We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

ryan holiday

SME book club: lies, damned lies and blogging

Each month, as part of’s SME coverage, we’ll be reviewing a business book that makes a difference.

YOU MIGHT NOT like Ryan Holiday.

For a start, he’s 27, and as the head of marketing for American Apparel, almost certainly makes more money than you.

More importantly, as he makes clear early on in “Trust me I’m lying: confessions of a media manipulator”, he made his name making Tucker Max, the personification of early-naughties online shock-jocking, famous. This alone should engender dislike from any reasonable reader.

That said, he made him famous – and rich. That sentence is why you might want to pay attention to him, even if you don’t like him.

Who should read this book?

A self-described media manipulator, Holiday’s technique rests on a deliciously cynical view of the media. That is, by exploiting bloggers’ interest in clicks and scandal, which in turn feeds the mainstream media agenda, he can force his clients’ agendas – and more likely, products – into the public consciousness.

So, anyone in the PR industry, anyone in the media, or anyone with an interest in getting their product talked about online (and then, presumably, purchased offline).

What will it tell me?

How does it work? Well, for example, when he was promoting Tucker Max, the pair contrived to vandalise a billboard advertising the client. He fed this to a blogger, which in turn led to it getting picked up by mainstream, or ‘traditional’ media.

287130_10101468975403374_441709746_o Ryan Holiday / Facebook Ryan Holiday / Facebook / Facebook

Thanks to what he calls ‘iterative journalism’, the event is picked up, elaborated on, enhanced, discussed and ultimately passes into the public consciousness. Chimera-like, awareness of Tucker’s book is implanted into media consumers.

Now, once you’ve ridded yourself of the shudderingly hideous idea of having Tucker Max implant something in you, consider what’s happening here.

Is this new? Yes and no.

In a way, Holiday’s genius isn’t as a marketing or PR strategist. The tactics he rolls out, of implantation and shock, are as old as the hills in the industry. He’s impressive, really, as a story-teller, and an analyst. And that’s why the book is such a good read.

There really are some eye-popping yarns of media manipulation in here. Holiday promises much early on in the piece, boasting:

I have funnelled millions of dollars to blogs through advertising. I’ve given breaking news to blogs instead of Good Morning America, and, when that didn’t work, hired their family members. I have flown bloggers across the country, boosted their revenue by buying traffic, written their stories for them,  fabricated elaborate ruses to capture their attention, and courted them with expensive meals and scoops.

From the billboard defacement to hundreds of other vignettes spun throughout the book, it’s a relentlessly entertaining read. He also throws in a lively jeremiad on online media theory, structure and practice, and he’s a better writer than most of the worthy hackademics slogging their way through the same topics.

Like every other PR strategist in the world, Holiday is exploiting the common ground that exists between that tribe and the hewers of words, no matter whether they’re bloggers or journalists: that they have a shared interest in getting something on the page.

In a neat exposition of the art, he manages to make you believe what he’s doing is brand new, whereas in a lot of ways, the lessons in the book aren’t that earth-shattering, when you strip it back. The trick is that you walk away thinking he’s breaking the mould and that he’s a once off.

Ain’t he good at his job?

In a nutshell: Getting stuff in the media is changing, and thanks to online ecosystems and new means of distribution, PR is becoming even more cloak and dagger than before.

If you liked this, you’ll love:

The Obstacle Is the Way: The timeless art of turning trials into triumph>

From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbour: front line dispatches from the advertising war

SME book club: What the tourism industry can learn about sustaining itself>

SME book club: Why Kenyans aren’t good distance runners – and what it means for businesses>

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.