Planting Ideas for Profit

I just read an interesting article by Paul Graham about how PR firms work. For small companies looking to generate some attention, hiring a PR firm will gets them into the press and by extension the public consciousness. Graham relates how a “good” firm charged $16,000 a month, and was worth every penny. Ever wonder why “suits are back” this year? Because some company paid a PR firm to say so. Is it coincidence that this happens to be the advertising slogan for The Men’s Wearhouse?

If you want to sell, people have to know/remember you exist and provide a product they desire. You can advertise, or you generate word of mouth. A Public Relations (aka PR) firm does the latter by packaging your “content” into a form that is readily digested by the News Media: reporters, editors, and other journalists. A good PR firm will package your meme in a manner that is not only credible, but reportable. The law of authorative referral comes into play: if you can get a person to repeat something you’ve planted, the relayed information attains the same level of credibility. PR firms “game the system” by targeted the influential mouthpieces of society that we still, more or less, take at face value.

It’s an interesting article…well worth reading if you enjoy discovering the root causes of trends and how the power of persuasion is used to influence your every opinion. Paul Graham also says something really useful to remember:

Remember the exercises in critical reading you did in school, where you had to look at a piece of writing and step back and ask whether the author was telling the whole truth? If you really want to be a critical reader, it turns out you have to step back one step further, and ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he’s writing about this subject at all.

That’s part my own triumvirate of framing questions: Intention, Expectation, and Motivation. If you can figure out those three things about a given action, you have a good chance of developing an appropriate response on your own.

Via Slashdot. One of the threads there reminds me that William Gibson’s recent book Pattern Recognition is a good look at the world of professional trend watching / making.