Ryan Holiday is a media genius who promotes, inflates and hacks some of the biggest names and brands in the world. He’s also the Director of Marketing for American Apparel. Oh, and he’s just 25 years old. His point-of-view is enlightening when it comes to understanding today’s complex media landscape. You might remember that I had him on chasejarvisLIVE last year. Since then his book ‘Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator’ has become a bestseller and his secrets have become well known. After dropping out of college at 19 to apprentice under the strategist Robert Greene (who appeared on another super popular episode on chasejarvisLIVE here), he went on to advise many bestselling authors and multi-platinum musicians. He is the Director of Marketing at American Apparel, where his work in advertising was internationally known. His strategies are used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and have been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company. Ryan is back in Seattle teaching for creativeLIVE (happening today and tomorrow here) with a course on PR for artists, entrepreneurs and businesses where he will be going deep with some of the topics we touch on in this interview.
CJ:I believe that this is the most exciting time in the history of mankind to be an artist. And I’ve heard you say that we’ve entered a “new economic model.” Do you agree with the fact there is more opportunity for creatives right now than ever?
RH:I totally agree. Look, you could post a video online tomorrow and it could get a million views within 24 hours. You could email a link to your product to a blogger and it could become a major media story within minutes. And what does all that cost? NOTHING. It’s amazing. I don’t think those things were ever possible before, or if they were, you’d have to retain enormously expensive agencies and professionals to help you. So yes, it’s a spectacular time to be a creative. HOWEVER, it’s not always as simple as just posting a video or emailing a link. Look at the people who have managed to have repeated success online–there are methods and tricks and processess that make this replicable and possible and that’s what I’ve spent my time studying, implementing and writing about.
CJ: You are a well-known voracious reader. What books could you recommend for people who are interested in growing their PR and Media efforts?
RH: Believe it or not, I think some of the best books about marketing don’t talk about marketing at all.
I like the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, I think Saul Alinsky’s books on community organizing are AMAZING (Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals). I would also suggest people read Clay Shirky’s book about Here Comes Everybody and the book Blue Ocean Strategy (which is easily translatable to marketing and positioning your creative business). And of course, Seth Godin has laid out probably the best basics in terms of understanding marketing and business in Purple Cow, Permission Marketing, The Icarus Deception and all those books. I tried to write my book to fill in the gaps
CJ: What is the first step for a creative to get their work noticed… from someone besides their mom?
RH: I’d say hold on a second. People think about marketing too early and too late. Before you think about, I want creatives to be POSITIVE their work and business is ready for lots of attention. If your website sucks or your distribution is disorganized, do you really want anyone other than your mom to buy from you? Getting in the New York Times would be a disaster. So hang on a second and make sure your house is in order (and this is something we’re going to talk about in the creativeLIVE class today and tomorrow.
Then I would say: are you ready to be a full time marketer? Because marketing is not something you do two weeks before the product comes out either. It’s a lifestyle. You have to think and breathe it constantly. You have to know the influencers in your space, create messages and content they can spread. You have to bake that into your product. In other words, campaigns take time and resources and unless you’re going to dedicate yourself to doing it–it won’t happen and you won’t get results.
CJ: What are the tools you could not live without in getting your job done?
RH: There’s no question the single most effective tool in marketing is relationships: who do you know? Who can you reach out to to share your message? If you don’t have any answer to those questions it doesn’t matter how many great apps or tools you have. So I want to recommend that people spend less time obsessing about technology and more time with people, building connections, friendships and reciprocal relationships. But personally in terms of tools, I’m completely dependent on Google Docs and Basecamp. It’s how I collaborate with my employees and keep all my research and contacts organized.
CJ: Who are the people you really admire in today’s over-saturated world of noisy content? Who is breaking through that noise and more importantly,why are they able to?
RH: Joey Roth, who I’m going to have on during my class is an amazing example of what a talented, driven person can do–how one designer running his own small business can get more PR and publicity than he knows what to do with. And he gets it for the right reasons: he makes a great product and connects to the right influencers to share it. I’m going to talk to him and get him to share his secrets with everyone in the class.
The term PR is a slippery one these days. There is this blurry line between PR and Marketing now — but it really seems to put the individual creator at an advantage. What is efficient PR in 2013? Is there still a place for Edelman and giants of the PR world? Or are they on their way out in this time of the creator taking control?
RH: To me, PR and marketing are the same thing. And they all come down to a single principle in today’s attention economy: doing interesting things. Businesses need to be create content and messages that facilitate their customers talking about them and their product. That’s PR–giving the public something to talk about and relate to. Obviously there is still a place for PR giants because giant companies have totally different problems than entrepreneurs and growing companies. But if I had a choice, I’d much rather be a creator–operating on a small scale, able to do exciting things and quickly getting my message out.
CJ: Lets assume, with the help of your methodology and a lot or hard work, a creative achieves a level of success. They get the business, the attention, some audience. How do they take it to the next level?
RH:Marketing is how you scale–as they’re calling it now it’s a form of “growth hacking.” At the end of the day, the whole point of market is to drive new business right? So if you’re not doing that with your marketing its just an art project. For me, as I’ve grown my business, I’ve tried to bring people along with me. I am always training new people, teaching them what I know so they can come along and grow. I want to take on new clients so I can give them (and myself) an opportunity to try new things. I think creatives have an obligation to pay it forward and give the same training and advice that people gave them. To me that goes hand and hand with scaling up your business from a one man shop to a two man shop to a many-person shop.
CJ: Final thought: What are the opportunities that you see creatives missing? The things right in front of our faces that can make a massive difference in success that most people walk right by?
RH: The web is infinite. There’s no limit to the amount of content it can produce or the amount of posts that a blog can publish. So stop thinking that getting press is hard. People WANT to write and talk about you. So give them what they want! Stop sitting around and waiting for them to come to you. Embrace this awesome opportunity and use it to your advantage.
Check out Ryan on this week’s creativeLIVE workshop here.
Ryan Holiday currently lives in New Orleans with his rebellious puppy, Hanno.