Sunday, October 8, 2017

Publicity Is King | Lefsetz Letter

In the era of cacophony.

It was not supposed to be this way. The internet was supposed to level the playing field. The future was to be a vast meritocracy. But we did not realize the internet would allow everyone to have a voice, and with this megaphone hypesters yelled for attention, so we gravitated to trusted sources, and those sources are manipulated by publicists.

I’m not saying you cannot get a foothold alone, using social media tools, I’m just saying the odds of breaking through big are de minimis unless you’re part of the system. Ignore the stories of the lone upstart breaking through, instead focus on the products promoted by the goliaths, the movie studios, major record labels, HBO and Netflix.

Used to be only a few could play. Now that everybody can play, there’s a new tier of success that sits above the broader landscape. Forget those who are already famous, look at those on the way up. When you hear about a new band, a new financier, a new star, the truth is media was not on the hunt for them, but they were promoted by the usual suspects, the PR infrastructure.

Not that good products must not be at the core of the endeavor. For once people pay attention, they want to be satiated, but how do you get yourself in front of everybody’s eyeballs?

Forget spamming. People ignore it. That’s right, e-mail every famous person you can find the address of, tweet them, but the gatekeepers, and believe me they still exist, will ignore you. You need relationships. And you need money, someone to invest in you and push the button.

And you especially need these tools if you want to graduate from the low ranks to the rarefied air. Just like graduating from the lower class to the upper class in an era where the middle class has been decimated, the journey is nearly impossible without help. Help is usually a college degree from a top university and working the relationships. Same in entertainment. You’ve got to pay your dues when no one is looking and then attach yourself to the equivalent of a mentor at P&G or Amazon.

Furthermore, we ignore those without portfolio. You believe you can make it without doing the work, without paying your dues. Which is why most teen phenoms expire, there’s no there there. And the fact that some enterprises boost these no-talents does not undercut the fact that those who last have something at their core.

So we’re ruled by publicity.

Sometimes you can buy it. That’s what Facebook ads are all about. Talk to a concert promoter, they buy them all the time. With data telling them exactly who to target and how frequently.

But that’s after the talent has been made a star.

It’s not about untold appearances, it’s not about carpet-bombing outlets so that every consumer will be touched. Rather it’s about a few placements that influencers take notice of and spread the word on.

Forget being on a late night talk show. But never underestimate the power of an appearance on SNL. Not because anybody will see you, but because everybody will read you were on! And that’s a hard gig to get, the hardest on television, so you must be worth paying attention to.

And a feature in the “Times” or the WaPo, you can decry these outlets as left wing echo chambers but the truth is all influencers pay attention to them. If something is anointed, they know it’s for real, that there’s money behind it, that it’s worth paying attention to. No one wants to invest in an amateur product. It’s like the stock market, it’s like IPOs, it’s like Wall Street. You see who else is involved. Sequoia? I’m in! Because too many ventures run out of cash, are undercapitalized, have good vision but don’t make it.

You want to make it.

And you can’t without the push of publicity. Which is paid for by the gatekeeper known as the major. Having money is not enough, you can hire your own PR person and gain no headway. Once again, outlets deal with the majors every damn day, there are relationships.

PR used to be a backwater. Now it’s the essence of success.

No one makes it alone. Even if they tell you they did. That’s another thing to be wary of, when you read these stories and someone says “it just happened,” ignore that. The truth is success is hard and people are striving for it all day long and they don’t want to appear the workaholic networker they truly are so they soft-pedal it.

You can read the stories, can follow them like sports, or you can make them.

But if you want to make them, you need powerful publicity people. Now, more than ever. If you truly want to be a star.


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