National Mail Order Association
Opportunities in Direct Marketing!
Internet • Mail • Print • Broadcast

NMOA Direct Marketing Article
What F. Scott Fitzgerald can teach you about PR
By Bob Bly

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of "The Great Gatsby," was smart enough to understand and articulate one of the most powerful public relations (PR) techniques ever developed.

The technique is controversy: getting attention for yourself, your business, or your product or service by focusing on an emotional, important, or timely issue -- and taking sides.

It works best if your opinion is contentious - that is, you disagree with the most widely held view.

Or, as F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it: "The cleverly expressed opposite of any generally accepted idea is worth a fortune to somebody."

Marketing expert Marcia Yudkin gives us a great example of this principle in action.

She writes about Bob Baker, who - with three colleagues in the music business -- collaborated on a press release titled 'What's Wrong with American Idol?'

"Their press release criticized the popular U.S. talent show for misleading aspiring musicians and the public about what it takes to succeed in music," says Yudkin. "Baker's reward for stirring up controversy: five radio interviews that highlighted his status as an expert on careers in music."

So, how can you use this principle in your PR to get media attention?

Yudkin suggests you can do it by taking issue with a survey result ... disagreeing with a common belief ... counteracting a stereotype ... championing an underdog ... exposing flaws in something assumed to be beneficial ... or describing the underside of something popular.

Example: when desktop publishing software began selling in large volume, thousands of businesspeople gained the ability to design their own documents.

During that time, a graphic design consultant self-published a little book titled "The Awful Truth about Desktop Publishing." It gained him significant publicity as well as a number of paid speaking engagements.

His premise was that amateurs who used desktop publishing software without proper training in design fundamentals risk producing sloppy, amateurish documents.

Another variation of this technique is to make a prediction that others disagree with.

Financial guru Doug Casey did this in his 1979 best-selling book "Crisis Investing."

The book, which predicted financial disaster, was on the New York Times best-seller list for 29 consecutive weeks - taking Doug's career as a financial editor and advisor to a whole new level.

I've used this technique myself, though on a more modest scale -- and in my case, it was completely by accident.

In marketing, there are a lot of consultants who make a living selling unsuspecting clients on the hot new technology of the month - regardless of the fact that the technology is unproven and has not generated significant ROI for any of the consultant's clients.

But the consultant, of course, rakes in nice fees speaking and advising clients on how to jump on this bandwagon before others get wind of it.

Today that new marketing technology is probably long-format online video, also known as video letters. But a few years ago, it was blogging.

I wrote an article for DM News, the weekly trade newspaper of the direct marketing industry, saying that blogs were an unproven marketing medium and nothing to get excited about.

Not knowing how evangelistic many bloggers are about their medium, I was completely surprised when my article generated a massive debate (with most people saying I didn't get blogging) in the "blogosphere" - the nickname for the universe of blogs.

Tad Clark, who was Editor-in-Chief of DM News at the time, said my article on blogging generated the most reader response of any article they published that year.

What I discovered (or more accurately, re-discovered, since I had known it but forgotten it), was the corollary to Fitzgerald's law about controversy being profitable - and I am sure you've heard it many times: "ANY publicity is good publicity."

And it's true: if you come out on one side of an issue, half the market will revile you. But the other half will think you wise beyond your years, and seek you out to do business with a person of your obvious savvy.

Should you worry about half the market rejecting you because of your strong controversial opinions?

Well, if half think you're all wet ... and half think you walk on water ... that's a 50% market share.

I'll take that any day of the week.

Of course, if you disagree with my opinion, write an article to the contrary.

It just might make you semi-famous ... and a little richer.

About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). Visit:
National Mail Order Association  |  2807 Polk Street NE  |  Minneapolis MN 55418
Email:   |
  Tel: 612-788-1673