If you catch no other part of this interview, make sure you hear today’s guest confess to vandalizing billboards. If you want publicity, you’ll see why that story is important to you.
Ryan Holiday admits that he manipulated the media for clients like Tucker Max, Robert Greene, and American Appareal. He breaks down his process for deception in this interview and in his new book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.
Ryan Holiday, Media Strategist
Ryan Holiday is media strategist for notorious clients like Tucker Max, Timothy Ferriss, and Dov Charney.
Andrew: Coming up in this interview, watch how vandalism helped this guy
build a major brand. If you’re not doing anything like this yourself, you
should at least understand how your competitors might be using it to build
their names. Also, listen to the tricky thing that today’s guest says he
does after someone writes about one of his clients and you’ll hear me urge
you to do something similar in this interview. Get ready. All that and so
much more coming up.
Three messages before we get started. First, do you need web design work?
Go to launchtower.com. It’s run by Alex Champagne, who has helped me with a
lot of last minute projects at Mixergy. Now he’s running a design company
at launchtower.com. Second, do you need a lawyer who actually understands
the startup world that you live in? Go to walkercorporatelaw.com. I’ve
known Scott Edward Walker for years so tell him you’re a friend of mine
when you go to walkercorporatelaw.com. Finally, what are the big challenges
that you have as a founder? Go to mixergypremium.com and take courses by
proven entrepreneurs who want to help you get through your toughest
challenges. mixergypremium.com. Let’s get started.
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of
Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How can you manipulate the
media to promote your self-interest? Ryan Holiday says he did it for
clients like Max Tucker, Robert Green and American Apparel. He breaks down
his process for deception in a new book called “Trust Me, I’m Lying:
Confessions of a Media Manipulator”. Great book. Ryan, welcome.
Ryan: Thanks for having me. I’m a big fan of the show.
Andrew: You and I started before we recorded. We talked about this myth
that the average person who is listening to us might have. What is that
Ryan: I think the myth started with Web 2.0, which is essentially the idea
that if you do great stuff, people will hear about it, that the web is this
big meritocracy and what it’s looking for is finding good things and
showing them to people and it will be embraced by the horde and they’ll
love you. I’ve discovered in my work that it’s fundamentally not the case.
We live in an attention economy. There are so many things fighting for
people’s attention at any given moment, that the chances of your stuff
breaking through are just that: it’s a random chance. If you’re an
entrepreneur, author or writer you’ve invested way too much to leave your
success up to chance. What I do for clients is figure out how to guarantee
attention for their work because they deserve it.
Andrew: Actually, I even see it here in my interviews if I do an interview
on how to sell, an interview on how to market, if I do an interview on any
of that stuff, real hardcore developers, guys who run great businesses will
often email me and say, ‘I’m just going to focus on my business. This stuff
is just online marketing. It’s scummy. It’s not us.’ You see it often in
hacker news if you’re in the tech industry at all. Good point: if you build
it and nobody knows about it, what’s the point? No one’s going to try it.
People aren’t going to embrace it and it won’t grow. True?
Ryan: Sometimes, if you build it they’ll come. But sometimes they won’t
and is that a chance that you want to take? I don’t think so. Especially
when you’re playing with your own money or you’re playing with other
people’s money. It’s just risky business.
Andrew: You’re not one to wait for things to happen to you. You make things
happen for yourself, including that time about the vandalism. What did you
do and then how does this play into what we’re about to talk about in this
Ryan: One of the authors I’ve worked for is the number one New York Times’
bestselling author, Tucker Max. He’s a very controversial figure, to say
the least. What we realized is, look, we had adapted his book into a movie
and what we thought was, obviously, we’re going to do all the traditional
marketing things for a movie. We’re going to do a big ad campaign, we’re
going to do previews, we’re going to do all that. But, what if this movie
was one of those movies that everyone was talking about because it was so
controversial? It was adult and risky and profane and all the things that
had spread him from being a random writer on the internet into a household
name. We thought, “How can we guarantee that this conversation happens?” It
was probably going to happen, but we wanted to make sure that it happened.
What we decided was we were going to create that controversy, and that’s
exactly what we did. I mean, it was denounced in the editorial in
Washington Post . . .
Andrew: Well, let’s get into it. One night, dark, you drive out there, you
see his poster and you do what to it?
Ryan: So, what we did was we bought billboards all over the city of Los
Angeles, Chicago, New York, and we wanted to start a campaign where other
people were vandalizing those billboards. So instead of leaving that to
chance like we’re saying, I went out there, my assistant, my girlfriend,
and myself, we went out there, we put these profane stickers on the front
of the posters. It’s essentially accusing him of being a rapist, but in a
very funny way. As funny as that can be. And then we took photos of that
and through an anonymous email I sent it as a tip to a bunch of very big
local blogs, and of course they ran it because who would do this to
themselves, right? It’s sort of incomprehensible, but that’s exactly what
had happened. They ran the story, and a week later, we had a group of
feminists in New York City organized an enormous campaign to vandalize the
things all over Manhattan, and it was covered by the Village Voice, and it
sort of started a nationwide campaign to vandalize those billboards.
Andrew: But you did it with your girlfriend. Tucker was there too, he was
also vandalizing . . .
Ryan: No, no, no, Tucker was out doing something else.
Andrew: Right. OK. This is your job to promote. I see these on a blog
called Curbed. The ad said something like, I guess the movie was called I
Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. It was a sticker put on that says, I hope
they serve rape axe in hell, which I didn’t understand what it was until
that blog explained it. Apparently it’s something that you put in you to
prevent rape. It’s pretty nasty, and it was right there. And that was your
sticker, you went to Kinko’s and you bought it.
Ryan: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Andrew: OK. There’s another one and, Little Italy will not tolerate your
bigotry, go fuck yourself, va fan culo [SP]. You created that sticker and
you put it on your own billboard.
Ryan: No, no, no, just the first one was me, and then the rest was all
Andrew: Oh, that’s what somebody else did?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. That’s what happened.
Andrew: Oh, I thought that one was so fake. What person who’s into
vandalism would use the phrase, va fan culo. I thought that’s just . . .
Ryan: I don’t know. Not a very original person, but I think that’s sort of
the whole idea, is that you can sort of create this faux outrage that
becomes real outrage. Because people are upset about things and they look
for ways to express themselves. But if you can nudge them in the right
direction, you can harness that energy around your product or idea.
Andrew: OK. And part of your nudging is you would go to gay and lesbian
groups and you’d say, not as Ryan Holliday, you’d say, look, this stuff is
going on, this movie is going on out there, somebody needs to do something.
And you would push them to protest. Yeah. Right. Like they actually don’t
like him And they really do hate him and his work, so the idea was like,
OK. How can we, they’re probably not going to like it anyway, so how can we
turn that negative into a positive. How can we turn them into almost anti-
evangelists for the work. In the sense that, I think Robert Green says this
in the 48 Laws of Power, is as long as they spell your name right, it
doesn’t matter, and so that’s what we’re thinking. The alternative is them
not talking about it, and they definitely weren’t going to go see the
movie, so what if we use them to sort of create a media firestorm that
generates attention and is eventually seen by people who do find it funny,
who do think it’s interesting.
Andrew: And dude, you don’t have to apologize for any of this here. I want
to learn this stuff. I want you to be as opened and comfortable as
possible. So . . .
Ryan: Oh, I’m not apologizing.
Andrew: Good. Good. And what you did was something that you called trade
up the chain. You went to a local blog, is Curbed LA considered a local, it
is, of course, a local blog?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, it’s national network, but it writes about individual
cities. So in that case, we go to someone like Curbed, we give them this
little story that to them is more than a little story because it’s about a
national figure doing a local thing. So it’s sort of the perfect, ideal
thing for them.
Andrew: And when you say you go to them, talk about how you do it. How do
you get Curbed to be aware of what you did and you took a photo of from
inside your car and you made it look like someone was driving by and saw
Ryan: Right, so what I like to do is I went to see what the site tends to
generate on their own. And it turns out in this case they like sources from
tipsters. They like things that look like real news. These are bloggers,
but at the end of the day, they want to be cutting-edge real journalists,
so how can I give them something that makes them feel like they got that,
when really they’re not doing any work. And so sending them this anonymous
tip which is what I did. I sent an anonymous tip from a fake email address.
I sent the same fake tip to two different blogs who both independently
picked it up. And from there, those sites are read from people all over the
country, from reporters or whatever, and shortly thereafter got picked up
by the Village Voice, and what I realized very early on was, where do
reporters get the news? They get the news from blogs. It’s not like
reporters are out there pounding the pavement, looking for news or
overhearing gossip. They read blogs, and so I found a very clear link
between small blogs and medium sized blogs to big blogs, and then, the
Andrew: And that’s trading up the chain. Start with the small, move on,
and you say, focus on the local first, ’cause that’s easier to get, then
you go to legacy. So once you have the local guy writing about you, you go
to Legacy. Legacy means, like Forbes magazine, and I notice this too,
Forbes Magazine, Ink Magazine, to some extent, the Wall Street Journal,
maybe they’re not a good example. What they have is bloggers that are just
out there to create crap content in some cases, I’m not speaking
necessarily of those. And the blogger gets to work for free in exchange for
having his name on that website so that he can post to being a blogger for
that website, and what that site gets is a ton of content and the more
content you get, the more traffic you get, and so it’s an interesting trade
for them, the way you manipulate the situation is by doing what with this
Legacy Media’s blog?
Ryan: Yeah. So you realize those people have something you want, and you
have something that they want. And so what you want is access to that
prestigious name, like getting something, you get something from a local
blog that only has so much sort of relevance or significance, but now
Forbes Magazine is writing about it. Or a site affiliated with CBS News or
something like that? Now all of the sudden you’ve got a real story. So what
I do is I try to get those local things on the radar of these other people.
So I email them if I have a personal relationship with them. Or maybe I
send an anonymous tip, or I make that local thing so popular, maybe it
blows up on Reddit or Stumbleupon or something like that, and they see it,
and they’re going to want to popularize something they think is small and
contained. So the local news is a great example because stories by local
affiliates often get picked up by other affiliates all over the country if
there’s some sort of larger angle. So it’s like, you know you get something
picked up in Austin, Texas, the next thing you know, that same story is
running in Houston. And now you’re sort of, another step above it in the
Andrew: OK. So now see how the chain works. Go simple, show it to the
bigger, go on, go on, go on until you end up on TV which is what happened
Andrew: One of the thing you said in the book is, you need to create a
strong story, and I wrote a note to myself to come back and ask you this,
because that’s not so easy to figure out that hey, we’re going to vandalize
our own posters, and then we’re going to come up with an angle for the
local press, so it’s not easy. And some of the other things you do in the
book, or you talk about how you did in the book, it’s a significant part of
this process. How do we come up with these kinds of tactics with this kind
Ryan: Well, first, I’d say it’s actually a lot less intimidating than you
might think. So today if you wanted to be in the New York Times, or
thinking about the New York Times, like the print newspaper, they can only
run so many stories a day. So if they write about you, that means they’re
excluding someone else. So in a way they’re doing you a favor by writing
about you. Blogs have an infinite amount of space, and every time they run
a new article that’s sort of more money in their pocket. And so the way I
look at it is you’re helping them fill that black hole, that infinite
amount of content that they can fill. So you think about it from their
perspective. It’s much more of a seller’s market than a buyer’s market, the
way . . .
Andrew: Because they’re hungry to buy, but they’re not going to buy
anything. A lot of people in my audience and I email bloggers and say, hey
you should write about this, and we get no response. You do something
that’s clever, this cleverness, I’d like to see a breakdown of how you come
up with these story angles, of how you come up with this way of making
something that’s ordinary interesting.
Ryan: Well, I think the word angle that you use is very important, because
a lot of people think, OK, do an article about Andrew at Mixergy, and
that’s what they think, like that’s how they would picture . . .
Andrew: Right. They would email me and say things like if they want to be
featured on Mixergy , Andrew I just created this new iPhone app, you should
do an interview with me because I created it. Boom, and no one cares.
Ryan: Right. And what they don’t give you is an angle. They think, cover my
start-up. They don’t think, here’s a specific thing about my start-up that
can be news. You look for it, like a handle, to grab onto, and pick up the
Andrew: So, how do you find that handle?
Ryan: What I do is I sit there and I break down the works. So a book for
instance is a comprehensive hole made up of many parts. Each chapter is
usually about a specific thing. Maybe it’s a story about one person, and
then a story about some community and then a story about some event. And
then what I like to do is I break that down and I go, OK so we have Chapter
One. Who is Chapter One going to be interesting to? What kind of audience
could this particular thing be tailored to, and that’s going to always be
easier than just doing the whole. So let’s say I’m doing a book for Robert
Green. Like I did Robert Green’s book with 50 Cent. So that book has
multiple audiences. There’s the hip hop audience, there’s the self-help
audience, there’s the entrepreneur audience. And once you identify who you
want to be writing about you, then you think about it from their
perspective. What is it that they’re going to find attractive about this
thing. What is going to catch their eye, and then you only give them that
thing, because . . .
Andrew: But how do you come up with that thing. I mean, how do you, what
do you find that’s gonna catch their eye?
Ryan: I mean, what it’s really about is thinking about it from their
perspective. So what kind of stories do they write. What are things that
they’ve covered in the past. So, let’s say, Forbes, for example, loves to
write about successful people in hip hop. Well how can you take something
in your book and make what you have, which is about an unrelated thing,
into something that works for them. So, or when we’re doing something about
entrepreneurs, how do we break this down into sort of an inspirational
entrepreneur slide show that we can put on slide share, or something like
that. It’s not really about making anything up, so much as it’s about
rearranging it in a digestible form. But at the end of the day, these
bloggers need angles. They need, think about it from a headlines
perspective. What is going to make a fascinating headline that’s going to
get clicks, because that’s ultimately what they’re after. So if you’re just
saying, Robert Green has a new book out, that’s not very interesting unless
. . . [??]
Andrew: The angle still eludes me, the way to do it. But maybe the way I
can learn it, is by talking about some of the other angles that you’ve
worked in the past. Basically, you’re a creative storyteller that’s using
the world to write your story. So let’s see how, some of the stories that
you’ve told. And I like to just take this using one of the outlines that
you use in the book, which is you break down the tactics that you use and
others can use to manipulate the media. And tactic number one, you say, is
bloggers are poor. Help pay their bills, and you can’t just send them cash,
because that would be outrageous. That would get you in trouble. So, you
would do what at American Apparel to pay bloggers?
Ryan: So you think about it from the perspective that they are both a
writer and a business person, which is not usually how it works for the
media. Usually there’s a big separation between church and state. But you,
you’re both the host and the owner of the show. So, let’s say I really
wanted to get on your show. I’m not saying this is possible, because you
probably have way too many ethics, but what if I started out as a sponsor?
And I started emailing you, and we struck up a friendship and I started
telling you my story. You can use a business angle to open up a
conversation. So with fashion bloggers, one of the really good ways is to
start sending the clothes.
Now you have a conversation. They’re going to email you and say, hey this
doesn’t fit me, I really love that last thing you sent me, and now when you
have a new product to release, you shoot them an email and you say, this is
something new, would you write about it. And if it works, then it works,
and you essentially opened up many channels that give you access to the
media. And I think the other big thing to always remember, though, is many
bloggers are paid by the page, actually [??] or whatever. When you see how
many page views that the story did, that’s how much that blogger got paid.
And so, when you think about giving them a story, you realize that you’re,
in a way, giving them money, because if your story does heavy traffic, they
got directly paid from that. And that’s a conflict of interest that will
work to your advantage.
Andrew: All right. I get giving them clothes. I’ve actually seen bloggers
sit down and talk about the wines that they get because they were going to
review wines and it’s not just the stuff. The stuff matters to them. You
know. If they’re into wine . . . Sorry?
Ryan: It’s the status though, that I think really matters.
Andrew: Yes. Right. They want to talk about it with their friends about
how they’re so important that they’re getting these wine bottles, that
they’re so important that if they’re evaluating clothes I imagine, I don’t
have friends who are doing that, that they’re getting clothes. The other
thing that you said, you brought up a good point. I don’t take, I’m way
sold out on ads, and ads aren’t a big source of revenue here. But I have to
admit, as you say, that my sponsors, if they introduce me to someone,
because they become good friends of mine . . .
Andrew: [??]. I pay more attention to it. Because I get to know them, I
lean on them sometimes and ask them for introductions to guests. It’s a
problem. I don’t think it’s a problem for me, but it’s a potential problem
. . .
Ryan: And, I think . . .
Andrew: I watch it.
Ryan: . . . in some cases, it’s actually not a problem, it’s actually
cool. What we did was, we went to a lot of these fashion bloggers really
early on in the development of that medium and we said, “Look, we’re a big
company, we have the resources of a big company. What can we do to help
you? What do you need?” And, so, we’re helping them, but we’re not asking
for anything in return. We’re just opening up channels of communication
that are then valuable. A lot of companies will send out products and say,
“If you want this, you have to write about it.” Now, I’ve never thought
that way because I think that when you demand something, that’s all that
you get. What I like to do is sort of build up almost a karmic debt, so to
speak. You send them products for a year and a half. Now, when you have
something that might be of interest, like you said, they’re going to be
more receptive and open to that idea. And, is it a bribe? I don’t know. I
just know that it works.
Andrew: You also say you got to invest early in the blogger, and you’ve
invested in other people and, I’ve got to say, when I read that, see I want
to be open with myself so that I could just keep improving here. There are
a lot of things that you point out in the book, like . . . when newspapers
don’t have subscription customers, there is an incentive to just keep
promoting crap headlines and crap stories because there’s, nobody’s
returning with revenue on a regular basis. You have to just keep hooking
them back in so that you can get revenue from ads, and I thought, we’re
doing that right because we’re not leaning on traffic to come in every day
and be manipulated. We’ve got subscribers who are keeping us going, and the
thing about subscribers is if you shovel crap at them, they’re going to
cancel their subscriptions; they’re going to walk away. So . . .
Andrew: We have an incentive to do quality, so there’s something else that
you said that I’ve got to, that I’ve noted.
Andrew: We have an incentive to do quality, but there’s something else
that you said that I noticed, which is, you’ve got to invest in bloggers
early. You kind of did that with me. I looked back before this interview to
see, when did Ryan first email me? It was years ago, and you gave me great
people. You gave me Robert Green [SP], who I admire. You introduced me to
Tucker Max [SP] who sent me a bunch of traffic. It worked. Now, as soon as
you sent me that email, you saw how quickly I responded to you.
Ryan: I mean, here’s the way: a lot of times, people ask me, “How can I
find these influential bloggers? How do I know who they are in my space?”
My answer is always, “You don’t find them. You know who they are because
you care about this thing.” I’ve been watching your show this entire time.
It’s not like I put you down on a calendar, and I have a thing to send you
links. What happens is, when you add value to people, and you build real
connections, those connections are available to you if you ever need them.
So, the reality is, if you had the backing of a major media company behind
you, you probably wouldn’t need anyone to help you. You wouldn’t need
access to guests because, honestly, you’d be turning down guests. You’d be
calling up celebrity publicists and say, “Hey, do you want to come on my
show, whatever.” It’s sort of like, this is the system and so, you’ve got
to figure out who the important people are, and you’ve got to contribute
and add value because they’re not just going to magically write about you
because you want them to.
Andrew: And I do see that a lot where the people who are especially good
at this, over years, they just funnel me stuff. You know, I don’t need
stuff. What I do need, though, is they funnel me introductions, and that’s
hugely helpful. Next tactic, you say, “Tell them what they want to hear.”
And in that section, you say, “You got to tell bloggers, you got to tell
reporters what they want to hear.” And in that section, you talk about how
you got Gawker to write about American Apparel around Halloween. Can you
talk about what you did there, because there’s another example of how you
write the stories that go beyond individual blogs?
Ryan: Yes, so we had these photos that we couldn’t run for copyright
reasons. Essentially, we had done these Halloween costumes with the
American Apparel clothes that we couldn’t run because they were public
figures, like a Lady Gaga costume, let’s say, right? And, we’re not going
to pay Lady Gaga to be able to run that costume. So, I’m sitting there
talking to the photographer, and they’re like, “Look, we got to throw these
away. That really sucks.” So, what I thought was, OK, so these are the sort
of rejected, you-can’t-see material. This is like the stuff left on the
cutting room floor. Well, so, if I went to a blogger and I said, “Look,
here’s some stuff that wasn’t good enough to make our website,” they’re
obviously not going to run that. But, what if I pretended to be someone
that stole them from American Apparel, or I pretended to be an employee who
“found” them and was giving them away without permission? Now, it’s not
just a bunch of photos, which are good for content, it’s sort of this
exclusive news angle. I know that Gawker loves to run controversial stories
about American Apparel. Instead of trying to pitch them another way, which
is a fun, lighthearted story, I turned a fun, lighthearted story into a
newsy, exclusive sort of taboo story. It worked really well. From their
perspective, it worked really well, too, because it did almost 100,000 page
views. It’s sort of both laws, right? Because you tell them what they want
to hear and then you’re also giving them an enormous gift in the sense that
they got paid from that so they’re not very likely to go, “Hmm. What are
the chances of these being real?” because you don’t stare a gift horse in
Andrew: I think I’m looking at this post right here. This is on Jezebel.
“Exclusive: American Apparel’s Rejected Halloween Costume Ideas”. That’s
you? You got them to do that?
Andrew: Here are a few things I’m noticing about you. You won’t send things
directly. You’ll pretend to be someone else sending a tip. Stolen seems to
be a good one. Here’s something I stole that was on my hard drive that I
discovered on someone else’s computer, on their USB stick. That’s the kind
of stuff you want?
Ryan: Right. I mean, think about that iPhone leak that Gizmodo had. What if
they said, ‘Apple gave us an early copy of the iPhone’? Obviously, that
would be interesting and it would do traffic. But the fact that it was
stolen or found and there was a police investigation and Apple was mad
about it. All of a sudden, it becomes a story about the story and that
gives other people angles to write about it. That generates a lot more
attention and a lot more interest. If you think about it from the reader’s
perspective, now it’s more than just brand content or news about a brand,
it’s sort of behind the scenes and it’s exclusive and it’s cool. I like to
jam those angles onto what I’m doing whenever possible.
Andrew: You also find that if you can get one blogger to say something,
it’s a lot easier to quote that blogger. So if you get them to get the
facts a little bit off, you can them quote him?
Andrew: Can you talk about what you might say to Tucker before an interview
to get him to feed stuff into Wikipedia or how you use Wikipedia to
manipulate what people say about your guys?
Ryan: The dirty secret is that everyone uses Wikipedia as their general
fact-checking thing at this point in time. So if you control Wikipedia, now
all of a sudden, you control the facts themselves as far as the media or
even the general public is concerned. It’s not that you can put outright
untrue things on Wikipedia. But you can certainly lie by omission or lie by
inclusion. You can present a distorted picture of things by what facts you
choose to put there or what facts you choose to remove. Let’s say Tucker
wants people to know how many books he’s sold. Well, book scan access is
expensive and a lot of journalists don’t have it. So that’s not going to be
included on Wikipedia because it’s just not. So in an interview, I’ll say,
‘Tucker, I need you to drop in the interview how many copies of your books
are currently in print or currently have sold.’ Then he’ll say that and
I’ll take the link to that article and now all of a sudden, I can insert
that into Wikipedia. Now the fact that he’s sold 2,000,000 books, let’s
say, is going to be repeated on all subsequent interviews or reports about
him because this fact is not only out there, but it’s been verified by
Wikipedia. Of course, this is actually true in this case, but there’s a
gray area there that you can certainly exploit.
Andrew: Here’s what people exploit, and this is something I notice as an
interviewer in the startup space: anyone could be called a founder. If
you’re an early hire, you’re like a founder of the business. If you’re a
later hire who then created a new department within the business or a new
website within a business, you’re a founder of that site or maybe even a
founder within this business and all you have to do is just say, ‘I’m a
founder of that business’ or ‘I’m a founder within this business’ anywhere
and people just want to run out with the founder title.
Ryan: If you say it enough times it becomes true, right? The reality is
with these blogs, and this is what I mean when I say tell them what they
want to hear, who’s going to have time to call up the staff at mint.com and
verify whether this person was actually considered a founder? The reality
is that when blogs are pushing out 10 or 12 posts a day, they don’t have
time to do that. So they’re going to say it enough times that it
effectively becomes true.
Andrew: Yes. Because then the next person will do research and see it in
there and quote it and so on. Actually, I’ve had other founders, because I
have an audience of founders, I’ve had people tell me about their business
and then say, ‘Oh yeah, and I also founded this other company’. Well, they
don’t say, ‘I’ve founded this company’. They say, ‘I was a founder of’. The
actual founder will be in the other room and he’ll say, ‘What the fuck?
Wait. I was there. I hired you. I hired you later on and then I fired you.’
They’ll email me and I’ll say, ‘Do you want me to make this public?’ Except
for one case where I won’t mention it, except for one case, every founder
said, ‘No, it’s not worth it.’ because if you do say, you become this
jealous, egomaniacal fighter who nobody wants to be.
Ryan: Right. Who has time for these subtle shadings of the truth? Who has
time to sort through them all? There’s so much. Let’s say he gets it
corrected here. That doesn’t immediately correct it on the million other
sites that it’s since been repeated on.
Andrew: It doesn’t matter to anyone as much as it matters to the guy who’s
spreading this lie who needs that to give speeches as the founder and maybe
to raise money. Myspace has, or it did when they were doing well,
50,000,000,000 founders. Everybody was a founder at Myspace.
Ryan: Yep. Or a founding employee or whatever. Those sort of differences,
slight differences in word choice, make an enormous difference, especially
somewhere on Wikipedia. ‘Was a founder’ or ‘was an early employee of’ is a
huge difference but if you’re a reporter and you’re going to write
something, which one is more interesting to you? You’re obviously going to
go with the more ambitious take.
Andrew: You know what, though? I’m not here to be upset at the world. I’m
here to understand how the world works and then use it. Frankly, if anyone
out there is listening and they were a founder of, or were a founder member
or whatever it is, use the word games. You might as well, right? Don’t you
Ryan: Basically, that’s the whole point. If you’re going to be playing by
some notion of honesty that no one else is playing by, you’re going to get
passed up very quickly. If you’re sort of saying, ‘Oh, I abstain from these
tricks or rules’, that’s fine. But the consequences are that you’re going
to be quickly outpaced by this arms race that’s going alongside you where
everyone is exaggerating, distorting and sensationalizing everything. All
of a sudden, the truth becomes very boring compared to this unreality that
gets created in the media. That’s sort of what I talk about in the book:
how do you play that game?
Andrew: You do talk about that a lot. Actually, you know what? I want to
take it back. I’m not sure that this is the way that people need to be. I
will say, at the very least, you need to be aware that this is the way the
world is working and if, for some reason, you’re not getting what you’re
looking for, maybe understand that this is an option for you or this is an
option that your competitors are using and you need to be aware of it. You
got sick of this stuff. You looked at yourself one day and you said, ‘I
don’t think I can live like this.’
Ryan: Obviously, it would be better if it worked a different way. I wish
that it way. When I talk to my clients, the first thing I say is to always
do the legitimate things first because it’s much better to get positive
press than it is to get negative press. Let’s say you can’t get positive
press. Then here’s the game that you have to play.
Andrew: By the way, did you really get sick of it? Here’s my take on this:
you said, ‘I got this system that works. If I go out and tell the world to
manipulate because manipulation works, I’m going to kill my credibility.
But if I say I’ve found the light, I am Paul who fell of the horse and
discovered God and Jesus, then you can say everything they used to do and
get all the credit and all the awe and teach people exactly how to do it
without any of the flack that comes from doing that.’
Ryan: Here’s the thing: If I wanted to keep doing these things, I probably
wouldn’t write a book with my own name on it that gave them all away.
Obviously, I think the proof is in the pudding there. If I wasn’t tired of
these things, I wouldn’t give away the secrets that make me a lot of money.
I’m doing it because I’ve seen the consequences and I don’t like systems
where everything is out in the open except for the public. That’s very much
what I’ve found on the internet. All the bloggers know. You talk to people
and they know this is how it works. Everyone knows this stuff. Then when it
comes to what they sell the public, it’s fundamentally different and that
never sat well with me. What I’m thinking is, “All right. I’ll pull back
the curtain and if people are cool with it, they’re cool with it. If
they’re not, they’re not.”
Andrew: I’ll skip around a little bit. The next tactic I think we should
talk about, tactic number six in the book, make it all about the headline.
I’ve got to tell you, the best guys who pitch me, they’re not necessarily
evil. This is a good one I think everyone should be using. They pitch me
the headline. Not a paragraph, and then another paragraph and then a link
to some other nonsense about them. They say, “Andrew, here’s the headline:
‘How I Lost A Million Dollars with My First Startup Because I didn’t
Understand Publicity.” Boom! I go, “Fuck no. Yes. Of course I want you on
Andrew: Now, I understand it.
Ryan: You don’t necessarily use their headline, but it catches your
attention. I almost think when I’m pitching people, the subject line is my
headline. So, what kind of headline am I going to put there that’s going to
make them stand up and take notice? Then whether they use that as a hint or
it frames what they ultimately write, that’s good obviously, but it’s about
getting their attention.
Ultimately, when you’re pitching the media, you have two audiences. You
have the general public, and then you have the reporters who are a filter
for the general public. Yeah, it’s very important that you always think. At
the end of the day, this thing has to be reduced down to a headline. If you
can show clearly in advance that that’s possible with your story, you’ve
already reduced a very large barrier of entry.
One of my favorite examples of this is Amazon. One of their policies is, if
you want to launch a new product or service inside of Amazon, you have to
write the press release first. Then, your supervisor or the department head
approves that thing after he’s seen how this thing is going to be
communicated and sold to the public.
Which is so different than how most entrepreneurs, artists, writers,
authors think about the world, which is they think their job is to make the
product and then their role in it is done after that. They hand in the
manuscript, and then someone else takes it from there. Well, that’s really
hard if you’ve handed them something that can’t be turned back into a
headline. So, I like to think about that headline first, and then I reverse
engineer from there.
Andrew: I’m going to come to tactic seven in a moment, because I think you
used this on me, and I loved it.
Ryan: All right, let’s see.
Andrew: Before we go into that, let’s just tell people who you are. I
meant to say this before. How the hell did you learn all this stuff? You’re
not a guy who is trained in PR. You’re not a guy with this kind of
Andrew: How’d you learn this?
Ryan: Yeah. I’m completely self-taught. This was a system that I saw as an
outsider, and I thought, “How can I break it down and learn as much about
it as possible?” Basically, I saw myself as a grad student.
I said, “What professor can I attach myself to, who will let me use the
tools in his laboratory to experiment and learn?” First I did that with
Tucker, then I did it with a couple other authors, and then I did it at
Andrew: What did Tucker teach you when you went to him for your MBA in PR,
in “bad assery”?
Ryan: Tucker showed me that bad publicity can be just as effective, if not
more effective, than good publicity. Sometimes, people are so close-minded
about something that they won’t give you a fair shot, and you’ve got to go
around those barriers if you want to get what you (?).
Andrew: How did he show you to do that?
Ryan: Tucker was the one who showed me how to send fake emails to people.
Tucker had been doing it long before I met him or he met me, and that was
something we sort of perfected together.
Andrew: So, what do you do? You just set up a fake account somewhere on
Gmail or Yahoo, and you use that to send out your messages to people?
Ryan: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: What did he teach you? Do you remember the first fake email he
showed you that he did, and what happened because of it?
Ryan: I don’t remember who it was for, but I remember his fake name was
something ridiculous. I think it was Brody Tanner, was the fake name, which
is such a ridiculous fake name. I know that it worked, and so I’ve since
made hundreds if not thousands of these accounts, or shown other people how
to do it.
I think one of the best tricks I learned for this is, because if you just
sat down and you wanted to make up a fake name, it would be preposterously
fake. You would make up this name that no one would think is real. What you
do is you take the first name from one of your friends, and then the last
name from one of your friends, and you just combine them. Then you have a
very realistic fake name. So, that’s how it works.
Andrew: I see. Here it is. I think number seven, “Kill them with page view
kindness.” After Tucker was on Mixergy, he tweeted out to me. I got more
clicks from that one Tweet where he said, he cursed somehow, but he said,
“This isn’t about girls or drinking, but it’s about the business.” Or
something like that. It was a really well-done Tweet. It got me a lot of
hits, a lot of hits, from a freaking Tweet.
Andrew: Did you Tweet that? Did you write that?
Ryan: I didn’t write it, but that’s sort of something that I tell all my
clients. Okay. If someone gives you publicity, how do you turn one story on
a site into multiple stories on that site? You prove that writing about you
is good for them, either in terms of credibility, attention, or traffic, or
money, right? So, let’s say you get a story on TechCrunch. Well, if your
start-up has 20,000 Twitter followers, why are you not sending that story
to them to get another 20,000 views on the story?
Andrew: It won’t be 20,000. So tell me how to do it. For the average
person, they’ll do that tweet and no one will click. Their mother and their
friend will click and they’ll get two more clicks at TechCrunch. You would
do it differently. Let me give you a specific example and tell me what you
would do. Two weeks ago I was on Jason Calacanis’ program. Basically, I
went on to give an opinion. He read the news, I gave opinions. We went back
and forth a bit. I thought, ‘Hey, you know what? I did a good job.’ Then I
thought, ‘You know what? I should post it on my site.’ But I said, ‘What
the hell is the connection to my site? How do I do it? Do I just say, hey,
this is it?’ No. Ryan Holiday would find some angle that would piss people
off and make them have to go over to Jason’s site to see what it was that
irritated them to get them interested. What would you do? How would you
find an angle to make it interesting on my site so that then people would
go to his site and he’d be proud to have me back on?
Ryan: What’s the most interesting moment in that entire interview and how
do you distill that into the Tweet? It’s not ‘Hey, check out this long-ass
interview with me and some other guy you don’t care about’, which is kind
of how most people indirectly phrase things. It’s going to be “See me tell
Jason Calacanis this thing” and then all of a sudden, there’s a very clear
reason for me as a reader to click that thing. Or, better, a very clear
reason for me to retweet that thing. If you’re not doing that, you’re
leaving so much on the table. A lot of people, they just retweet the link
from the other publication and that’s cool, but it’s never going to spread
as well as coming up with something that will do well on that particular
Andrew: It’s not something specific, but you’re putting a few thoughts in
my head of what I could have done.
Ryan: That’s the thing. I think people think I’m this magician and I have
these rules that work in every situation. That’s never what it is. What it
is, is looking at the thing and breaking it down and coming up with
something specific there. The book is about general strategies based on the
economics that are true in all cases on the internet. I can’t tell you how
to promote your specific startup unless I know intimately what you do and
how your space works. Someone who tells you that they can, I think, is a
charlatan because there’s too many variables at play that have to be nailed
down first. Who are you? Who do you know? What have you done? What is the
traditional coverage of this space like? Once you have those down, it’s
actually really easy to come up with what to do. But if it’s general, it’s
probably not going to work because it’s not going to be that interesting.
Andrew: See, I’d like a set of solutions that just work.
Ryan: I think we all would, right?
Andrew: But I would like something, like, here are 50 things that have
worked for Ryan and other people like him. One would be, what was it that
you said earlier about “I stole this. It’s not my information, I stole it
off someone’s hard drive.” That would be one. Another would be Alexis
Ohanian was on here. I interviewed him in front of a big audience in
Washington DC. He comes in wearing the jersey of the local sports team.
Boom. People freaking love him. Who the hell gives a rat’s ass about the
sports team? But he knows if he wears the jersey, people like him. Stuff
Ryan: What I’ve done is I’ve really looked at a lot of the studies and the
anecdotal evidence of what spreads and what gets attention on the internet.
There’s this really fascinating study of the New York Times, articles that
make the most popular list on the New York Times. What these academics
found is that the number one predictor of something spreading is valence,
so the extremeness of the emotion that it generates in the user.
It happens that the number one high-valence emotion is anger. Does this
thing make you angry? That makes a lot of sense if you think about it
because let’s say you read an article and your reaction was “OK. Good
article.” Are you going to tweet about that? Are you going to spread that?
No. So in some ways, satisfaction is not a very viral emotion. Anger is a
very viral emotion because you want everyone to know how angry you are
about this thing. In doing that, you’re spreading the content.
Another great example is sadness. It’s a very un-viral emotion because who
wants to send something to their friends that’s going to make them sad? But
making them laugh, making them say, “Aw”,”Cute” or “I love it’, that’s very
Andrew: Did you see the one I did? I took away the anger. Earlier on, I
said in the interview ‘People should be able to do this’. Then that would
have gotten people angry. That would have maybe pissed people off a little
bit, enough to talk about it. But instead, I took it back. The reason that
I took it back is the same reason a lot of people take stuff back. I can
think of someone like this. Let me develop this out because I want to hear
your feedback on this.
The smart thing for someone to do who says ‘I don’t have enough money to
create both an iPhone app and an Android app so I have to focus on iPhone
because that’s where there’s more revenue. The smart thing to say is, “I
just don’t have the money to do it right now. I’m just a one man shop.”
The aggressive thing to do is to get anger, that gets people to talk and to
spread and to say, “Screw Android. Android absolutely stinks. No one’s ever
going to buy Android. Google screwed up by not partnering with Apple. I’m
only focusing on Apple.” Now, you got people angry.
Ryan: Right. Now you have a polarizing issue that can be talked about
outside of just the product. Now I can talk about your product in terms of
a news story. And that is very valuable.
Andrew: Right. Now there’s a new story of a developer who doesn’t want to
care about Google, who doesn’t care about Google. You tie in any Google
issues back to this developer potentially. Here’s the thing. You lose
integrity. What about this idea that you want to go home and feel ‘Hey, you
know what? What I stand for I’m going to be proud that ten years from now
people hear that I stood for it first. What I stand for is something that I
really care about.’
Ryan: Well, actually, I’ll give you a great example of someone’s who’s done
that. Marco who runs Instapaper. He doesn’t. He designs his apps only for
Apple and he doesn’t do it for Android.
Andrew: Yeah. He recently had somebody else do it, but that’s been his
position for years.
Ryan: He’s not shoving that in anyone’s face but he is taking his stand
very firmly. He’s saying this is why I’m doing it. I believe in this. And
what happened? He didn’t necessarily piss off the Android people.
Andrew: Yes, he did.
Ryan: …but he loves them for it. He’s not being an asshole about it is
what I’m saying. Like he could get attention by being an asshole but
instead he’s just sort of he’s pandering to a crowd that loves him for that
stance and that’s very beneficial to him. And in your case you’re stepping
back and not embracing this sort of [??] anger aspect but you’re doing that
because you have a group of core subscribers who you don’t want to let
down. Let’s say everything on Mixergy was public and all you wanted was
[??] YouTube account. You’re damn well going to do that.
Andrew: But you then would have this thing that they weren’t proud of
What do you say to somebody who says ‘Look, Robert Scobell does things only
that he believes in. He’s not trying to piss people off. Seth Godin has
built a long reputation where people would go to Kickstart and within hours
sending him tens of thousands of dollars without even seeing the product
because they believe that he’s an authentic person whose content is true
to what he really believes.
Ryan: Right. Here’s the thing. They’re playing a long game that transcends
the internet and I very much respect them for that. But other people don’t
have the luxury of doing that. Other people need to get attention and
traffic tomorrow. And what I’m sort of telling you is, like, okay, what is
the game that business insiders play? How are they doing it? And if you
want to get coverage on business insiders, here’s what you got to have to
do. I don’t necessarily recommend that that’s the best thing for you to do
or that it’s going to make you feel proud of yourself everyday. But if
business insiders’ coverage is important to you and your business, for many
people it is, this is a game you got to play.
Andrew: I’ve got to tell you. It depends, I think, on the stage in your
career because when I started out, my brother and I were seriously thinking
about how I can sell one of my kidneys on eBay and I would have absolutely
sold my foot just for anyone to pay attention to my stuff. And I think
there are times when you really have to be super-aggressive and then
there’s time when you have the luxury to sit back and say No, that’s just
Ryan: Look, when you’re an established figure, it’s about maintaining and
protecting your name. When you’re not, it’s about building your name at
whatever the cost. And they don’t have the luxury of doing some of the
things that people who have a name and also they have a lot less to loose
because what are you going to loose? You’re nobody. So, this is what you
got to do to get attention? Well, that’s what you got to do.
Andrew: Also, in Tactic #7, you talk about in that chapter sending emails
from fake accounts to the reporter who wrote about your guy so that it
feels like audience loves this guy. You got to report on him. Did I
understand that right?
Ryan: Or hates him. What matters is when they write about you, the last
thing you want is that story to show up with zero comments and zero
traffic. Like, you’re not getting directly paid by spreading that article
but you do benefit from it. So you want to send a very clear message that
you’re a good person to write about and when they write about you, it
benefits them. Always appeal to self-interest, right? When they write about
you, gets them traffic, attention, comments and all the things a journalist
Andrew: Hey, what’s your email address? Can people in the audience email
you? Do you feel comfortable giving out an email address?
Ryan: Yes. It’s email@example.com
Andrew: Ryanholiday@gmail.com, guys.
Andrew: Ryanholiday@gmail.com, guys. If you don’t have a fake email
address, create one now and send Ryan an email from it.
Andrew: Let’s get the ball rolling with Ryan getting a fake email saying,
“Thank you for being on Mixergy.” We’re not done yet with this interview.
By the way, who wrote this book with you?
Ryan: Nobody. It’s just me.
Andrew: You writing it from scratch chapter by chapter?
Ryan: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: How do you…
Ryan: This is what I do. I mean, I was Robert Greene’s research assistant
for almost the last five years. I’ve worked with a bunch of authors. I know
how to edit books, this is what I do. For me, it was like, this is my job,
this is sort of my occupation. Writing about it was not as difficult for me
as I think it would be for most people. I actually pursued this in sort of
a very nontraditional way. I wrote the book in advance. I didn’t do a book
proposal. I sat down and wrote the book from scratch, and then I went out
and sold it.
Andrew: You got how much for the book?
Ryan: Let’s just say a large six-figure advance.
Andrew: You told me in the email, it’s online. Why aren’t you saying how
much it is?
Ryan: You’re not supposed to disclose what your advance is. It’s not just
a taboo, but contractually you’re not supposed to say it publicly.
Andrew: What happens if you email me the number?
Ryan: I don’t know. Who’s to say that I did this?
Andrew: [laughs] Well, here’s beyond what you emailed me. My researcher,
boy, they did a good job with you actually. I got some really good stuff. I
wanted to confirm some of the things in the book, and they sent me links to
it. They sent me links to other stuff. They sent me links to the fake, to
the failed business that you had, I guess the day that it launched.
Actually, was it a failure, the business that you launched, Fail Dogs that
you sold to I Can Has Cheezburger?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, it was a popular internet meme site. I guess, it
Andrew: It did okay. How much money did you get for that?
Ryan: I’m not supposed to say that either?
Andrew: I am Ben Huh’s [SP] representative here. He will allow you to say
it. How much roughly?
Ryan: I don’t know. I just talked to Ben the other day. I don’t think he
wants me to say.
Andrew: All right. $500,000 is what my researchers here say that is all
over the Internet, the estimate of how much money you got. What did you do
with the money? Whatever the money is, what did you do with it?
Ryan: I put it in the bank. Money is not the thing for me. I’ve always
done really well. I mean, I started doing well when I was like 17, 18 years
old, still in college. For me, the money has been nice, but I don’t want
anything, so I just put it in the bank actually.
Andrew: Let’s see, is there anything else? What else did I miss here about
manipulation, how to that you think we should include?
Ryan: Let’s see here. I think one of the big ones is you’ve got to be
aggressive. You’ve got to go out and find where you want to get coverage,
and you’ve got to make that happen. Again, they’re not going to come to you
until you’re a big deal.
Andrew: That’s not specific enough. How do I become a big deal? All right,
let me try this?
Andrew: What I’m learning having done these interviews is, people who seem
really good at stuff, there’s a lot of just try to be good and fail, try to
be good and fail, and then boom. It pops. The best example I think that I
can come up with is Andrew Mason of Groupon.
Andrew: I did research on him, I saw the guy try to get attention with
these weird videos. I might have even seen him in his bedroom in his
underwear sitting on his bed, just shooting video online. I looked at his
[tech run] charticle from when he launched, he was earnest going in there
and responding to every comment.
He was trying to find his voice, trying to find the way to promote his
business, but also to learn how to speak with this crazy voice that people
now see that think is just natural. It took him a while.
Andrew: Guys like the people you represent, guys like you, do you just try
a bunch of things like, “I’m going to try to be outrageous and if it fails,
great. I’ll learn what didn’t work, and then I’ll try it again and again”?
Ryan: Absolutely. Right.
Andrew: So, tell me about some of the early failed efforts for you to get
attention in an aggressive way.
Ryan: Here’s the thing. I do stunts all the time for people and they don’t
always work. The media doesn’t always bite. Then you move on and you do
another one. For instance, for Tucker’s last book, we had this idea. You
know those services, like sponsored Tweets where you can pay celebrities to
Tweet things? So, we thought it’d be really funny. We were going to pay all
these celebrities to say these offensive things, and it’s going to get a
ton of attention. So, we did it. Most of the Tweets got rejected. We ended
up getting some coverage for it, like we got picked up on Forbes, and [In
Crushable], and a couple other blogs. It did well. I mean, it was seen
probably 500,000 times, and that’s great. My expectations for that stunt
were much bigger than what actually happened.
Then there was another one that was more of a throw-away that sort of
started out as a prank, but ended up being enormous. That was when I tried
to name a Planned Parenthood after Tucker. That all came from a joke in his
book, which was, “I’ve paid for so many abortions, they should name a
Planned Parenthood clinic after me.” And so, I thought, what if we actually
try to do that and my thinking is like of course, no one will ever allow
this. Who would allow? But Tucker got really serious at it. He thought
like, “You know what, like, I have to give a bunch of money to charity this
year anyway. What’s the harm and so we did it, when we tried and we got
pretty far in the process and then it ended up getting rejected but it got
rejected in a very public way ending up getting a lot of attention. And so
that’s story about which I thought was going to be a joke ended up being
viewed million of times and what seems all over the internet like that
picked up essentially every major media outlet that you can think of. And
so at the end of the day, it’s a point game and it’s about taking chances
and then following the ball wherever it goes. So you know that the twitter
stepped in go, so we abandoned it and moved on to something else.
Andrew: What’s another one that failed?
Ryan: Another one that failed, maybe early on when you’re just getting
started and wanted to do something powerful. I’m trying to think, here is
the dirty secret, it works a lot. There is not a lot of failures because
when you do your research and you know what these people are looking for.
They buy like a lot of the time. For American apparel like I tried to make
controversial ads that I thought everyone would talk about and nobody did.
More often than not what actually happens is something that I didn’t expect
to be controversial happens to blow up and get a lot of attention and then
I’m doing the opposite, I’m doing damage control. How do I convince this
blogs to stop writing about this thing because it’s not true and may they
don’t want to stop because it’s in their best interest to keep chattering
about it. So that’s possibly, it’s not more like I tried to do something,
it failed, a more like, I didn’t expect that this thing was going to be
controversial and it ended up being an enormous scandal.
Andrew: Here is one I like that you did. You Photoshop ads on to
screenshots of websites to get coverage for the controversial ads that
these guys supposedly ran but they never did.
Ryan: Yes, still like we never thought what if we ran anti-Christian
website, anti-Christian ads on Christian websites. Not if we ran Christian
websites on like APS websites where people get really upset. And nobody
noticed, so like just know, like, either our budgets were big enough or
they saw what we were doing and nobody cared and so what, what I did was, I
was like, let’s just Photoshop a bunch of these ads and we will put all
three of them in all the different units and then we’ll just send that
screenshot to a bunch of blogs. And then no one write about it. And that
worked like a charm. And the fact that the screenshot was fake, nobody
cared because nobody is going to investigate. How you investigate a
Andrew: Who did you run Christians sites, Christian ads for an APS site or
whatever you did [??].
Ryan: I think it’s still running, I think we ran them on like Glenn Beck
website. And we thought that like, we were running like, you know, god
isn’t real, you’re going, like
Andrew: And this is, this is for Tucker.
Ryan: Yeah, this is for Tucker.
Andrew: OK. Like Tucker is so bad ass that he is going to even, he is going
to run ads on Glenn Beck site.
Andrew: You know, do it just admire hers attitude on life like he can say
whatever he wants. There is no hesitation.
Ryan: Yeah and here is the thing. He is very authentic about it, like he is
not, obviously he does some of it to get attention but these are things
that he believes and he doesn’t care that people don’t like him because he
believes in it and I think that’s something that people can emulate. You
don’t even to want to be him and I’m not like him at all. But that is a
mean we don’t see eye-to-eye on sort of being who you are and embrace it.
Andrew: I found him to be one of the nicest guest that I interviewed. I
expected him to say all kind of our radio stuff and be outrageous sort of
push me towards. But he saw where I was going and he, he just picked up on
the viable where I was going in way that some guest don’t. Here the
confidence to say. I don’t literally talk about business but I can go there
and I can talk about business and be in that world and fully be myself and
that is a gift that I know lot of people I interviewed just can’t do. If
they are not going to be on message, forget it. It’s a pain. He cannot be
himself and I think that’s really admirable. [??] he is been my mentor for
a long time so I see, I always seen that side of him and that’s like when I
was saying that only work for people that I believe in, I think it’s
difficult for lot of people to understand like. I believe in America
Apparel [??] someone like Tucker Max but that’s who I work for because I
have seen a side to them that I think is [??] unfairly portrayed in the
media and I think, OK, how can we go to work, how can we get them, what
they deserve and that’s what I do.
Andrew: All right so what’s next for you? Now that you have revealed all
Ryan: Well I hope to see where it goes right, like I hope to see that this
gets the attention that it deserves that I think it deserves and I think
it’s more than the best things that I’ve ever done and I, it’s very
interesting for me to be on the other side of the equation. Now when I work
for someone like Tucker or Robert or Doug, I tell them what I think they
should do. But at the end of the day it’s their call. Now it’s my call
because it’s my book; I get to do what I want.
Andrew: What are you going to do?
Ryan: I’ve got some good stuff planned. I’ve got some stunts coming. I
lined up a lot of the press. I think you saw the cover of the book. I think
it’s super interesting.
Andrew: Really cool cover. Who did that?
Ryan: Aaron Tyler, who’s actually the designer who did Tucker’s books. The
thinking there was, and this again goes to the angle discussion we were
having, you look at business books. There’s a big stack of business books
behind you and they all look the same. I thought, ‘I want to make a cover
that says this thing is not like those other things.’ It’s about
differentiating yourself and taking a stand. That’s what I’m thinking with
Andrew: What about this. This is something I told you I noticed in the
book. I made this interview into a how-to. The cover, and maybe the
headline “Trust me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator”, maybe
it says, “Hey, I’m going to show you how I did it”. What it doesn’t say is,
and what there’s a lot of in the book, which is the history of media. The
understanding of the psychology of the people who are covering us, who are
in this world trying to make it themselves. Why did you decide to do that
instead of just saying, “Here’s a manipulation, here’s another one” and
focus it on manipulation through the ages instead of the media through the
ages, which is, at times, where it goes?
Ryan: Right. The thing is, if this was just a how-to book, and this is my
big problem with most media books, if I’m really doing this and I’m really
making money at it, why would I show people how to do it if that’s what I
wanted to continue to do? For me, that’s not the case. I don’t want to keep
doing this. I want things to change and I want to show people how it works
so they can hopefully do something about it with me. In this case, it’s not
a how-to book because I don’t want it to just be how-to. But, I also
realize that no matter how I write it or what I say, some people are going
to use it as a how-to book. Look at a book like “Liar’s Poker”, which is
about Wall Street. Michael Lewis talks about this all the time. He says
young kids come up to him and say, “Your book’s what made me want to work
on Wall Street”. He says,”Why? That’s the opposite of the message of the
book.” So I thought if people were going to do it regardless I might as
well harness that energy and use it to get the book in people’s hands who
maybe otherwise wouldn’t consider some of the more philosophical ideas in
Andrew: What you’re saying is, “I’ve got a message on how the world should
work and what you guys don’t see about why it does work so poorly right
now. I need you to hear it but you’re not going to hear it if I tell you
that. There are tons of books written on topics like this and nobody buys
them. Instead, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to give it a great cover,
I’m going to give it an angle, I’m going to show you all the stuff I
shouldn’t be telling you, and also in the process, tell you about the
things I need you to know.”
Ryan: Yeah. You’ve got to meet people where they are. No one wants to hear
a condescending book of media criticism. They do want to hear a book how to
solve a problem that they all have. If, in that book, I can give them some
awareness of the consequences and I can show them a light they weren’t
ready to see otherwise, then I think the ends justify the means.
Andrew: I have to tell you, I really like the book. I went into it saying,
“I’ve got to read this book because I’m about to interview Ryan. But it’s
my spare time so I’ll save it for the office. Instead, I’ll read the fun
stuff.” And I just kept reading and reading it. Partially because you sent
it to me in a way that I could read it on my Kindle, which meant that I got
it on my Kindle device, on my iPad, it’s really well-done. I like the book
a lot. I’m surprised that you didn’t have a ghost writer. I noticed a lot
of the people I’ve interviewed actually have ghost writers.
Ryan: That means a lot to me, honestly, to hear that from you. I really
tried to write a book that I was proud of and I did it outside the system
because I was going to publish it regardless and it just happened that I
got lucky and I got accepted by traditional publishing. But I’m really
proud of it and happy. I don’t know that I would ever use a ghost writer. I
mean, I’ve gotten offers to ghost write books and I sort of thought, “Why
would I do that? I’ll write my own book” so that’s what I did.
Andrew: Let me say something to the audience about it if they want to go
further and what they could do, then I’ll come back and ask you an
important question, to me, that will hopefully show people how you work.
Here’s the thing, guys. If you like this interview and maybe want to go a
step further, we’ve got tons of courses at mixergypremium.com and there’s
one that I recommend for anyone who’s listened to this interview
especially. It’s PR for Startups, with Stella Fayman [SP] of FeeFighters,
where she breaks down how they got, at FeeFighters, into Business Week and
tons of other publications. What she shows you is how she finds the
reporters, how in fact she hires somebody on oDesk on the cheap to put
together a list of reporters for her. How she approaches them, how she
takes it step by step from idea to being in the media, and they did it over
and over again. Actually, speaking of Groupon, who I mentioned earlier,
they ended up buying FeeFighters. So, this business has a happy ending, in
addition to all the media that they got along the way.
If you’re a Mixergy Premium member, go to mixergypremium.com and look for
that Fee Fighters Stella course right now, called PR for Start-ups. If
you’re not, what are you waiting for? Thousands of people have joined. I
guarantee 100% that you will enjoy this. In fact, if you watch it and you
do enjoy it, and you say, “Screw Andrew, I’m still going to take advantage.
I want my money back.” Of course I’ll give you your money back. This is a
long-term relationship and I need to do right by you, and I’ll go out of my
way to do right by you. Go to mixergypremium.com. Not encouraging you to
lie to me and hurt my feelings and tell me that you didn’t like it, but I’m
telling you that you will like it. If you go to mixergypremium.com right
now and sign up, you’ll see for yourself.
All right, Ryan, you know what this interview is about. If you had to put a
headline on it, what headline would you put on it that would get all these
ideas the attention they deserve? Tough, huh?
Ryan: Yeah. It is, it is. Here’s the thing. It’s not like instant
inspiration. It’s, I think a lot of iteration and testing and looking at
words and research. I think it’d probably be something like, “How to Get
Attention for Anything…
Andrew: “How to Lie Your Way to Attention”? I like the lie and
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think that’s good. Let’s say it’s, “How to Lie
to Get Attention for Anything:”, although that might be a little wordy.
“Free Press Tips for Start-ups, Authors, and Artists”. I like lists. I
think lists are effective. They’re inclusive and they imply that this works
for many people. I like the use of a colon. It takes the book title there,
so I like that.
Andrew: Do you like the word manipulator or liar anywhere in the
Ryan: It’s a long word that doesn’t necessarily…
Andrew: “How to Lie Your Way to Tons of Press”, “How to Lie Your Way to
More Press Than (?)”.
Ryan: There you go.
Andrew: You like stuff like that?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. Of course. You know who’s the master at this? Tim
Ferriss. Tim Ferriss is the headline generating machine. If you look, his
headlines are always fantastic. His book titles are always fantastic. He
does what very few people who are good at that follow up with, which is
when you read this stuff, you’re always pleasantly surprised at how good it
is. That’s very different than, I read the headline and now I feel tricked.
Andrew: Did you do work for him?
Ryan: Yeah. (?)
Andrew: Sorry. I was loading up a site and it took some bandwidth away.
You did work? What kind of work did you do for him?
Ryan: Yeah. Tim, I think, independently figured out a lot of the things
that I figured out early on. He and I sat down and we said, “Okay. Your
strategy for this thing is you want to meet every single blogger that you
can, and you want to get them to write about you when your book comes out.
Who should you talk to? Who are the influencers in your space?”
That’s a list that I broke down for him. Then, Tim went out and fucking hit
the road, and he met all those people. I remember meeting him. Tucker and I
met him, and we were sitting there talking. We were like, “You know what?
We’re going to help this guy out. When his book comes out, we’re going to
write about him.” We kind of thought we’d be the only one, and then the day
his book come out, 60 huge blogs all write about it on the same day. You’re
like, “That’s Tim.” Tim was out there working every single person
independently, and the day his book came out you couldn’t escape it. Now,
he’s a huge name.
Andrew: Are you still available? Can people hire you to do work for them?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. I actually have a marketing firm that sort of
specializes in these things, with people who sort of have been with me the
whole time. I’ve trained them in the same tactics, while I’ve sort of
focused on the bigger picture relationships and strategies.
Andrew: All right, man. I’m glad that you and I got to meet.
Ryan: Yeah, this is really cool.
Andrew: The book was a fun read. Congratulations on it. I’m looking
forward to see what you end up doing to promote your own book.
Ryan: All right. Well, look out. I think it’s going to make some noise.
Andrew: Where do we hear about it? Do we just watch it unfold in the
Ryan: That’s the thing. If you had to go to a specific place, I wouldn’t
be doing my job. The idea is that I should be hitting you from a bunch of
angles, and it’s going to be everywhere. You’re going to say, “Who is this
guy? Where did he come from?”
That’s the idea, because that’s a very surprising viral emotion. Let’s say
you read ten blogs, and I get picked up on five of those blogs, now all of
a sudden in terms of your media diet, I’m everywhere. But really, I’m only
on five blogs. That’s a tactic that works very, very well.
Andrew: The book is “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media
Manipulator”, Ryan Holiday.
Ryan: Spell the name right. If I’m going to be controversial, you’ve got
to say the name right or it won’t work.
Andrew: Ryan Holiday, you lying, manipulating son of a bitch. How dare you
manipulate us for all these years. I’m looking forward to be manipulated
even further. I want to see what you end up doing with this launch.
Congratulations on the book.
Ryan: Well, thank you very much for having me.
Andrew: All right, cool. Thank you all for watching.
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