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I was reluctant to write this.

I didn’t want to contribute to the noise about Ryan Holiday and his much discussed book, Trust Me I’m Lying (if you haven’t heard of it, here’s a review and some other coverage).

However, after watching a Google Hangout that featured Holiday, Peter Shankman of HARO, John Janstch and several others, I can’t hold back.

Let’s get my personal, highly biased, impressions of Holiday out of the way. He’s an out and out phoney. A relatively inexperienced 25 year old, who has had, by all evidence, a less than distinguished career at unprofitable firms. Throughout the Hangout, he came across as all stunt and flash, and no substance. Most irksome was that Holiday portrayed himself as a servant of the people bent on “exposing” media’s failings. ‘Disingenuous’ is not enough to describe his shallow play to sell books.

Holiday’s criticism of HARO (Help A Reporter Out) was downright bizarre. He posited that the service, which links reporters up with sources, was at fault for connecting him to the journalists he eventually lied to. As one of the panelists mentioned, this logic would mean should vet all resumes posted on its site. HARO, as Shankman said several times, has never suggested that journalists abdicate the vetting of sources when they issue queries via the service. Indeed, it is one of the most important aspects of a reporter’s job.

As the Hangout unfolded, it became clear that Holiday is a master of generalization and bad social science. Undeniably, he managed to lie his way into coverage and manipulate a system that can be manipulated. However, as anyone who knows anything about case studies knows, a few examples are not enough to make sweeping statements.

There’s always been bad journalism and there always will be. The internet and current business realities of the media industry mean that manipulation might be easier today than ever. But that doesn’t mean, as Holiday asserts, that manipulation is everywhere or that the lion’s share of journalists are bad at their jobs.

The reality is that being shifty doesn’t pay over the long term. It is a hit and run strategy and no way to build a successful or sustainable PR program (Holiday is very candid about the hit and run nature of the stunts he pulled using HARO). I hope none of my clients read this guy’s book and end up believing that lying for coverage is a solid tactic.

You only need to watch and hear Ryan Holiday to understand that he’s a young, inexperienced guy with a lot to learn. The tragedy is that the razmatazz, punchy way his book and arguments are packaged have set the PR profession back years. People are gobbling this shit up.

It’s crying shame. After coming out of the closet as a liar, Holiday’s no longer going to work in the field. But the rest of us – who never did a damn thing wrong – will be stuck dealing with the damage he’s caused to our profession’s rep. Thanks, Ryan!

I’ve never felt that universal accreditation should be required to practice PR. Holiday has me rethinking my position.

If you want to see Holiday in action on the Google Hangout hosted by Duct Tape Marketing check this video.


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Great post, Jackson. I really liked the long, thoughtful piece by Shel Holtz, too. [ As picked up by PR Daily, here: ]
    Not sure that accreditation is the answer or that it would stop shysters with no ethics, anyway. But, like you, this episode sure has me rethinking my position.

  • Thanks Becky. The process towards any common credential will be long and complex I am sure. But worth exploring.

  • Danny Starr says:


    Good interview here with him recently on CBC Q.

    Kid is a douche and he comes off terribly on the Hangout and I think his methods are totally wrong (ie: blaming HARO specifically) but he is exposing real problems that exist with media and the way in which news reported. Some of them have always existed and while always exist.

  • Judy Gombita says:

    After hearing Ryan Holiday on CBC Radio’s Q show AND after Toni Muzi Falconi (founder and inaugural chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management) made reference to Ryan Holiday’s book (in a comment on my PR Conversations interview with Ira Basen*), I decided to take up the offer I’d received a few weeks earlier from a Penguin USA publicist and requested a copy of the book (also requested one for Ira Basen, for use in his CanWest Fellow research).

    Having read the book this past weekend, I have to say I’m very much amused by the scores of marketers who are condemning an individual and book without having read it.

    In the words of Eli Pariser (The Filter Bubble) and Clay A. Johnston (The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption), I think there is a lot of “confirmation bias” going on in a “filter bubble” of the blogosphere.

    I watched the Hangout. I didn’t think 25-year-old Ryan Holiday came across as a “douche” at all, Danny Starr. I found him quite articulate, despite the overt hostility emanating from some of the “participants.” (I also thought David Meerman Scott was a class act. He also gave the appearance of having READ THE BOOK in advance of the Hangout.)

    *Toni Muzi Falconi also referenced the book as a framing device at the front end of Ira Basen and my guest lecture (via Skype) to his NYU master’s in international public relations class last week (about “The intersection of public relations and journalism in the digital age).

    I have to say, I get pretty tired of the righteousness exhibited by some people in the online sphere. Do the proper research (i.e., read the damn book first) and look to your own manipulations and maneuvering (because it goes on all over the place in social media), before casting slurs on others.

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