average American watches 35 hours of TV a week. Five hours a day. Next?

Money: People find a way to pay for what’s important. Football camp, film school, piano lessons, journalism school, punk rock hairdos — if you’re truly dedicated, you find a way, and maybe forgo the daily $4 mocha or the Beanie Baby collection.

Plan: This is where people will need the most help. Because the dirty little secret is that even people who do publicity and marketing for a living are not quite sure, if you put a gun to their head, why some people break out while other, more talented people get nowhere. Yes, it’s more art than science, but that’s no excuse to throw up your hands and ignore science and numbers altogether.

People who truly love something will put in the time, and they’ll put some money into their education and development. The plan, though, is what trips people up.

Related posts that will educate you and all that:

You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

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

Top 10 Myths about Publicity and Public Relations

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

Using free ink and airtime to BUST THROUGH

30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

Top 5 reasons why Twitter CRUSHES Facebook


Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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


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, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

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

Seven days, seven categories — this is not a coincidence

Librarians are literary muffins of stud, who I admire. You all rock.

HOWEVER: the Dewey Decimal System is a little too complicated for me. There are a billion places to put books. Also, there are decimal points.

Conan the Librarian

Conan the Librarian is the protector of the Dewey Decimal System, but I am not a fan. Not when seven categories can cover EVERYTHING.

I can fit everything worth writing about into SEVEN categories of awesomesauce.

Seven days of the week, seven categories. This is not happenstance. It is meant to be. As an added bonus, there are no decimal points whatsoever.

Also not a coincidence: these are the seven major categories of this blog. All other things that I post will be sub-categories of the Big Important Things — unless I screwed up and the Gods of Javascript or whatever gave me stupid categories that I cannot change or delete without destroying the series of tubes.

Obviously, the most important shebang is Writing Secret Wednesday, which will get the most reliable posts.

I may happily skip Thursday, because Thor’s Day is a holiday for Swedes like me. You do not offend the god of thunder. But skipping Wednesday would be wrong, wrong, wrong.

If I post on other days of the week, I’ll stick with the proper categories, since my promise to America and the world is that you won’t land on this blog on a Friday only to find some giant random post about the character arcs on Desperate Housewives. (Note: that was what we call a joke. I will never write a word about Desperate Housewives, except for the words I just wrote, which are possibly a mistake, now that the googles will see those words and possibly send Desperate Housewives fans here by mistake. No. Please go away.)

Here you go: seven days, seven categories.


Because if you’re dead, you can’t read or write anything at all.

This category includes things like zombies, the apocalypse, guns, surviving the zombie apocalypse (with or without guns, your choice), fighting, MMA, jujitsu, krav maga (half because it’s simple, half because it’s brutally effective and half because I like how it sounds, thus giving it an extra half when everything else in the world only gets TWO halves) and doomsday preppers — plus making fun of WATERWORLD, the worst apocalyptic movie ever.

Sample post: Zombie movies are NOT standard horror movies


Because somebody has to play more music videos than MTV.

I often take a red pen to the actual lyrics of these songs, thus disqualifying entire genres (Swedish Death Metal, mumblecore, raging emo shouty-shouty stuff) from being featured on these pages. Because if I can’t understand what the singer is screaming then no, I’m not gonna write about it, even if the supposed lyrics are stuffed into the liner notes of SATAN’S BRIDE EATS YOUR SOUL.

However, it is completely fair game to post interesting music videos without lyrics at all, if people are doing something cool like a Metallica covers using cellos.

Sample post: ELECTRIC AVENUE, as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom


No matter what you write or read, you’re influenced by moving pictures, whether those pictures are (1) on a giant screen in humungous building where 20 cents worth of popcorn costs you $8.95 or (2) on a slightly smaller screen in your former garage, which was the only place in your house big enough to fit the 74” Samsung plasma 3d ultra-HD monstronsity.

We can learn many, many useful things from screenwriters (giant screen) and scriptwriters (Glowing Tube). Hear me know and believe me later in the week: whether you write speeches, novels about zombies or newspaper feature stories, you will be amazed at how useless books about your craft really are. I mean, beyond useless. The toughest thing is structure, not comma splices, compound modifiers and some author’s system that uses 3 x 5 index cards and such. STRUCTURE AND STORYTELLING ARE KING. And the best books on structure and storytelling are from Tinseltown.

So: go buy Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT and Robert McKee’s STORY. Then you’ll know the language I’m speaking on Tuesdays.

Sample post: Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG


This is the beating heart and soulful soul of The Red Pen of Doom.

Writing and editing. Speechwriting and storytelling.

Four sample posts, because this stuff is IMPORTANT AND FUN:

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Romance novelists are secret, epic army of man boosters


Thor’s Day, right? The Norse God of Thunder would say, “Write about whatever you wish.”

That may include random videos of epic fails, or a post about whether or not we should ban Monday, a horrible day, thus giving us all 16.6 percent more weekends. IT IS A PLAN.

Sample post: Vicious alien beast battles round Earth vegetable


Guest posts. Links to amazing people you should follow on the Twitter.

Shout outs to writers, editors and funny people whose blogs you are required to visit. You know, that sort of thing. Nice posts, packed full of nicetude and friendliness. The series of tubes could use more friendliness, right? Because there is a surplus of grumpy trolls and wannabe Internet Tough Guys.

Sample post: Friendly Friday: Theresa Stevens, Glowing Mystical Being


Don’t you agree that social media means boring old mainstream media should curl up in a corner and die already? I mean, nobody needs old radio, TV and newspapers when you have the UNLIMITED POWER of Twitter-Facebook-Pinterest-LinkedIn-BlahBlahBlah.com — plus, as a secret weapon, all the loyal readers of your mom’s blog about knitting sweaters for poodles. You are invincible! Get on the phone today and hire the best architect in NYC  to start the blueprints of your  62,000-square-foot mansion with a movie theater, bowling alley and Olympic pool, because you will sell millions of books / albums / movie tickets once your latest tweet / blog post / promotional idea goes viral.

Yeah. Not so much.

I know a little about journalism, publicity, speechwriting and the whole social media thing. I HAVE DEGREES AND SUCH, and wrote 210+ posts for the NYT’s about.com as their expert on publicity. On certain special Saturdays, I will blow up conventional wisdom into itty bitty pieces, shaking your unshakeable faith in the magic of the series of tubes and making you rethink the whole idea of putting all of your eggs into that virtual basket. Social networking and media are useful, yes. But not all-powerful. Old media is not dead yet, young Skywalker – not yet.

So: this category includes Twitter, the Book of Face, social networking vs. social media (they are different) and all such things.

Also: journalism, publicity and scandals involving people who make FAR TOO MUCH MONEY.

Sample post: 11 brutally useful posts on publicity for writers


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 5 Random Thursday, Housekeeping

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

How to write — and deliver — killer speeches

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.

These posts, now, are all about speechwriting and speechgiving (yes, that’s not a word, except it should be). Being a writer of speeches and an ex-debater / debate coach, these posts are near and dear to my cold little heart. Do I like this stuff? No. That is not accurate. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. Bring out the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders for a new routine: “Speeches are good, speeches are great, speeches make us celebrate, GOOOO speeches!” Also: do speeches really matter? Nah. Go work on your bench press, unless want to be a big-shot author, actor, director or president of the United States.

Giving killer speeches, just because you CAN

Using the Tools of Rhetoric in Public Relations

Rhetoric 101: Three Parts Of Rhetoric And Three Types Of Debates

Rhetoric 102: The Right Kind Of Persuasion

Rhetoric 103: Avoiding Fallacies

Rhetoric 104: Know Your Audience

Rhetoric 201: Ethos

Rhetoric 202: Ethos Boosters

Rhetoric 301: Pathos

Rhetoric 401: Logos

Rhetoric 501: How to Write a Short Speech

Rhetoric 502: Putting A Short Speech On An Index Card

Rhetoric 503: How To Practice Short Speeches

Rhetoric 601: How To Write A Keynote Speech

Rhetoric 602: Writing A Keynote Speech For A Client

Rhetoric 603: How To Write A Keynote Speech For Yourself

Rhetoric 604: Seven Ways to Prepare For A Keynote Speech

What You Can Learn From Great Speeches

Rhetoric 610: Learning From Lincoln: Less Is More

Rhetoric 611: Learning From Churchill: Passion and Resolve

Rhetoric 612: Learning from Reagan: Specifics and Real People

How To Prepare For Different Speeches

The Promise and Perils of Presentations

Why You Must Cross-Train Public Speaking Muscles

Speeches Are Seen, Not Heard

The State of the Union Speech

How President Obama Announced Osama Bin Laden’s Death to 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 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Speechwriting