Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Famous for Being Famous

Somewhere along the way in our cynical universe the phrase, “Any publicity is good publicity” became the mantra in some quarters. In fact, it’s not true, and self-evidently so. Just ask BP, Goldman Sachs or Toyota if they’re pleased with the publicity they’ve received over the past year, and whether that publicity has made the company more profitable. Clearly, the answer is no.

But while “bad” publicity is rarely a good thing, there are a small handful of circus acts out there where Barnum’s old adage, "I don't care what you say about me, just spell my name right" still does apply. Primarily, this is reserved for those who are famous for being famous. Then, almost any publicity is a good thing.

For instance, Paris Hilton. Most of my clients (all, in fact – at least so far) would view getting busted for cocaine possession as a bad thing. But for Paris, it’s all in a day’s work. She gets coverage for the arrest; then she gets coverage for tweeting about the arrest; then she gets banned from a Las Vegas casino; then there’s the court appearance; then she gets publicity for the time honored Mick Jagger/Paul McCartney Denied Entry to Japan stratagem. It’s practically endless, but all feeds into her unending quest to be famous and talked-about (er, tweeted about).

For Paris, the “bad” publicity actually pays off, in a diversified, far-flung business empire which includes nightclubs, cosmetics, a clothing line, an energy drink (at least at one time), a best-selling autobiography published when she was 24 and, last, but certainly not least - herself! Paris reportedly gets hundreds of thousands of dollars just to show up at parties.

“If it's in Japan, I get more,” she once said. Great work.

So, yes, there are rare instances where any publicity is good publicity. But not many, and not if you take yourself seriously. Because unless you’re Paris Hilton, a rapper/gang-banger, Mike Tyson or PT Barnum, there are a lot of ways to get publicity that isn’t good, and is actually harmful. I wouldn’t recommend any of them.

Posted by David Preston

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lessons from Tuesday's Elections

Every election teaches lessons, and last Tuesday’s primary elections in Rhode Island were no exception. Here’s a brief summary of lessons learned:
  1. An absence of polling data introduces an element of old-school uncertainty to campaigns that is actually kind of exciting – at least for the voters and observers. Independent polls aren’t in the budget for media outlets anymore, so we’re pretty much flying blind. Polls are also difficult to conduct in an era with fewer land lines and people who have less time to answer 15-20 minute questionnaires. For instance, on Tuesday morning it was anyone’s guess who would win races for Mayor of Providence and Attorney General – something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

  2. The fragmented nature of TV advertising has made it too expensive for “down-ballot” candidates (i.e., everyone in Rhode Island except candidates for Governor or federal offices) to afford making a meaningful impression. There are some exceptions, i.e., Gina Raimondo, the Democratic candidate for General Treasurer -- a fundraising powerhouse. But newcomers without personal resources and some name recognition are at marked disadvantage.

  3. With TV less of an option, radio, the web and an effective ground game that gets out the vote take on even more significance. David Segal, an underfunded candidate for Congress, got 20% of the vote in a four-way race with an impressive web presence, effective ground game, enthusiastic, committed supporters and an overall smart campaign.

  4. The U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision has cleared the way for “independent expenditures” - constitutional expressions of free speech by companies and organizations for and against candidates in campaigns which had previously been illegal. But no longer. Nationally, corporations and billionaires are pumping millions into Congressional races, but here in Rhode Island it was organized labor that made the most prominent use of independent expenditures. Watch for much, much more of this as time goes on, until legislatures act to regulate the practice.

  5. Because the participants can be mediocre, and the results are often mediocre – or less -- successful businesspeople sometimes think they can parachute into a campaign and win. They would be wrong. In this election cycle there have been a few examples in Rhode Island where success in business has not translated into success in politics. Here’s my advice for political newcomers: Get the most experienced, savviest help you can find with an up-to-date understanding of what it takes to win in 2010 (or whatever election year you happen to be in), be prepared to spend a great deal of your own money, and absolutely be ready for Prime Time when the curtain goes up. Why? Because politics is a whole different ball game (or plumbing job.)

Posted by David Preston