Sometimes Breasts Aren't Enough, Julia Allison

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr I have been trying to figure out why WIRED's cover story on Julia Allison incensed me so much.

You won't find me bashing Paris Hilton or her ilk on this blog. As someone who barely watches TV, her brand of reality-show insta-celebs barely register on my consciousness. However, I do dwell in the PR world, the internet world, the social media world...and when you screw around in that world, I consider you fair game.

I don't normally do hit pieces. I am usually positive about how marketing/PR/advertising can make the world a better place (no small task, believe me). But the Julia Allison story deserves some response on this blog because it illustrates:

1. How not to do PR

2. How not to use web 2.0 social media tools

3. How not to run a magazine

Here's a quick recap of the article: WIRED portrays the piece as a "how-to," giving advice on the art of online self-promotion. It details how a woman in her mid-20s weaseled into the digital pages of Gawker, Valleywag, and (now) WIRED.

On the splash page before the article, WIRED writes, "She can't act. She can't sing. She's not rich...[S]he's an internet celebrity." In case you missed the underlying message, it's that WIRED just gave a cover story to someone devoid of talent. Here is why Julia Allison is a terrible example of self-promotion, a warning of the missteps of public relations, and why WIRED ought to be ashamed.

How NOT to do PR

There an old quote from PR that any news is good news. But this adage rings hollow in the web 2.0 world, where the relationships we create and the trust we build determines who we do business with.

Here's a tip, Ms. Allison: Page views are temporary. People may show up to see what you do next, but a long-term strategy this is not. You see, one of the words in "PR" is "relations."

Take this quote after Julia visited the west coast:

"'We are all in awe,' one blogger wrote, 'and quite honestly left scratching our heads over how someone, in such a short period of time, could make an incredibly controversial impact - with an entire community breathing a sigh of relief at her departure.'" (Emphasis mine.)

Does this sound like relationship building? Sure, it might get you a mention on a blog, but come on. You are making PR professionals look worse and that's tough to do.

There are no "relations" when it's all one-sided. And when I look at her sites and her persona, I can't hear anything over the shouting and it reeks of the self-obsession that turns off the vast majority of people.

And yet, WIRED claims that Julia's talent - using the term broadly - is self-promotion. Well, if that's her gift, all the shouting must be a great way to garner PR. However, via Shannon Paul's Very Official Blog:

"According to [AdWeek's] Brian [Morrissey], the best thing PR people can do is 'Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing.' If you’re in PR and that estimate doesn’t strike fear in your heart, well, it should. What that means is that the old, impersonal methods of pitching won’t work anymore."

How does this relate to Julia? There are more people than ever in PR, promoting themselves or others, and the number of venues is decreasing. Julia's response is to shout louder. That will be one of her un-doings.

How NOT to use social media

WIRED claims that "Allison's trick is to think of herself as the subject of a magazine profile, with every blog post or Twitter update adding dimension to her as a character."

Anyone who has every used a blog or Twitter (or any other social media tool) knows that you will fail if you only discuss yourself. No one is endlessly interesting (especially Julia). Her shtick of constant self-promotion gets old really quick and this is the first rule of social media etiquette.

The way to succeed with social media is to give it all away. The people who succeed (I'm talking about people like Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, Christopher Penn, and Jeremiah Owyang, to name just a few) are popular because they built a community on quality and promote their network.

Julia employs the folly usually reserved for business people decades her senior: using web 2.0 technology in a web 1.0 way. She might be blogging, but where's the conversation? You can't expect to succeed (especially in PR, if that is your chosen field) in this new era by only talking about yourself. Believe me, no one else wants to gaze at your navel.

How NOT to run a magazine

WIRED, we need to talk.

Listen, man, I get it; I'm down. I was a marketing manager for a magazine. I can rap all day with you about the need to sell these things.

But giving your cover story to this chick? Don't get me wrong, I understand the pressure to make newsstand sales. A cover featuring a pretty girl with her breasts hanging out does affect sales. But if your beat is tech, doing that makes it cheap and hurts your street cred.

Have you read the comments to the story? Your readers think this story is a load of stinking garbage. And again, I know August is the toughest month with everyone away on vacation, but come on. Anything else would have attracted more attention while you retained your self respect. (I mean, there was E3, The Dark Knight premiere, Comic-Con...pick your nerd-fest!)

The Gist

If you garner anything from the WIRED cover story or this blog post, it should be that Julia uses PR as a bludgeon, misuses social media tools completely, and, by associating with her, some of the stench wafted over onto WIRED.

Then again, maybe I'm just jealous. Unlike Julia, I'm not "internet famous" and probably won't become so. Instead of gossipy pre-teen fans, I only have a good job, years of experience, and, there was something else... Oh yeah, my dignity.

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