Trust Me I’m Lying Book Review

Rob LynchBook Review, PR Tips

The ceaseless, instant world of iterative journalism is antithetical to how the human brain works. Studies have shown that the brain experiences reading and listening in profoundly different ways; they activate different hemispheres for the exact same content. We place an inordinate amount of trust in things that have been written down. This comes from centuries of knowing that writing was expensive – that it was safe to assume that someone would rarely waste the resources to commit to paper something untrue. The written word and the use of it conjures up deep associations with authority and credence that are thousands of years old.

-Ryan Holiday, Trust Me I’m Lying

Have you noticed blog headlines are pretty polarizing these days? Or strongly encourage click throughs? Or that you spent all day online instead of doing your work?

I’ve noticed a number of videos on facebook that have the same basic formula – two animals that have no business being together, but watch what happens next! Or this kid eats X, watch his reaction! Let’s reverse gender situations and see how they respond! And headlines are sensationalized and encourage viewing – Snowden Strikes Again! New Spying Uncovered, Samsung just accidentally revealed nearly everything about its next phone, George R.R. Martin explains why he uses sexual violence in ‘Game of Thrones’.

I recently picked up Ryan Holiday’s “Trust Me I’m Lying Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” It’s the bestselling book by marketer, public relations director, and media strategist Ryan Holiday. The book chronicles Holiday’s time working as a media strategist for such clients as New York Times Bestselling authors Tucker Max and Robert Greene as well as American Apparel founder Dov Charney. Key takeaways:

  • Blogs make the news. Get enough bloggers to cover your story and eventually it will go up the chain to the national level.
  • Tap into emotions that polarize audiences to generate more interest. It’s the equivalent of the Parental Guidance stickers on CDs in the 80’s, but built for today’s fast paced Internet news.
  • Page views = revenue. The less page views, the less revenue. That’s why blogs update early and often. And it’s why they’re constantly looking for news. And it’s why you’ll find yourself watching three cat videos in a row instead of doing your work – they want to keep you engaged.
  • Don’t pitch a good story. Pitch a story that has the power to spread.
  • Iterative Journalism is today’s norm (everyone works “together” to tell the right story). Journalistic integrity used to be get the story right. Today’s bloggers build the story as it goes, even if it’s wrong.
  • Give blogs special treatment or they’ll attack you.
  • If it’s wrong, live with it. Trying to fix it is nearly impossible and, because blogs are linking off each other, an attempt to fix means the original article where they got it wrong gets twice the exposure.
  • Snark is prevalent, and intrinsically destructive.

It’s a fascinating read. In the first half of the book, Holiday discusses how he manipulated the media to build American Apparel’s brand. In the second half, he talks about the danger and how it almost came back to bite him on several occasions. It’s a high wire act.

It’s also scary. Holiday uses a few examples to show how incorrect stories have enormous power to damage – stock valuations wiped out in hours, personal brands going from hero to goat in days, restaurants under fire. And because the news moves so fast and outlets are trying to be the first to get the scoop, those interested in taking down competitors can seed false information and it will take off like a fire storm.

What’s my take? I’d encourage any PR person or small business to pick it up to get a better feel for how the media machine works, especially when it comes to protecting your brand and the brands of the clients we represent. I certainly wouldn’t advocate manipulating the media, though. Holiday discusses how he would set up fake email addresses to seed bloggers with information knowing full well they would write about it and it would move up the chain. The PR industry has tried for decades to shake the “spin doctor” stigma. Unfortunately, the way the media works today may encourage that behavior.

Hate the player or hate the game?