Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Media Make-over #1 Malcolm Gladwell: Tipped: Bad Hair, Bad Branding

When I see Malcolm Gladwell all I can think about is his bad hair. I know he's come up with thought provoking concepts. But all those go out the window in a haze of hair.

Several clients have written or called me mystified. "The books 'Blink' and 'The Tipping Point' were so fascinating, but then I heard Gladwell speak...."

Oops. Incongruity. Gladwell's ideas and stories are solid to a point, but his oral delivery is about as interesting as watching a leaf grow.

The errant hair and dull stories he tells don't match the cutting edge nature of the information Gladwell uncovers for his books. When you add up these inconsistencies they equal bad branding.

If I were to media coach Malcolm Gladwell to develop a consistent brand I'd focus on three things.

1. Tighten the Stories.
Most of us have finished your book so we don't want you to rehash the stories we've just read. If you have to tell us those stories, give us the haiku version please. I know you've got more stories in you and I'd like to hear them--if you deliver them with a tone that hints at your enthusiasm. Trim off all those inessential details and get to the meat of the matter--in 30 seconds or less. Imagine that your New Yorker editor is a little angel sitting on your shoulder during your media appearances. He would never let you get away with writing the way you speak. Edit, edit, edit.

2. Give Us the Insider's View.
Tell us about your process. Take us behind the scenes. How did you get your stories? Who were the runners up? The ones who didn't make it in your book, but were the "almosts." Give us a taste of your life. We want to know.

3. Lose the Hair.
All of it. Shave it all off. You have lovely eyes. Show them off. A little goatee might be nice to give some angularity to your face. You might think the long hair is rad, but it doesn't suit you. Face it, you're a good boy. It's not for you. Let your brilliance shine through those eyes. And perk up a bit, would you?

Post your requests for the next media make-over. What expert, author, celebrity or star should I attend to and why?


Blogger Isabel Parlett said...

I have to disagree.

I saw Gladwell speak at a book conference taped and shown on PBS. I was riveted, not by his style, but by how brilliantly his mind put ideas together. Yes, the stories were what shows up in the book, but since Blink wasn't out yet it was all new to me. To me, his work isn't about his personality, it's about his mind. I would be worried that a more showy style would actually blur the incredible intelligence of what he says.

Also, his hair. He actually has a wonderful story about his hair. For Tipping Point, he had short cropped hair. He is part African-American, and when he grew his hair out into the afro, he started getting pulled over more by the police. And that, in part, was the inspiration for the book Blink, realizing that changing one thing about himself changed the immediate impressions that people had of him.

I feel like his hair is now his trademark -- you can't easily mistake him for anyone else.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Susan Harrow said...

I'm not talking about style or intelligence. Of course he's brilliant. I'm talking about content and delivery and giving a consistent, cohesive message.

When you write a book, and go on tour, you can't assume that audiences haven't read your book. Your stories have to stand up as interesting and original in their own right. His mind is fine. It's his stories that suffer. And his hair is a distraction not an asset.

I heard that story too about being African American. So what? Getting pulled over by cops doesn't improve your brand. It may be a trademark, but it's a bad one. And I don't think it makes him memorable--just sloppy looking.

9:54 AM  
Blogger casey said...

I completely disagree.

Hair-wise that is.

I'm pretty new to the whole Gladwell phenomenon, so I haven't read any of his books or heard him speak. Yet.

But the man's hair is awesome. Period. I think he looks a lot better than he did before, with the cropped hair. I love how his Afro accentuates his part Jamaican heritage. And it doesn't look wild at all! I've seen pictures of him recently, and for the texture hair that he has, he's managed to keep his hair well-maintained. Like the comment above said, the hair is definitely his trademark.

And Gladwell with a goatee??? What??? He's light-skinned! Usually light-skinned black people don't do the goatee. It just doesn't work well for them. All and all, he looks fine the way he does. Although he could use a little more style to go with his Afro, he's a writer, not some Page Six celebrity. I'd tell him to keep up the good work.

Who you should do a make-over on is definitely Donald Trump. For a man with so much money, I know he can afford a better toupee...

5:36 PM  

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