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The Art of Public Relations #2

Barbara's sweet digs
In 2003, Barbara Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for $50 Million to get him to remove this publicly available photo of her house from a collection of 12,000 photos of California coastline. Unfortunately for her, this lawsuit caused a spark of interest in the photo. Prior to the lawsuit the image has only seen 6 views, 2 of which were from Streisand's lawyers. As soon as information about the lawsuit came to light, more than 420,000 people went to view the image.

Sometimes trying to aggressively hide or remove information from the public eye will make the info more public than it ever would have been. When dealing with the internet, it's wise not to attempt to use hardball tactics to try and make a point. The internet thrives on controversy, so getting riled up tend to feed more backlash and further undermine your position. When Wikileaks was under attack in December 2010, supporters used this as a battlecry to create countless mirrors of Wikileaks so that it would be nigh impossible to truly remove the information.

In a hilarious turn of events, this phenomenon is now called the Streisand Effect.


Trying to be surreptitious is a risky move that, should you be caught, will magnify the negativity surrounding the incident you wish to conceal. Be honest and straightforward in your response to bad PR, then guide the narrative to a better position: "I'm glad you brought up the topic of inequality, let me talk about my new benefits program to help disadvantaged teenage musicians record their first album."


The Art of Public Relations

Remember when I talked about how a nerd hero was able to manage his response to a humiliating article so well that he got hundreds of offers for dates?

Today we're going to look at an ineffective response to bad PR and how we could improve things.Let's look at another bad response and how we could make things better.

Last week an executive director for Goldman Sachs wrote a public resignation letter in the New York Times describing how the company only cares about taking money from clients. Needless to say this was some bad news for a investment-services firm like Goldman. The company lost $2.2 BILLION in market value because of this letter.

Goldman's response was weak:
While I expect you find the words you read today foreign from your own day-to-day experiences, we wanted to remind you what we, as a firm – individually and collectively – think about Goldman Sachs and our client-driven culture.
First, 85 per cent of the firm responded to our recent People Survey, which provides the most detailed and comprehensive review to determine how our people feel about Goldman Sachs and the work they do.
And, what do our people think about how we interact with our clients? Across the firm at all levels, 89 per cent of you said that that the firm provides exceptional service to them. For the group of nearly 12,000 vice presidents, of which the author of today’s commentary was, that number was similarly high. 
Anyone who feels otherwise has available to him or her a mechanism for anonymously expressing their concerns. We are not aware that the writer of the opinion piece expressed misgivings through this avenue, however, if an individual expresses issues, we examine them carefully and we will be doing so in this case.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how effective would you rate this communcation?

Notice that this People Survey only asks employees about how client-centered they are. Do you think current employees would have any incentive to bad talk their current employer? How persuasive is this message considering its source?

Let's pretend we're the chefs at Goldman Sachs and we want to make a tastier PR sandwich.
For bread, we ask 1,000 of our clients to answer a survey about how satisfied they are with their advisor, not the company. People respond much more positively about individuals than faceless organizations, so this will nudge us towards a more favorable response. This bread gives us a good foundation of data that we'll lay the more important ingredients upon.

I'm feeling like black forest ham, so add some of that to our sandwich. Get a few op-ed pieces written by individual clients telling a heart-felt story about how Goldman Sachs has helped put their kids through college, saved them from financial ruin, saved a basket of cute kittens from a tree etc.

Add some caramelized red onions and lettuce for crunch. Take some of the better stories from clients and record them in a short video explaining how Goldman has helped them through life.
Add some avocados. No metaphor for this one, avocados are just delicious.
What should we use for secret sauce?

Back in 2011, Fox News was accused of hacking into people's phones so they could get news before anyone else. Shady indeed, but their effective use of the principles of Tai Chi softened the PR blowback.

Tai Chi's philosophy (the self-defense kind, not the retirement home kind)  "emphasizes yielding and "sticking" to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force". The concepts of "Fox" and 'Hacking" are tied together in the public's mind. This is the force of a punch. Instead of trying to resist the connection and get hit, Fox merely adjusted the direction of this punch by rebranding the "Fox-Hacking" connection that people already had made. Whenever Fox mentioned the event, they described how "hacking happens to everyone" from Citi to the Pentagon instead of emphasizing that Fox was the hacker, not the victim. Politicans have been using pivots like these since time began, pay attention to the next debate you watch for some good ones. (Note: I'm not condoning the phone hacking. I'm just talking about public relations techniques.)

For Goldman's secret sauce, we would ensure that every communication talks about the company's client-focus and any program/policies they do to make sure they have happy clients. Something along the lines of "I'm glad this brings to light the important issue of all the work we regularly do for our clients. Sometimes we get so immersed in the details that we don't fully communicate the value we create. Let's talk about how we've served our clients in the past...Follow that up with a blend of additional client stories and data about the money you've made for your client. Mix thoroughly and apply liberally over sandwich. Slice sandwich diagonally and serve.

Now wasn't that much tastier than the bland response we initially recieved?


The Science of Inspiration

Jonah Lehrer, science-writer extraordinaire, walks us through recent research shedding light on how we can become more creative people.

He begins by breaking creative "revelations" into two different categories; inspiration from relaxation and inspiration from perspiration.

Some ideas will only come when you're not focused on the problem. Researchers found that watching stand up comedy clips or having a beer before trying to solve creative association tasks increased performance by 20-30% over the control group.
What explains the creative benefits of relaxation and booze? The answer involves the surprising advantage of not paying attention. Although we live in an age that worships focus—we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate, chugging caffeine—this approach can inhibit the imagination. We might be focused, but we're probably focused on the wrong answer.
And this is why relaxation helps: It isn't until we're soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we're able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain's right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.
This research also explains why so many major breakthroughs happen in the unlikeliest of places, whether it's Archimedes in the bathtub or the physicist Richard Feynman scribbling equations in a strip club, as he was known to do. It reveals the wisdom of Google putting ping-pong tables in the lobby and confirms the practical benefits of daydreaming. As Einstein once declared, "Creativity is the residue of time wasted."
The other type of creative task involves a long, steady grind on the problem. We know this as the "two measures that took fifteen hours to write." They're nasty beasts, yes, but ones worth fighting.

But wait, aren't those two methods completely opposite one another? How do we know which way we should try to solve our problem?
The good news is that the human mind has a surprising natural ability to assess the kind of creativity we need. Researchers call these intuitions "feelings of knowing," and they occur when we suspect that we can find the answer, if only we keep on thinking. Numerous studies have demonstrated that, when it comes to problems that don't require insights, the mind is remarkably adept at assessing the likelihood that a problem can be solved—knowing whether we're getting "warmer" or not, without knowing the solution.
This ability to calculate progress is an important part of the creative process. When we don't feel that we're getting closer to the answer—we've hit the wall, so to speak—we probably need an insight. If there is no feeling of knowing, the most productive thing we can do is forget about work for a while. But when those feelings of knowing are telling us that we're getting close, we need to keep on struggling.
And there's even more insight within the article as Jonah walks us through important factors for kick starting our creativity.

One of the keys to being more creative is immersing yourself in new and diverse experiences.
Steve Jobs famously declared that "creativity is just connecting things." Although we think of inventors as dreaming up breakthroughs out of thin air, Mr. Jobs was pointing out that even the most far-fetched concepts are usually just new combinations of stuff that already exists. Under Mr. Jobs' leadership, for instance, Apple didn't invent MP3 players or tablet computers—the company just made them better, adding design features that were new to the product category. 
And it isn't just Apple. The history of innovation bears out Mr. Jobs's theory. The Wright Brothers transferred their background as bicycle manufacturers to the invention of the airplane; their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings. Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. Or look at Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with their famous search algorithm by applying the ranking method used for academic articles (more citations equals more influence) to the sprawl of the Internet.
By seeking out new experiences, our status as an outsider may even allow us to solve someone else's unsolvable problem.
At 3M, engineers are typically rotated to a new division every few years. Sometimes, these rotations bring big payoffs, such as when 3M realized that the problem of laptop battery life was really a problem of energy used up too quickly for illuminating the screen. 3M researchers applied their knowledge of see-through adhesives to create an optical film that focuses light outward, producing a screen that was 40% more efficient.

Such solutions are known as "mental restructurings," since the problem is only solved after someone asks a completely new kind of question. What's interesting is that expertise can inhibit such restructurings, making it harder to find the breakthrough. That's why it's important not just to bring new ideas back to your own field, but to actually try to solve problems in other fields—where your status as an outsider, and ability to ask naive questions, can be a tremendous advantage.
Finally, we can embrace the Buddhist concept of the beginner's mind to discover new islands of thought. The beginner's mind is a way of approaching a problem not as a seasoned expert but as a fresh apprentice, eager to learn and willing to ask "stupid" questions that challenge assumptions. When composer Bruce Adolphe wrote his first cello piece, the piece was deemed unplayable because of an "impossible" chord written into the piece. But famous cellist Yo Yo Ma sight read the piece and nailed it.
Mr. Adolphe told Mr. Ma what the professor had said and asked how he had managed to play the impossible chord. They went through the piece again, and when Mr. Ma came to the impossible chord, Mr. Adolphe yelled "Stop!" They looked at Mr. Ma's left hand—it was contorted on the fingerboard, in a position that was nearly impossible to hold. "You're right," said Mr. Ma, "you really can't play that!" Yet, somehow, he did. 
Other recent research describes how to jump into the beginner's mind using a method called the Generic Parts Technique.
Here's how GPT works: "For each object in your problem, you break it into parts and ask two questions," explains McCaffrey, who is now a post-doctoral fellow in UMass's engineering department.
"1. Can it be broken down further? and 2. -- this is the one that's been overlooked -- Does my description of the part imply a use?" So you're given two steel rings and told to make a figure-8 out of them. Your tools? A candle and a match. Melted wax is sticky, but the wax isn't strong enough to hold the rings together. What about the other part of the candle? The wick. The word implies a use: Wicks are set afire to give light. "That tends to hinder people's ability to think of alternative uses for this part," says McCaffrey. Think of the wick more generically as a piece of string and the string as strands of cotton and you're liberated. Now you can remove the wick and tie the two rings together. Or, if you like, shred the string and make a wig for your hamster.

It's truely wonderful to be alive in a time when we're beginning to unravel the mysteries of creativity so that we can become more creative, enlightened versions of ourselves.


Should I Always Listen to My Fans?

The second you stop becoming a passive listener and create something, it's on. Everyone has an opinion and would love to be your CEO for a day.

This is good.

Feedback and constructive criticism help develop your art and your business. Listening to your fans is a good habit to get in; they do pay your bills after all.

However, sometimes they're very wrong.

Steve Blank's piece in The Atlantic describes A Great Way to Kill Your Startup: Listen to All Your Customers. It's a conversation between Steve and an ex-student Satish. Satish spent loads of time doing customer research and is now facing a stagnant business where no customers are converting from his free version to his paid version. After Satish finishes explaining his predicament, Steve finally reveals the wisdom he hinted at with the title of the post:
Part of Customer Development is understanding which customers make sense for your business. The goal of listening to customers is not please every one of themIt's to figure out which customer segment served his needs - both short and long term.
If airlines did exactly what I wanted I'd be flying around for free in a jacuzzi-only section of the plane. As awesome as this would be, I suspect this may not be in American Airlines' best interests, especially with that whole bankruptcy thing going on. Fans will tell you what makes them happy, which is very important, but be aware that they're not thinking about your underlying business model.

Be open minded, but do the work in evaluating the idea before you run amok.


Now Is The Golden Age of Indie

With all the doom-saying about piracy, it's easy to become disheartened about the state of the music industry.

Far from it.

Just like the shift from selling sheet music to recordings hurt the legacy industry of music publishing, the new digical landscape is the newest change in the landscape of the music industry.

And it's the best it's ever been for small bands.
1. Less middlemen = more money in artist's pockets.

Every intermediate link between the fan and the artist take a little bit of money out of the equation. The economics term is rent-seeking, or using structural factors to increase one's share of existing wealth instead of creating new wealth.

Remember Louis CK's million dollar self-release? He released an entire special via a $5 direct download on his website. With no unnecessary links in the chain between Louis and his fans, there was so much money on the table that Louis gave half of the money to chairty and a quarter to the production crew that helped create the special.

Selling a 99 cent song on iTunes gives the artists 79 cents back. Back in 90s, each $15+ CD Toni Braxton sold earned her only 35 cents, which lead her to declare bankruptcy twice. And this was after being certified 8x platinum in the US.

2. Dedicated fans are becoming a larger and better source of funding than major labels / corporations.

When game design great Tim Schaefer wanted to fund an old-school adventure game, he knew he was out of luck getting a major player to take a big risk on a largely ignored genre of game. So Tim started a kickstarter page with a goal of $400,000. He raised $1,000,000 within a day. This year alone, Kickstarter is expected to provide more funding to small artists than the National Endowment for the Arts.

But the amount of money raised isn't the only import issue here. This is also about control.

Signing a contract with a large company to record an album means you're giving up total creative control. Suddenly your music has baggage and you must use this producer and release this way. Stifling.

When your fans fund you, the only thing they want is for you to be yourself.

3. The middle-ground is hollowing out. Niche is in.

Major labels are Wal-Mart, they need to move hundreds of thousands of units to just break even so they shoot of safe, middle-ground music. (Here's my post on how to sell out properly) Depending on their budget, indie bands can break even with only 10,000 album downloads. It's a lower bar to clear, meaning it's easier for risky projects to succeed.

Given the reach of the internet and the irrelevance of having your music physically in stores, it's easier than ever to connect with these fans of your post-polka-core band instead of begrudgingly accepting that a label will never pick you up.

If you're starting a new grocery store business, trying to compete with Wal-Mart is suicide unless you have infinity plus one dollars. Start an artesan cheese shop instead.