Risk Magnet

June 3, 2013

By Layla Romero

Ryan Holiday is the much-maligned and controversial media strategist for American Apparel clothing brand, as well as the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying.

In his unconventional and eye-opening presentation, Ryan walked us through clever examples of media manipulation that had earned his projects coverage and attention that would have been otherwise unachievable on such tight budgets. He spoke with the authority of someone who’d figured out how the media worked – he knew the key players, and had a deep understanding of the people and relationships that influenced the media’s own influencers.

One of his most dependable points of entry was the confluence of blogs that are available all over the web, which serve as the canvas for what would be viewed as his most effective “infiltration” technique. He explained how smaller blogs are often dependable environments from which more established media sources draw their news stories. As a result of this insight, Ryan had developed a shrewd sense for where to plant stories and began leveraging these primary news sources. He also spoke to the success he’d had in leveraging existing social networks such as Reddit, which is an increasingly influential source for the germination of story ideas. From there, stories and subjects would be gathered and repurposed for use at a variety of news channels and publications.

As Ryan pointed out the merits of such unconventional publicity, he continued with other insights that vividly illustrated his achievements as a hell-raiser. Throwing the rulebook out the window, Ryan spoke of the success he’d had in organizing PR that undermined the very cause he was trying to support. For example, he had staged fake protests and made controversial donations to causes that were very much opposed to the projects with which he was involved. Ryan explained that we have become key players in what he deems “outrage culture”, in that negative publicity often garners more attention that regular or even pleasant media coverage. Interestingly, he also revealed that anger is most often the greatest predictor of virality, which he can certainly attest to.

Ryan was equally candid in addressing the hate-storm that had followed the infamous and poorly received tweet that advertised an American Apparel sale that was positioned as a source of entertainment while people sat in idle refuge during Hurricane Sandy. He recommended addressing backlash with responses that were clear and concise in their message, and devoid of justifications. True to form, he followed by suggesting that organizations then “make a sharp turn in another trajectory”. His unapologetic stance was extremely interesting amidst the more traditional views of marketing practices.

Snippets from the attendees:

  • “I’m still digesting what I heard there”
  • “That was seriously interesting; that said, I can’t ever imagine putting those tactics to use at my job”
  • “I think it’s really important to have someone like Ryan, who presents such a different view of things, speaking at a conference”

Layla Romero (@laylayuki) is a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee. Aside from a variety of marketing gigs, her principal job has only been revealed to a few and is yet to be discovered by the general public. (Editor’s Note: Really – you’ll never guess!)