IF YOU WERE BEING KIND, YOU WOULD SAY MY JOB IS IN MARKETINGAND PRWell, Id say thats a polite veneer to the harshtruth: I am a media manipulator.Reaching the national news isnt hard. In fact, the system isso easy to manipulate, you might be convinced that itschilds play.Take it from me. It is.Now, I’m pulling back the curtain.I’m going to explain exactly how the media works.W H A T YOU C H OOSE TOD
TRADINGUPTHECHAINis a strategy that I developed that manipulates themedia through recursion. I can turn nothing intosomething by placing a story with a small blogthat has very low standards, which then becomesthe source for a story by a larger blog, and that, inturn, for a story by larger media outlets. I create,to use the words of one media scholar, a “self-reinforcing news wave.”
BUT,IWANTTOEXPLAINexactly how I manipulated themedia for a good cause,without any of the negativesassociated with my infamousclients.
A FRIEND OF MINErecently used some of my advice on trading up thechain for a charity he runs. This friend needed to raisemoney to cover the costs of a community art project,and chose to do it through Kickstarter, thecrowdsourced fund- raising platform.With no advertising budget, no publicist, and noexperience, his little video did nearly a half millionviews, and funded his project for the next 2 years. Itwent from nothing to something.
FOLLOWING MY INSTRUCTIONS, hemadeaYouTubevideo for the Kickstarter page showing offhis charity’s work.The video contained certain elements aimedat helping the video spread. Next, he wrote ashort article for a small local blog in Brooklyn andembedded the video. As expected, the Huffington Post bit,and ultimately featured the story as local news in bothNYC and LA.
FOLLOWING MYADVICE, hesentanemailfromafake address with these links to a reporter atCBS in LA, who then did a television piece onit.When the CBS News piece came out and thevideo was up, he was ready to post it all onReddit. It made the front pagealmostimmediately.
This score on Reddit put the story on the radarof what I call the major “cool stuff” blogs—sites like BoingBoing, LaughingSquid, FFFOUND!, and others—since theyget post ideas from Reddit.From this final burst of coverage,money began pouring in, as didvolunteers, recognition, and
SO WAIT…He turned one amateur video into a news storythat was written about independently bydozens of outlets in dozens of markets and didmillions of media impressions. It evenregistered nationally.He had created and then manipulated thisattention entirely by himself. This raises acritical question…
HERE’S HOW IT ALLWORKSBLOGS HAVE ENORMOUS INFLUENCE over otherblogs, making it possible to turn a post on a sitewith only a little traffic into posts on much biggersites, if the latter happens to read the former. Blogscompete to get stories first, newspapers competeto “confirm” it, and then pundits compete forairtime to opine on it. The smaller sites legitimizethe newsworthiness of the story for the sites withbigger audiences. Consecutively and concurrently,this pattern inherently distorts and exaggerates
There are thousands of bloggers scouring the web looking forthings to write about. They must write several times each day.They search Twitter, Facebook, comments sections, pressreleases, rival blogs, and other sources to develop theirmaterial.Above them are hundreds of mid-level online and offlinejournalists on websites and blogs and in magazines andnewspapers who use those bloggers below them as sources andfilters.“They also have to write constantly—
and engage in the same search forbuzz, only alittle more developed.”
ABOVE THEM are the major nationalwebsites, publications, andtelevision stations. They inturn browse the scourers belowthem for their material,grabbing their leads andturning them into trulynational conversations.THENEWYORKTIMES,THETODAYSHOW,CNN.
DWINDLING REVENUES OR NOT, THESE OUTLETS HAVEMASSIVEREACH.
IT’S BLOGGERS INFORMING BLOGGERSINFORMINGBLOGGERSALLTHEWAYDOWN.IN A MEDIA MONITORING study done by Cision andGeorge Washington University, 89 percent ofjournalists reported using blogs for their research forstories. Roughly half reported using Twitter to findand research stories, and more than two thirds useother social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn,in the same way.The more immediate the nature of their publishingmediums (blogs, then newspapers, thenmagazines), the more heavily a journalist willdepend on sketchy onlinesources, like social media, for research.
RECKLESSNESS, LAZINESS,HOWEVER YOU WANT TO CATEGORIZEIT,THE ATTITUDE IS OPENLYTOLERATEDANDACKNOWLEDGEDSO EXPLOIT THIS
I CREATED A STRATEGY CALLED‘TRADINGUPTHECHAIN’
ALL YOU DO IS FEED THE MONSTERAND I PROMISE, YOU’LL GET YOUR NIGHTLY NEWS
"TRADINGUPTHECHAIN"STEP1:THEENTRYPOINTT URNI NGNOT HI NGI NTO SOME THING INMINUTE S
Atthefirstlevel,smallblogsandhyperlocalwebsitesthatcoveryourneighborhoodorparticularscenearesomeoftheeasiestsitestogettractionon.Trust is very high here. At the same time, they are cash-strapped and traffic- hungry, always on the lookout for abig story that might draw a big spike of new viewers. Itdoesn’t have to be local, though; it can be a site about asubject you know very well, or it can be a site run by afriend.What’s important is that the site is small andunderstaffed.This makes it possible to sellthem a story that is only loosely connected to their core
message but really sets you up totransistion to the next level.
"TRADINGUPTHECHAIN"STEP#2:THELEGACYMEDIAGETTING YOUR PRESS FURTHERUP THE MEDIA CHAIN
Here we begin to see a mix of online and offline sources.The blogs of newspapers and local television stations aresome of the best targets. For starters, they share the sameURL and often get aggregated in Google News. Placeslike the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and CBS allhave sister sites like SmartMoney.com, Mainstreet.com,BNET.com, and others that feature the companies’ logosbut have their own editorial standards not always asrigorous as their old media counterparts’.THEY’LL BE YOUR CRITICALTURNING POINTS IN BUILDING
THE LEGACY MEDIAThe reality is that the bloggers at Forbes.com or the Chicago Tribune donot operate on the same editorial guidelines as their print counterparts.However, their final output can be made to carrythe same weight.These sights won’t write about just anything, though, so you need tocreate chatter or a strong story angle tohook this kind of sucker. Their illusion oflegitimacy comes at the cost of being slightly more selectivewhen it comes to what they cover.BUTITISWORTHTHEPRICE,GRANTINGBIGGERWEBSITES
INYOURSIGHTSLATERTHEPRIVILEGEORUSINGMAGICWORDSLIKE: “NBC IS REPORTING…”
"TRADINGUPTHECHAIN"STEP#3:THENATIONALPRESSA STEP AWAY FROMMILLIONS OF IMPRESSIONS
Having registered multiple stories frommultiple sources firmly onto the radarof both local and midlevel outlets, youcan now leverage this coverage toaccess the highest level of media: thenational press.Getting to this levelusually involves less directpushing anda lot more massaging.
The sites that have already taken your bait arenow on your side. They desperately want their articles to get asmuch traffic as possible, and being linked to ormentioned on national sites is howthey do that.
THE NATIONAL PRESSThese sites will take care of submittingyour articles to news aggregator siteslike Digg, because making the frontpage will drive tens of thousands ofvisitors to their article. Mass mediareporters monitor aggregators forstory ideas, and often cover what istrending there, like they did with thecharity story after it made the frontpage of Reddit.
IN TODAY’S WORLD EVEN THESE GUYS HAVE TO THINK LIKEBLOGGERS—THEY NEED AS MANY PAGEVIEWS AS POSSIBLE
HERE’S HOW YOU DO ITTaketheoutletwhereyou’dultimatelyliketoreceivecoverageandobserveitforpatterns.You’ll notice that they tend to get their story ideasfrom the same second-level sites, and by tailoring the storyto those smaller sites (or site), it setsyou up to be noticed by the larger one.The blogs on Gawker and Mediabistro, forinstance, are read very heavily by the NewYork City media set.You can craft the story for those sites that automatically set
yourself up to appeal to the other reporters reading it –without ever speaking to them directly.
AN EXAMPLE:Katie Couric claims she getsmany story ideas from herTwitter followers, which meansthat getting a few tweets out ofthe seven hundred or so peopleshe follows is all it takes to geta shot at the nightly nationalnews.It’sasimpleillusion:Createtheperceptionthatthememealreadyexistsandallthereporterisdoingispopularizingit.
My campaign for IHope They Serve Beerin Hell began byvandalizing thebillboards. The graffitiwas designed to baittwo specific sites,CurbedLA andMediabistro’sFishbowlLA. When Isent them photos of mywork under the fake
name Evan Meyer, theyboth quicklypicked it up.
CURBEDLABEGANTHEIRPOSTBYUSINGMYEMAILVERBATIM:Thanks for the plug!In creating outrage for the movie, I had a lot of luck gettinglocal websites to cover or spread the news about protestsof the screenings we had organized throughanonymous tips. We would send them a few offensive quotesand say something like “This misogynist is coming to ourschool and we’re so fucking pissed. Could you help spread theworld” Or I’d email a neighborhood site to say that “a
controversial screening with rumors of a local boycott” washappening in a few days.
SEX, COLLEGE PROTESTORS, HOLLYWOOD.It was the kind of story news producers loved. Afterreading about the growing controversy on the smallblogs I conned, they would often send camera crewsto the screenings. The video of the story would getposted on the station’s website, and then get coveredagain in the other, larger blogs in that city, like thosehosted by a newspaper or companies like theHuffington Post. I was able to get the story toregister, however briefly, by using a small site with
At this point, I now have something to workwith. Three or four links are the makings of atrend piece, or even a controversy— that’s allmajor outlets and national websites need tosee to getexcited.The key to getting from the second to the thirdlevel is the soft sell.Gawker and Mediabistro are very media-centric, so we tailored stories to them to queueourselves up for outrage from their audiences
— which happen to include reporters at placeslike the Washington Post.
When I want to be direct, I would send fake emailswith a collection of all links gathered so far andsay, “How have you not done a storyabout this yet?” Reporters rarely getsubstantial tips or alerts from their readers, so toget two or even three legitimate tipsabout an issue is a strong signal.So I sent it to them. At this pointsomethingamazing happened.
“If only they knew we were promotingthe offensive Tucker Max brand for usjust as we planned…”The coverage my stunts received began helping the 20,000dollar-a-month publicist themovie had hired.REJECTIONS FROM LATE-NIGHTTELEVISION, NEWSPAPER INTERVIEWS, ANDMORNING RADIOTURNED INTO CALL-BACKS.Tucker did Carson Daly’s NBC late-night show for the firsttime. By the end of this charade, hundreds or reputable
reporters, producers, and bloggers had been swept up intoparticipating. Thousands more had eagerly gobbled up newsabout it on multiple blogs. Each time they did, views of themovie trailer spiked, book sales increased, and Tucker becamemore famous and more controversial.
JUST LIKE A BUNCH OF ANIMALSThe media gallops in a herd. It takes just onesteer to start a stampede. The first level is yourlead steer. The rest is just pointing everyone’sattention to the direction it went in.Remember: Every person (with the exception of afew at the top layer) in this ecosystem is underimmense pressure to produce contentunder the tightest of deadlines. Yes, you havesomething to sell. But more than ever theydesperately, desperately need to buy. The flimsiest
It freaked me out when I began to see this sort of thinghappen without the deliberate prodding of a promoterlike myself. I saw media conflagrations set off byinternal sparks. In this networked, interdependentworld of blogging, misinformation can spread evenwhen no one is consciously pushing or manipulatingit. The system is so primed, tuned, and ready thatoften it doesn’t need people like me.The monster can feed itself.
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RYANHOLIDAYisamediastrategist for notorious clientssuch as Tucker Max and DovCharney. After dropping out ofcollege at nineteen toapprentice under RobertGreene, author of The 48 Lawsof Power, he went on to advisemany bestselling authors andmultiplatinum musicians. He iscurrently the director ofmarketing at American Apparel,where his work isinternationally known. Hiscampaigns have been used ascase studies by Twitter,YouTube, and Google and
written about in AdAge, theNew York Times, Gawker andFast Company. He currentlylives in New Orleans and writesat RyanHoliday.net.