I recently spoke to Ryan Holiday, who is the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and is a media strategist for notorious clients such as Tucker Max and Dov Charney. After dropping out of college at 19 to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, he went on to advise many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians. He is currently the director of marketing at American Apparel, where his work is internationally known. His campaigns have been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube, and Google and written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company. He currently lives in New Orleans and writes at RyanHoliday.net.
In this interview, Ryan talks about the media’s flaws and how he’s capitalized on them, how he spends his time, what got him into PR, and more.
How do you manage your time between your clients and your corporate marketing position? Do you have some special flexibility program?
The key is to look for opportunities that can help multiple clients at the same time–I think two birds with one stone with everything I do. My clients actually benefit from my extracurricular activities because I am always trying to make connections, introductions or suggestions. Let’s say someone approaches me about an author to do an interview, before I wrap that, I’m thinking how my other authors might also be a fit. How I can translate their work to fit somewhere you wouldn’t have initially suspected. This overlap always me to actually be better at my job the more I take one–the thinner I am spread, the stronger I am. I realize it seems paradoxical but it has worked for me.
How did you stumble upon this new way of marketing and publicizing products? What have you learned along the way?
I wouldn’t say I stumbled on it so much as I slowly chipped away and uncovered it. I tracked stories that I would see in the news and realize that they started on some tiny blog but eventually made their way to CNN. I watched as the media manufactured its own news for personal gain. As I discovered this interdependence and tendency, I had a thought that basically only a naive but ambitious 20 year old could have: if I could control blogs, I could indirectly control the entire media cycle. I realized I could exploit this weakness to the advantage of my clients and that’s what I did.
Look at Andrew Breitbart, he did the exact same thing. He realized he could steer the conversation through a set of tactics and he correct understood the media’s response and inability to resist those tactics. My strategies are different, and less political, but they rely on many of the same assumptions and realities of the business.
I’m very pragmatic about it. I don’t like it, but this is the system for better or worse, I just prefer to victimize it rather than be victimized in turn, like so many others inevitably are.
What do you have lined up for your book launch. Can you mention something you’ve already done and something that might be coming up soon?
The goal for the book marketing campaign was to PROVE the book itself. I make a lot of claims in the book about how the system works and I wanted the marketing to shine a spotlight on those accusations, to make them clearly stand out in relief against the BS rhetoric that so many bloggers and journalists delude themselves with. And I think I can say that I did that here. This book has been EVERYWHERE in the last 10 days. From the New York Post to the front page of Yahoo.com. And I did that even as the media circled their wagons and tried to ignore me or dismiss me as an aberration. People are having the discussion that I hoped we would have: that the media is defenseless, corrupted and hopeless manipulated.
It’s not enough to simply deny my claims now. There an overwhelming burden of proof behind them. I haven’t seen a single person really even try at this point, which shows me how flimsy the justification for things like HARO truly were. (Except Peter Shankman and that was mostly cringeworthy and embarrassing to watch)
What are your top three tips for getting picked up by The New York Times or another major outlet?
Appeal to self-Interest, Be extraordinary and Don’t wait for them to come to you. If you want the Times to write about you, you better make your angle so convincing and interesting that they beat a path to your door and beg you for it. Remember the Times has to fill a huge paper and an even bigger website everyday. They WANT cool stuff to write about and they NEED to get traffic. Make it clear that writing about you fulfills those objectives and you’ll be shocked at how easy it is.
Do you think this book will ruin your credibility with bloggers or mainstream media or enhance it and why?
How can my credibility be ruined by people who don’t have any? It’d be like worrying that I’d hurt my reputation inside the Catholic Church by writing about the scandals they tried to cover up. I don’t care what they think because THEY are the problem here. I understand that taking this on–that saying clearly that the emperor has no clothes and signing my own name to that statement–isn’t going to earn me a lot of friends, but I’m ok with that. I was in a position to write this book precisely because I was an insider whose identity wasn’t wrapped up in the game and because I didn’t believe in it. Right now it’s the true believers and the truly corrupt who are turning on me and trying make me the bad guy. But they’ll get theirs, so I’m not too worried about it.