Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Watch for Webbed Feet

My wife and I will often see friends purchase big houses, nice cars and put their kids into fancy schools. These are people with similar jobs and similar life circumstances, and we're sometimes stumped as to how they can seem to do it when we can't.

I believe that we just don't see everything. We have no idea how much debt someone may have piled up, we have no idea whether they have a trust fund, we have no idea of they have anything saved for retirement or if they're saving at all. We only see what they let us see, so it's impossible to do a true analysis.

When the Boston Globe first wrote a glowing feature about a 17-year-old Harvard student with a large book contract, something smelled fishy to me. As fishy as when I was a young, struggling reporter and Stephen Glass was the darling of the journalism establishment. He seemed to defy gravity. He did... he lied.

Now it turns out that the truth behind Kaavya Viswanathan is much more murky than the perception. It turns out her novel was "conceptualized" by a book packager and she's accused of lifting parts completely from another writer. All very strange.

This is why people hate public relations. Because articles are just a few hundred words, readers only see what PR people and reporters have let them see. Like a duck moving quietly and smoothly above the water, readers never see the webbed feet moving frantically underneath.

What's great about social media is that everyone can see the webbed feet. It fundamentally changes how PR is handled, because everything is going to be out there at some point. If you're consciously selling vaporware people are going to figure it out and it's just going to hurt more later.

If you don't believe me, ask Viswanathan.

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