Death to Deceptive PR Tactics in the Digital Age: Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich

Spin Sucks by Gini DietrichAs a marketing and public relations professional, nothing makes me cringe more than the word “spin.” I’ve been in meetings with good-intentioned souls who have used the word’s verb function: “Alison, you’ll know how to spin this.” **Shudder** Or, as a noun: “Let’s put a nice spin on this story.” **Tremble** Most recently, I heard the term “spin doctor” used on a BBC television drama where a married politician was trying to cover up his affair with a staffer; the spin doctor’s job was to dazzle and distract the unwitting reporters who were pursuing the story.

Maybe the word “spin” bothers me because I worked in television news for seven years before coming over to the “dark side” of public relations. More likely, it’s because I am a warm-blooded human being who equates “spin” with other negative words like lying, deception and fraud. And that’s just not what marketing and public relations professionals do. When you tell someone that you think they’re good at “spinning” something, you’re saying that you think they are liars. Even more offensive, you think your audience, your customers or your clients are dumb enough to be deceived.

Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks

Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks. Photo courtesy of Arment Dietrich.

Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm, has made it her mission to challenge the concept of spin. Recently, she borrowed the title from her wildly successful marketing and PR blog, Spin Sucks, and attached it to a new book.

Gini says she wrote Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age for business leaders who need to understand how public relations and marketing really work in today’s digital environment. She writes that part of the reason so many people think of communication professionals as spin doctors is because there’s no universal definition of “public relations” and no governing body to police the industry. Anyone can call herself a public relations consultant today and horror stories predominate many conversations about the PR profession. Gini shares a few of these negative stories in her book, but devotes many more pages to positive examples of communication done right.

Much more than an aspirational mantra, Spin Sucks is an antidote to the unflattering view of public relations as a mystical and deceitful practice. Gini offers fresh and relevant case studies for ethical and effective communication campaigns that profit from today’s technology. She devotes an entire chapter to search engine optimization and the ever-changing Google algorithm. Spin Sucks also demonstrates through well-researched narratives how companies are managing crisis communications in a world where one negative comment can spread like wildfire in minutes through social media. Executives or leaders whose responsibilities include hiring communication professionals–whether those professionals work inside or outside the organization–will benefit from the hiring criteria that Spin Sucks offers. Public relations, marketing and communication practitioners will find inspiration and strategy that will help them better serve their clients and their profession.

To learn more about Spin Sucks–the book and the blog–visit SpinSucks.com. I received an advance galley copy of the book from Gini Dietrich in exchange for an honest review. I applied to be a part of the Spin Sucks brand ambassador program, which was a smart approach that Gini used to promote the launch of her new book. As someone who is keenly interested in promoting worthy authors and their books, I have been studying the brand ambassador campaign and hope to report its results and lessons learned in a future blog post.

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Exploring Invisible Evils and Real-Life Heroines: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings

Tomorrow morning on her Super Soul Sunday show, Oprah Winfrey will interview author Sue Monk Kidd. In December, Winfrey chose Kidd’s most recent novel, The Invention of Wingsas her Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick. The book has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list since its release in January. The following video is a preview of tomorrow’s show.

I received my own sneak peek this month when Sue Monk Kidd spoke before a group in Atlanta. She read from and signed copies of The Invention of Wings. What did I learn from her speech?

Kidd went to college and became a nurse. Eight years after graduation, Kidd pursued her lifelong desire to write for a living.

Kidd said one of her “weird idiosyncrasies” is that she must have a title before she can start writing a book. Before writing The Invention of WingsKidd completed six months of research and began writing down titles. She took a walk on the beach where she picked up an angel wing seashell. The shell prompted her to think of slaves in the 19th century as having their wings clipped. From this find on the beach, Kidd had her title–The Invention of Wingsand later her first few sentences:

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, “Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddThe “when” is November 1803. The “here” is Charleston, South Carolina. And the narrator is Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a ten-year-old slave. The story alternates between the first-person narration of Handful and her mistress, Sarah Grimke. Sarah is just a year older than Handful and receives the waiting maid as an eleventh birthday present. Sarah does not think it is right to own another person and aspires to be the first lawyer in the United States, so she copies a manumission document from one of her father’s law books. This first act of rebellion begins Sarah and Handful’s friendship and sets them both on a turbulent course of resistance.

I did not know that The Invention of Wings was historical fiction based on the lives of Sarah Grimke and her sister, Angelina, before I read my advance copy at the end of last year. As much as I savored Kidd’s prose and wanted to believe that a privileged white girl in the antebellum south would befriend a slave, I was deeply conflicted about such an impossible story. When I read the author’s note at the end of the book, I learned that Sarah Grimke did receive a slave for her eleventh birthday and later devoted her life to the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. While Handful lived only in the imagination of Sue Monk Kidd, many of the other characters and events in The Invention of Wings are based on real happenings in the 45 years that the book covers.

In her speech, Kidd said that writing the book meant delving into the parts of history that we flinch from. She said that she considers slavery the “ground zero of American racism” and believes that we, as citizens and human beings, must “go into the wound” of America’s slave-owning past before we can effectively deal with the racism that still exists today. When writing The Invention of Wings, Kidd says she was most interested in asking, “How does evil gather when nobody’s looking?” and “What is it in a human being that allows these invisible evils to go unnoticed?” Her fictionalized account of Sarah Grimke’s life explores the circumstances that led Sarah to notice and challenge the otherwise invisible evils of slavery and women’s oppression. Oprah Winfrey was right when she said, “It is impossible to read this book and not come away thinking differently about our status as women and about all the unsung heroines who played a role in getting us to where we are.” I look forward to her conversation with Sue Monk Kidd tomorrow on OWN.

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My Beach Binge-Read: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Many of my friends with kids are on spring break this week, which has made me nostalgic for the week I spent at the beach  during my spring break from grad school in March. I’ve included a few photos from our trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast below.

Night Film by Marisha PesslPacking for a week at the beach is complicated, but not because of clothes. Please, I just throw a bunch of t-shirts, swimsuits and flip flops in a bag. But it takes much more thought to pack my trusty straw grass tote with just the right books for a week of reading under a beach umbrella. Yes, I did include a couple of school books and six months’ worth of neglected issues of Writer’s Digest. I finished up Lost Lakewhich was the March She Reads Book Club selection. Still, the book I couldn’t wait to read–that I’d been coveting for almost a year but couldn’t fit it into my list of “required reading”–was Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

Opening Night Film on my iPad e-reader and slipping into the story of this psychological thriller felt like a great indulgence. I couldn’t stop reading the book and completely escaped into its many layers. In one world, the reader follows disgraced journalist Scott McGrath and his young apprentices (reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) as they search for answers to the mysterious death of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a cult horror film director who has eluded McGrath for years. The other, much darker world is that of the director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

To borrow some jargon from my still-neglected copies of Writer’s Digest, Pessl does an amazing job with her “world-building.” At times while reading Night Film, you feel like you are reading nonfiction because Pessl has devoted so much time to the underground world of Cordova’s horror films and the behind-the-scenes stories of the actors and select few who have orbited the reclusive director. She expounds on the narrative by using fictionalized newspaper articles, photos and transcribed interviews. Pessl even wrote and directed this trailer for Night Film:

As a reader, you feel like you are experiencing life on three parallel planes: your reality that exists outside of Night Film, the ”real” world according to the journalist McGrath who is pursuing the story that will either redeem him or ruin him, and the mystical world of the director Cordova who experiences so many horrors in his real life that you can’t differentiate between his life and his films. All of these intricate planes converge and create an atmosphere of unknowing that compels you to read quickly through the more than 600 pages of text.

If you want to geek out even more, you can download a free Night Film decoder app from the author’s website at marishapessl.com. Using the app, readers can scan select images in the novel to unlock exclusive multimedia content. As I mentioned, I was reading the e-book, so I didn’t take time to explore the multimedia content. I didn’t want to abandon the story but can understand why you would crave more information. I found myself wanting to view some of the films that Pessl described, even though I’m not a fan of horror films and oh, by the way, these films don’t exist!

You can pre-order the paperback edition of Night Film here; the paperback releases on July 1, just in time for your summer beach vacation. This is not a light and fluffy Scooby Doo mystery or typical “beach read,” but people who love smart, haunting thrillers will enjoy the dark Night Film.

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March 2014 She Reads Book Club Selection: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

A postcard that inspired Sarah Addison Allen's writing of Lost Lake

A postcard that inspired Sarah Addison Allen’s writing of Lost Lake

I love this vintage postcard from the “California Alligator Farm, Los Angeles, California.” This unusual memento–from an alligator amusement park that was popular in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century–partly inspired the setting of Sarah Addison Allen’s latest novel, Lost Lake.

Lost Lake, the fictional place as well as the book, blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Grief and loss have hollowed out all of Allen’s characters–all of them misfits–when we meet first meet them. The owner of Lost Lake, Eby, has finally decided to sell the waning property, an inciting incident that brings the misfits together at this mystical place where dead chefs still occupy a seat at the kitchen table and alligators befriend little girls.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison AllenA great choice for the March 2014 She Reads Book Club, my copy of Lost Lake will stay behind at the beach condo where I’m vacationing this week. I’m sure a future guest will enjoy this escapist novel.

To learn more about Lost Lake and author Sarah Addison Allen, visit her website at sarahaddisonallen.com. As with all She Reads Book Club selections, the author will be posting her insights about the book and her writing life all month long at SheReads.org.

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Blood Ties That Bind: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughThe marketing description for The Weight of Blood promises “a gripping, suspenseful novel” for fans of Daniel Woodrell and Gillian Flynn. Winter’s Bone may be one of my favorite contemporary novels; the makers of the film adaptation pulled heavily from Woodrell’s dialogue in the book, which may explain why the movie was so successful. A then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence had the perfect vehicle for her first trip down Oscars’ red carpet. Gillian Flynn could make a psychopath blush with her first-person accounts of a dysfunctional marriage turned murder mystery. Her bestselling novel, Gone Girl, remains one of the books that everyone likes to discuss, and its David Fincher-directed movie treatment comes out in October.

Thus, we arrive at The Weight of Blood with huge expectations for a debut novel. As in Winter’s Bone, the protagonist is a teenage girl living in the Ozark Mountains who has been forced to take on responsibility well beyond her seventeen years. Lucy Dane still struggles with the fact that her mother disappeared shortly after her birth and is often home alone because her father works out-of-town construction jobs.

The small community of Henbane (the town shares its name with a poisonous member of the nightshade family) keeps a protective eye on Lucy. They circle even closer when the dismembered body of Lucy’s childhood friend is discovered in a fallen tree on the riverbank. As McHugh writes, missing persons are not uncommon in the Ozarks, but found and mutilated girls are cause for conjecture and concern. Feeling guilty that she didn’t try harder to find Cheri when she was missing, Lucy decides to launch her own informal investigation into her friend’s horrible death.

Other narrators take turns revealing what they know about Cheri’s murder and the earlier disappearance of Lucy’s mother. The weight of blood refers to bloodshed; the novel is necessarily violent and raw. But the title also alludes to blood relations, and the burden Lucy bears of being born a Dane. Do you pursue the truth when you know there’s a 95% chance the answers to your questions will hurt you and destroy your family?

Laura McHugh, author of The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood is a compulsively readable mystery, worthy of its comparisons to Woodrell and Flynn. To learn more about Laura McHugh and The Weight of Blood, visit the author’s website at weightofblood.com. You can also follow @LauraSMcHugh on Twitter.

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Dahlonega Literary Festival 2014

Photos from the 2014 Dahlonega Literary Festival

A little more than an hour north of Atlanta, the legendary gold-panning town of Dahlonega, Georgia really shined this past weekend when hosting its 2014 Dahlonega Literary Festival. Saturday’s warm spring weather was a sunny contrast to the chilly fall that greeted me the last time I attended the festival.

It was fun to catch up at lunch with wonderful Southern Spines authors Ann Hite (The Storycatcher), Erika Marks (The Guest House) and Renea Winchester (In the Garden with Billy). I also met children’s picture book authors Rosalind Bunn and Kathleen Howard, two Georgia school teachers who collaborated on Sophie May and the Shoe Untying Fairy and The Butter Bean Lady.

After lunch, I attended the panels on fantasy and speculative fiction and using humor in fiction. The panels were fantastic, although a bit overcrowded with authors. The hour-long discussions could only accommodate 3-4 questions because both panels were comprised of seven authors, each with wonderful information and anecdotes to share. I could have listened to Jackie K. Cooper, Raymond Atkins, Charles McNair and Terry Kay hold court for the better part of the day.

A darkened coffeehouse served as the perfect place to get to know multi-genreational (yes, I just made that term up) author Delilah S. Dawson (Wicked After Midnight) and James R. Tuck, the tattoo artist and photographer responsible for penning the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series (Special Features). My friend, Joshilyn Jackson, was there to talk about her latest novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, which is partially set in Dahlonega. And I had a few minutes to get reacquainted with Kim Boykin (The Wisdom of Hair) and catch a glimpse of her next book cover for the August release, Palmetto Moon.

For every author that I saw, there were at least two whom I only met in passing (I’m thinking of you, Deanna Raybourn) or didn’t have an opportunity to talk to for very long in between sessions (howdy, Scott Thompson). In its tenth year, the Dahlonega Literary Festival seems to be hitting its stride. Readers fanned out from crowded classrooms and two of my favorite booksellers, Ellen and Gary from FoxTale Book Shoppe, were busy doing the Lord’s work in the festival’s makeshift bookstore. Kudos to organizers Carole and Arienne and all the volunteers whose hard work made for a fun weekend in Dahlonega.

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If You Could Hear What I Read: Audiobooks and Steve Martin

http://bookriot.com/2014/01/08/40-ways-listen-audiobooks-even-dont-commute/

BookRiot recently posted “40 Ways to Listen to Audiobooks Even If You Don’t Commute”

A voracious reader, yes. Audiobook listener? Not so much. Here’s one reason why it’s hard for me to get into audiobooks: I spend very little time driving. I work from home and have put less than 80,000 miles on my car in the last ten years. I can’t get into a story on my five-minute drive to the post office.

This wasn’t always the case. When I left my hometown of Chattanooga, TN for a new job in Lexington, KY, I had two kittens that I hated to leave unattended. When I got homesick, I’d put the fur balls in their kitty carrier and rent books on tape. Do you remember those portfolios of ten or more cassettes that you could rent at one Cracker Barrel and return or exchange at another one? The narrator’s voice somehow soothed the cats and entertained me on those eight-hour round trips.

I hear what you’re thinking right now: “Um, technology has advanced just a little beyond the book on tape circa 1997.” Yes, I’ve heard there are even books on CD now. And my husband and I have purchased audiobook downloads from Audible and checked them out from our local library’s Overdrive system. We usually listen to them on road trips, like the one we took last month to Savannah.

An Object of Beauty by Steve MartinWe listened to Campbell Scott read Steve Martin’s novella, An Object of Beauty. Zach and I don’t often like the same kind of books; he’s a fan of sports, politics, science fiction and history. And I’m a fan of…well, the stuff that’s on this website and you can see what I read over here at Goodreads.

For example, Zach just cracked the spine on Book 1 of 4 of the Lyndon Johnson biographies. No offense to Johnson’s biographer, Robert A. Caro, but these books are tomes. I love history, but I’d rather have Zach clunk me over the head with that block of a book than read it aloud to me. I can’t even imagine how many notebooks of cassette tapes just one of those books would create.

Back to An Object of Beauty…when it comes to audiobooks, Zach and I can both agree on titles from Steve Martin. I adored Shopgirl and we enjoyed listening to Martin narrate Born Standing Up: A Comic’s LifeAn Object of Beauty is set in the New York art world, a setting that Martin knows well because he is a huge art collector. We joke all the time that when Steve Martin agrees to reprise his role in a Cheaper by the Dozen sequel or is starring in Pink Panther 28, it’s probably because he has his eye on a Picasso.

I really enjoyed listening to An Object of Beauty. Campbell Scott is a terrific narrator, and though I have no interest in or knowledge of fine art, I was enthralled with the story of those who appreciate and deal in art. The book even references the heist at Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum, an event that B. J. Shapiro wrote about in her novel, The Art Forger.

I wish every author and publishing company had the luxury and resources to afford a professional audiobook narration of their books BEFORE the book goes to print. Why? Because if Steve Martin had listened to Campbell Scott before he turned the book into his editor, he would have removed that extraneous dinner party in Miami that stole about 15 minutes from my enjoyment of An Object of Beauty. Perhaps that’s not a long time in audiobook minutes, but it’s a lot of unnecessary pages for attention-deprived readers. And I finally abandoned an audiobook I listened to while driving one leg of a road trip because the author fell so in love with the historical facts and sayings from the time period she was writing about that she stalled out on the mystery at the core of the book. That’s the benefit of ingesting a story with your ears instead of your eyes: you can quickly tell when a story’s veering off course.

A little more than a week away from my next road trip, I am thinking about my next audiobook selection. Have any suggestions? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below. I’ve also included a few “Suggested Reading” links below in case you’re interested in learning more about the audiobook phenomenon.

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Memoir Monday: Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

Glitter and Glue by Kelly CorriganJust after graduating from college, Kelly Corrigan‘s motto was, “Things happen when you leave the house.” She was so eager to leave behind what she considered her dull home life, that she traveled to the other side of the earth, putting entire continents between her and her family. Corrigan was backpacking in Australia with a friend when her funds dwindled and she accepted a nanny job that would permanently change her world view.

This is the framework for Corrigan’s new memoir, Glitter and Glue. Corrigan used journal entries, letters and photographs from this time in 1992 to write about her job caring for two children in Australia whose mother had recently died. The Tanner family–also composed of the children’s father, grandfather and stepbrother–is still mired in grief when Corrigan moves in. Although the nanny gig is temporary–Corrigan plans to rejoin her friend in five months so they can scuba-dive along the Great Barrier Reef–the insights that she gains follow Corrigan back to America; back at home, Corrigan has a new appreciation for her family, especially her mother.

Corrigan wrote poignantly of having breast cancer at the same time that her father was being treated for late-stage bladder cancer in her 2008 memoir, The Middle Place. She dedicates Glitter and Glue to her mother: “This one’s for you, Ma. Long overdue.” The title of the book alludes to one of her mother’s sayings; knowing that she was no match for her husband’s big, gregarious personality, Mary Corrigan often said, “Your father’s the glitter, but I’m the glue.” Glitter and Glue is a brisk and memorable read. The video below is a heart-strings puller as well.

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Savannah Book Festival: Alice Hoffman on The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Alice Hoffman speaks at Savannah Book Festival. February 15, 2014.

Alice Hoffman speaks at Savannah Book Festival on February 15, 2014.

After five years spent researching and writing her last novel, The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman swore she would never write another work of historical fiction. This revelation came as a surprise to many of us seated in the pews of one of the oldest churches in the United States; Trinity United Methodist Church, whose original congregation dates back to the 18th century, was the largest venue at this year’s Savannah Book Festival.

Hoffman continued from the pulpit, explaining that she changed her mind about historical fiction when someone told her she should investigate the Triangle Factory fire. The fire “was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001,”  yet know one had heard about it. Hoffman’s research led her to write an opinion piece about the fire that was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, and ultimately became her most recent fictional offering, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice HoffmanInstead of thinking about The Museum of Extraordinary Things as historical fiction, Hoffman said she considered her book a love story. A love story between Coralie, a young girl who knows very little about the world except what she has gleaned from books, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant who becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the factory fire while attempting to shed his family’s expectations and plans for his life. Hoffman said that The Museum of Extraordinary Things was also a love story between her and the city of New York. After 9/11, Hoffman encountered her first bout of writer’s block and feared she might never write again. She found her way back to writing by re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but she truly fell in love again with New York City through her research of the history, people and places in The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

If you’re in the Atlanta area, you have a couple of opportunities to see Alice Hoffman. TONIGHT, Hoffman will be reading from her book and signing copies at FoxTale Book Shoppe. You can learn more about the event here. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

Alice Hoffman will be speaking at SCADAtlanta tomorrow night, Friday, February 21, at 6:00 p.m. The event is open to the public. You’ll pay $10 at the door or get in free if you’re a SCAD student, staff or faculty member. The address is 1600 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30357. A book signing and sales will follow Hoffman’s talk. 

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