I once did a blog post about the work injuries at Tesla that drove hundreds of new clients to my law firm. The story was covered by the New York Times and several of our clients were interviewed by Reveal News and the CBS Evening News.
I have Ryan Holiday to thank for all of it.
Trust Me I’m Not Lying
I have wanted to do a piece on Ryan Holiday for some time and will definitely cover more of his books in a future reading list. The current issues facing our country, the extreme rise of dangerous misinformation and propaganda through social media, the vilification of scientists, the rejection of data for the pursuit of partisan politics remind me of Ryan Holiday’s brilliant book Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. I started reading the book again the other day. My original read of his book led to a simple blog post for our law firm website originally entitled: The Dirty Little Secret at Tesla. This blog post led to hundreds of clients and hundreds of thousands in fees.
Over the past few years Ryan Holiday has become my favorite author. Holiday’s abilities are rare. He has an ability to analyze, distill and communicate the anatomy of a broad range of topics from the media, common culture, history and stoicism. He is an eloquent storyteller. His books are well researched and filled with history and interesting facts. More importantly, how history and the facts can be applied to your own life and today’s world. I have recommended and sent his books to friends and colleagues more than any other over the past few years. I have read each of his books at least twice. Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, is a must read for any business owner. It is in my Top Ten lists of books to run a law firm. I read it three times, one right after the other.
His books on Stoic philosophy, Ego is the Enemy, The Obstacle is the Way and Stillness is the Key have all become huge bestsellers, topping the New York Times bestseller list. He also runs the Daily Stoic podcast. Well worth the time.
Holiday began as a marketer (actually he began as the assistant to Robert Greene, the bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power, The Laws of Human Nature and Mastery – all incredible!). Holiday then helped market Tucker Max’s movie, I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell based on the bestselling book of the same name. He was also the marketing mind behind American Apparel – responsible for their legendary and controversial campaigns. Then Holiday became the bestselling author of 10 books. Oh, Ryan is 32 years old.
The first Ryan Holiday book I came across was Trust Me I’m Lying, Confessions of a Media Manipulator (2012). This book may have actually been the playbook for Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. The book distills the manipulation of today’s media in order to grab attention for the purpose of personal gain and not to inform the public. When page views are the only thing that matter and you are competing with millions of stories, tweets and Facebook posts a day, you have to do something that grabs attention. These stories and posts scroll by us as we search for something eye popping, something that appeals to our personal senses. What appeals to almost everyone’s personal senses is outrage. There is a great explainer video on YouTube of Trust Me I’m Lying, well worth the few minutes to watch.
In Trust Me I’m Lying Holiday teaches how some simple misleading tweets from unknown people, stories from low level blogs or shared posts from your friends, if they are titled right and drive our need to be outraged, angered or simply curious can lead stories up the food chain where they can become front page news on the New York Times or lead to pundits talking for hours on the 24 hour news cycle. Our current media is millions of outlets that needs to be constantly be fed. If you learn to do this, you too can have a little piece of that attention.
In the books’ opening, Holiday describes how he created millions of dollars’ worth of free coverage for Tucker Max’s movie I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell. He had almost zero budget and he needed to create coverage. What’s the fastest way to coverage – outrage. We all know, people just love to hate and there are plenty of public outlets for them to do it.
Ryan put up billboards advertising the film in Los Angeles. Then in the middle of the night, with his girlfriend as the getaway driver, he defaced the billboards. They then drove around, shot some photos of the vandalism and under a different name sent it to a few blog writers. Blog writers, trying to earn money from their blogs need stories to get page views. If the smaller blog writers can get page views with a story, a larger outlet will pick up the story. Few do actual research like the old days of journalism. They simply rewrite the story and quote the other blog or share it on their own. When you have to put out content every few minutes, who has time to fact check? So, they will cover something like a simple billboard being defaced – attach a misleading or salacious title and it works it’s way up the internet chain. Holiday’s lead to the writers was salacious. Something along the lines of “Tucker Max’s d___ should be cut off”. When one of the bloggers replied asking if it was true, Holiday responded “Trust Me, I’m Not Lying”.
The story got a few hits and made it’s way up the chain. First the blogs, then the major media outlets. Then the outrage began. The story made Page Six of the New York Post. It was the first time Tucker Max had ever been mentioned in the Post. Feminist groups began defacing billboards in New York, more stories came. Groups started protesting the film on college campuses. More stories. Within weeks the Chicago Transit Authority banned advertising the movie. More stories. There were Facebook Boycott Groups of the movie. Groups started and planted by Holiday. It was the first time I had ever heard of Tucker Max and I was interested so bought the book. The book was outrageous, funny and very offensive. (In full disclosure Tucker Max wrote a blurb for The Case for Culture). This is how to get attention and become part of the news cycle.
According to Forbes, the average American sees up to 10,000 ads a day, these are just ads. With the millions of personal tweets, endless posts, blog posts, it is almost impossible to get noticed unless you can create a hook that digs into peoples emotions. Whether the hook is real or not. Why do you think there are sites that track the hourly search terms on the internet? Someone is making use of this very valuable information – my guess is unless you are a blogger, it is probably not you!
I became fascinated with Holiday’s expose in Trust Me I’m Lying. It was not that I didn’t know this? We have to know that we are all clicking on titles and posts that stir us in some way, but to start understanding just how manipulated we are everyday shines a new light. A how-to-guide on how to grab some of that attention is worth the time to read and understand.
A current example is the propaganda piece for the anti-vaxxers, Plandemic, viewed and shared more than 8 million times across the internet. A very well produced ‘documentary’ that keeps getting taken down from YouTube and social media – better watch before it’s taken down again is what people sharing with each other say. It must be true if the mainstream media doesn’t want you to see it. It isn’t taken down for all the misinformation, it’s being taken down because the producers put in uncleared copyright footage – forcing YouTube, Facebook and other platforms to continue to take it down or risk copyright infringement lawsuits. Whether this was intentional or not, it was a smart move by the producers. It has become forbidden fruit.
Tesla’s Dirty Little Secret
Now back to Tesla, $13.50, the blog post and all of those clients. Holiday’s book really sank it’s hook into me. I run a law firm, with significant and serious competition. I know, and if you’re a small business owner, you know too that blogs are important. They help SEO, help you become the “local expert” and drive traffic to a website.
The Tesla mega-factory is just a few miles down the freeway from our office. We had started to see a few clients come in. Fairly serious injuries. I began to do a bit of research and found a few local articles about how Tesla was facing several investigations by labor boards for the level of injuries being sustained. Nothing salacious just matter of fact articles. Based on what I had read, I was actually pretty surprised there wasn’t more out there. The allegations were bad and so were the injuries. The reports stated that Tesla had approximately 6 times the number of injuries in their factory compared with average car manufacturer. Further, they were also accused of hiding the real number of injuries by failing to report. There are thousands of people who work there. I wanted Pacific Workers’ to be the go to choice for Tesla employees.
We needed far more blogs for our law firm site. At the time I was exploring ghostwriting the blogs through several services. I just didn’t have time to do blogs, run the practice, hire people, practice law, do the books. I needed some help. I found iWriter, a writing service. It is very inexpensive and I suspect some of the writing might actually be automated – I have no confirmation of this. If iWriter worked well, I could get blog posts written inexpensively and keep our blog filled with a new post every other day.
Well, I submitted a storyline to iWriter, with the simple title “The Dirty Little Secret at Tesla” (the name was changed to something a bit more tame. I was worried about some sort of twitter storm from Elon Musk. I added a few links to the reports I read of the issues going on at Tesla, paid iWriter their $13.50 and a few hours later had my blog post.
CBS Evening News, Reveal News and the Ringing Phone
After posting, I sent it along to a few local blog writers. Within a few weeks, the story (not actually my blog) started getting around. A few weeks went by and the phone started ringing with Tesla clients. A month or so later and Reveal contacted us – they wanted to interview one of our clients. Then the New York Times did an article (they never called us) but CBS Evening News did. The phone just kept ringing with more Tesla clients. Clients began to refer other clients and our base of Tesla injury clients just kept growing. I’ve never fully counted but we’ve represented at least 100 or more. So, that little blog post on our tiny company website, $13.50 to iWriter, a decent name with a bit of outrage and an email to a few local bloggers has turned into hundreds of thousands in fees.
Holiday’s lessons in Trust Me I’m Lying aren’t just for big companies and media manipulators. They are for small companies trying to break through all the noise. I’m certainly not advocating lying, cheating, deception or misdirection. Tesla’s work injury record is horrific – we were simply a tiny expose of the issue through our law firm blog.
Thank you Ryan Holiday.
Another Tesla Blog
Postscript: I began putting this piece together about a month ago. But now Tesla is back in the news. Elon Musk is defying Alameda County shutdown order to keep the factory line closed. He has threatened to move the Tesla plant out of California. With their history of work injuries at Tesla, I have no reason to believe he will try to protect the workers from Covid.
It’s time to write another blog post.
Eric Farber is the author of the bestselling book, The Case for Culture, How to Stop Being a Slave to Your Law Firm, Grow Your Practice and Be Happy. Eric is on a mission to change how law firms operate by showing lawyers the value of putting culture first. During his twenty-five years as a lawyer, Eric has lived the transformation from scarcity to abundance that becomes possible when you shift your perspective and prioritize people. As the CEO and chief legal officer of Pacific Workers’ Compensation Law Center, Eric’s focus on culture helped him build a seven-figure firm that’s gone from four people to fifty in just over five years, been an Inc. 5000 company twice, was named to the Bay Area 100 list of fastest-growing companies, and spent two consecutive years in the top fifty of Law Firm 500.
The Case for Culture was named by Forbes Magazine as a Top 8 Book to “Reconsider How You Manage Relationships“.