Sometimes Breasts Aren’t Enough, Julia Allison

July 28, 2008 at 6:25 am | Posted in Blogging, Business, Communication, Facebook, Marketing, Online marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 11 Comments
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Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr

I have been trying to figure out why WIRED’s cover story on Julia Allison incensed me so much.

You won’t find me bashing Paris Hilton or her ilk on this blog. As someone who barely watches TV, her brand of reality-show insta-celebs barely register on my consciousness. However, I do dwell in the PR world, the internet world, the social media world…and when you screw around in that world, I consider you fair game.

I don’t normally do hit pieces. I am usually positive about how marketing/PR/advertising can make the world a better place (no small task, believe me). But the Julia Allison story deserves some response on this blog because it illustrates:

1. How not to do PR

2. How not to use web 2.0 social media tools

3. How not to run a magazine

Here’s a quick recap of the article: WIRED portrays the piece as a “how-to,” giving advice on the art of online self-promotion. It details how a woman in her mid-20s weaseled into the digital pages of Gawker, Valleywag, and (now) WIRED.

On the splash page before the article, WIRED writes, “She can’t act. She can’t sing. She’s not rich…[S]he’s an internet celebrity.” In case you missed the underlying message, it’s that WIRED just gave a cover story to someone devoid of talent. Here is why Julia Allison is a terrible example of self-promotion, a warning of the missteps of public relations, and why WIRED ought to be ashamed.

How NOT to do PR

There an old quote from PR that any news is good news. But this adage rings hollow in the web 2.0 world, where the relationships we create and the trust we build determines who we do business with.

Here’s a tip, Ms. Allison: Page views are temporary. People may show up to see what you do next, but a long-term strategy this is not. You see, one of the words in “PR” is “relations.”

Take this quote after Julia visited the west coast:

“‘We are all in awe,’ one blogger wrote, ‘and quite honestly left scratching our heads over how someone, in such a short period of time, could make an incredibly controversial impact – with an entire community breathing a sigh of relief at her departure.'” (Emphasis mine.)

Does this sound like relationship building? Sure, it might get you a mention on a blog, but come on. You are making PR professionals look worse and that’s tough to do.

There are no “relations” when it’s all one-sided. And when I look at her sites and her persona, I can’t hear anything over the shouting and it reeks of the self-obsession that turns off the vast majority of people.

And yet, WIRED claims that Julia’s talent – using the term broadly – is self-promotion. Well, if that’s her gift, all the shouting must be a great way to garner PR. However, via Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog:

“According to [AdWeek’s] Brian [Morrissey], the best thing PR people can do is ‘Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing.’ If you’re in PR and that estimate doesn’t strike fear in your heart, well, it should. What that means is that the old, impersonal methods of pitching won’t work anymore.”

How does this relate to Julia? There are more people than ever in PR, promoting themselves or others, and the number of venues is decreasing. Julia’s response is to shout louder. That will be one of her un-doings.

How NOT to use social media

WIRED claims that “Allison’s trick is to think of herself as the subject of a magazine profile, with every blog post or Twitter update adding dimension to her as a character.”

Anyone who has every used a blog or Twitter (or any other social media tool) knows that you will fail if you only discuss yourself. No one is endlessly interesting (especially Julia). Her shtick of constant self-promotion gets old really quick and this is the first rule of social media etiquette.

The way to succeed with social media is to give it all away. The people who succeed (I’m talking about people like Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, Christopher Penn, and Jeremiah Owyang, to name just a few) are popular because they built a community on quality and promote their network.

Julia employs the folly usually reserved for business people decades her senior: using web 2.0 technology in a web 1.0 way. She might be blogging, but where’s the conversation? You can’t expect to succeed (especially in PR, if that is your chosen field) in this new era by only talking about yourself. Believe me, no one else wants to gaze at your navel.

How NOT to run a magazine

WIRED, we need to talk.

Listen, man, I get it; I’m down. I was a marketing manager for a magazine. I can rap all day with you about the need to sell these things.

But giving your cover story to this chick? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the pressure to make newsstand sales. A cover featuring a pretty girl with her breasts hanging out does affect sales. But if your beat is tech, doing that makes it cheap and hurts your street cred.

Have you read the comments to the story? Your readers think this story is a load of stinking garbage. And again, I know August is the toughest month with everyone away on vacation, but come on. Anything else would have attracted more attention while you retained your self respect. (I mean, there was E3, The Dark Knight premiere, Comic-Con…pick your nerd-fest!)

The Gist

If you garner anything from the WIRED cover story or this blog post, it should be that Julia uses PR as a bludgeon, misuses social media tools completely, and, by associating with her, some of the stench wafted over onto WIRED.

Then again, maybe I’m just jealous. Unlike Julia, I’m not “internet famous” and probably won’t become so. Instead of gossipy pre-teen fans, I only have a good job, years of experience, and, there was something else… Oh yeah, my dignity.


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  1. […] Marketing Blog Network member DJ Francis has a blistering post on Wired Magazine/Julia Allison. All credit to DJ for taking a strong stand and breaking down PR in a Web 2.0 world, both the […]

  2. Rock solid. Just posted a link to/on this at eyecube.

  3. I do so love this piece. Great threading of lots of interesting points. Thanks for this. I think your point about building the community along with the personal brand is the most pertinent to larger success. Great view here so thanks.

  4. Yes. Thank god. I was already in a particularly ornery mood about social media when I read that piece in WIRED last week.

    Glad to see others feel the same way. Good stuff.

  5. Thanks for finding and scratching the itch I got reading WIRED’s article about Julia Allison (Julia who?) over the weekend while camping in the Sierra Nevada.

    I’m more artist/writer/poet/outdoors type than WIRED but I’m finding this whole 2.0 world fascinating. I’ve been blogging since November and trying to figure this new world out and how to move around and create it in. How can I take advantage of the way this media works to tell stories better? How can I engage and keep readers?

    So while in line buying groceries for our camping trip, I picked up WIRED (“buy it,” says the man in my life “she’s hot! who is she? why’s she on the cover of WIRED?” he asks perdiodically.

    I think I’ll learn a lot more by coming by here! Look for a link some time this week for my post in progress “who’s Julia?”

  6. Sorry, just need to rant a little off this topic, and I figure your comment section is a perfect place to do it. 🙂

    What offends me most about the whole situation is that we feel obligated to write posts like this one (and comments like this one), yet all we’re really doing is continuing the discussion around someone who shouldn’t have anyone discussing them.

    It’s lose lose!

    OK – end rant.

  7. Great reading and great points raised. Totally agree with you. Seems unfortunate where the internet is headed these days. BTW I agree with Josh that we are only adding more fuel to the fire this way. I do believe that no publicity is bad publicity.

  8. Don’t miss some great conversation occurring in the comments of BrazenCareerist:

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone!

  9. […] Don’t miss Online Marketer Blog’s take on Wired’s cover story Sometimes Breasts Aren’t Enough, Julia Allison […]

  10. Dear DJ:

    Interesting that as much as you hate/loathe/despise what it is that Julia Allison is doing in her own narcissistic Web 2.0 thing, you’ve added to her fame in the process of attacking her with your own blog post.

    The worst possible thing that could happen to Julia and those of her ilk is to be ignored.

    But she is A) pretty or beautiful [depending upon one’s personal tastes], and B) she has been successful in generating a LOT of heat in the media: old and new, online and offline, social media and non-social media.

    Seems to me like Julia MAY be one of the first people to figure out how to blend good looks with chutzpah and social media savviness to create one of the first “true” Web 2.0 celebrities — herself.

    And what better “respected” media property to deem her such than WIRED magazine (still one of the leading arbiters on what matters in technology)?

    If she can keep this up (and if she has any public speaking/interpersonal skills whatsoever), I suspect she will be able to transform herself into a “legitimate” celeb/star, with corporate endorsements, acting gigs, etc.

    Yup. That’s my prediction.

    That said, keep up the good work, DJ.

    I like your writing style and way of thinking, and will be linking to you from later today.


    David Politis

    c/o Politis Communications
    “Maximizing corporate value
    thru strategic communications” blog

  11. I had never heard of Julia Allison before stumbling upon the Wired article online and then your comment. After reading the article I couldn’t help but thinking how “cheap” it seemed of Wired. I’m not a regular reader or anything, but I have always respected its existence. I must say, I totally agree with you that I’ve lost some trust in the magazine. There wasn’t much content in the article, though it was fun to read in a way!

    However, I agree most with the perspective of above commenter David Politis. Though that article was a little bunk, she (Julia Allison) is an interesting figure who is unique! I think if I hear her name again it would be a new, fun thing. That she might morph into a “legitimate” celeb is entirely possible and kind of gives us normal folk hope for our own individual brand of stardom!

    Power to the people? Maybe?

    Jocelyn 🙂

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