How a self-branding expert self-brands

Posted by Rob Walker on August 26, 2009
Posted Under: "Social" studies,Murketing,The People's Marketing

In the months ahead, a certain niche branding consultant may or may not become a mainstream branding guru, as he publishes his first book — and, more to the point, promotes the shit out of it.

When it comes to book promotion, marketing consultants often have an advantage over authors who merely write for a living: employees. In fact that’s how I’m aware of this guy’s forthcoming branding blitz. A couple of months ago one of his employees sent an email (clearly a form letter) explaining that his boss is “trying to get together a promotional bonanza around the [book’s] release.” Thus he was being “proactive” and contacting “all the business and marketing blogs and see what we can do for them.” Contest? Interview?  That was up to me; the consultant-author would do anything. “On your side,” his employee added, “anything you do with him is going to get an influx of readers to your blog due to his massive and loyal following.”

I had a hard time believing either the consultant  or his employees are readers — particularly because I generally have zero interest in such schemes, as any actual reader of this site would know — so I asked why he was asking me. He replied that he was pretty sure he’d found this site listed on the Ad Age Power 150 rankings (or whatever that list is called; I’m not sure if I’m still on it, but it’s true that I used to be). In other words, he really didn’t know anything about this site, he was just going through lists, and saturation bombing. I thought that by itself might make for an interesting interview topic, but I never followed through.

More recently, the PR company that is also working on behalf of this same guru-in-the-making sent a fairly fancy traditional promo packet to the author of the New York Times Magazine’s Consumed column,which of course is also me. The pitch explained the consultant’s energetic “honesty,” and his mastery of “the internet and social media.” The release said the book reveals “how to build a personal brand.”

Obviously what’s of interest in all this is what it says about the new world of social-media marketing (this fellow’s area of expertise). Commonly social-media branding is described as, in theory, more authentic, transparent, and precise than traditional forms of commercial persuasion. Yet I’m often struck by how, in practice, it is largely an old formula poured into a newish bottle.

  • The ethos here isn’t precision, it’s volume: If you have the resources to approach hundreds of blogs that might possibly buzz your product (even blogs you’ve never read), you have an advantage.
  • That doesn’t replace the more old-school move of hiring a PR firm to hype the mainstream media, it supplements it. (Again, if you have the resources.) The main difference is that the old-school PR firm’s pitch is largely about your new-school social-media tactics. (Hey, Consumed guy: Check out this interview he did on some blog called!)
  • Having said that, there is something of a new-media twist in “incentivizing,” as business types say, your potential online promoters, by suggesting that they will get more traffic by giving you more traffic, in a kind of word-of-mouth pyramid scheme. This doesn’t strike me as indicative of a new transparency or authenticity. At least when you see an ad, you know it’s an ad; if you read a blog rave about this guy, it might be from a real fan — or it might be from someone who just wanted to jump on the theoretical buzz bandwagon for their own reasons. (Or maybe I should say: For their own brand.)

None of which is to say that this marketing expert doesn’t have valuable “lessons” for all you brand-builders out there. I couldn’t tell you one way or the other. That’s because the one thing I didn’t get to look at, either as Murketing guy or as Consumed guy, was the actual book. Actually, I wonder if there is a lesson in that.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

chris brogan?

Written By mike on August 26th, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

No, but please let me head off this line of comment just in case: No more guesses, please. It doesn’t matter who it is.

Written By Rob Walker on August 26th, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

Personal brand outsourcing! Because your groupies are never enough.

Written By Dr. Horowitz on August 26th, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

“The pitch explained the consultant’s energetic ‘honesty,'”

At least it didn’t say his energetic authenticity.

Written By chip on August 26th, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

Not me. But I *do* know who.

But yeah, book promotion is a nutty thing, eh? As I just pushed one out the door this past Monday, I can tell you that it’s a crazy spot to be in, because in my case, I try hard never to promote my own stuff directly. Instead, I’ve used my voice to try and point out all the other cool things going on in the space.

When it came time to ask for some attention for myself, I felt weird.

Question for you: when your next book comes out, what will YOU do in that situation? How will you stave off that icky feeling?

Written By Chris Brogan... on August 27th, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

I don’t have any problem with people promoting their books, or even themselves. This site is loaded with promotions of me and my projects. I assume the audience here self-selects: If you don’t care about my stuff, you’ll just leave and not come back.

And I’m sure if I could have afforded dedicated employees and a PR firm to push Buying In, I would have. I would hope they would do enough homework not to hit the same person with two different but equally irrelevant (to that person) pitches.

But anyway, I don’t really know how to answer the question … I’m not exactly in the advice business, after all!

Written By Rob Walker on August 28th, 2009 @ 8:26 am

Oh, and I will add that I do think the strategy of offering “an influx of readers” in exchange for publicity has pretty high icky potential, for reasons explained in the post.

Written By Rob Walker on August 28th, 2009 @ 8:54 am

Good article. “Old formula – new bottle.” Very very true, and on more levels than just this one. Blogs are called blogs, but they’re just publications with a new name. Ad them to the media list… what’s the difference? And the idea that there is less transparency with them is spot on. It can be frusterating. Like old Hearst papers just looking for mondo readership, blogs are in some ways taking us backwards.

Written By James Caverly on August 28th, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

Saturation bombing seems to be the favorite strategy for just about every publicist. At my magazine I’m not just getting emails, but cold-call phone pitches too, that are so out of the ballpark that it’s clear the publicist has never even bothered to read our mag. The persistence of this approach makes me think that it must yield enough hits to make it worthwhile, in the same way that spam is justified despite the tiny response rate if you send out enough spams.

Written By Brian Zabcik on August 28th, 2009 @ 5:11 pm
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