Gini Dietrich

The Spin Sucks Inquisition: Christopher Penn

By: Gini Dietrich | October 31, 2014 | 

Gini Dietrich and Christopher PennBy Gini Dietrich

If you don’t already know the name Christopher Penn, I demand that you stop what you’re doing (well, after you read this blog post) and venture off to meet him.

He is, hands down, one of the top five smartest people I know.

But, until about two months ago, he was among the smartest people I was dying to meet.

And then it happened.

I was in Boston for INBOUND and he, Chel Wolverton (whom I adore and will make her debut as an inquisitee soon), Laura Petrolino, and I had dinner together.

He’s not only one of the smartest people I know, he’s that really nerdy, analytical smart that I LOVE (I mean, look how he answers the 10 years question). I could talk to him all day.

He was telling us a story of how his daughter has figured out how to reverse engineer an iPhone passcode so she can break in.

I looked at him and said, “She’s your kid. You really shouldn’t be surprised.”

Super smart, super charming, and lots of fun to be around.

That’s why I asked him to sit on the Spin Sucks Inquisition hot seat.

What is the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made in Your Career?

Believing in certainty.

I believed, with certainty, as a senior in high school that I would go into medicine.

I believed, with certainty, as I entered graduate school that I would be in IT as my career.

I believed, with certainty, that a company I worked for back in 2003 would be where I’d retire.

There is no certainty of any kind.

Learning that lesson has also been incredibly freeing; because everything is uncertain, I’m not as surprised or disappointed when things don’t work out.

It also means that when things are good, you learn to enjoy them, because times will change eventually.

What is One Thing about Yourself that Would Surprise Most People?

Most people, defined as people who are not actual real life friends: I’ve been studying ninjutsu—the martial art of the ancient Japanese warrior families known as the ninja—for more than 20 years.

A lot of people love to throw around the term ninja, but have never set foot in a dojo.

I’ve been training since 1993, got my first degree black belt in 2004, and learn something every time I train.

It’s the foundation of what I consider one of my strengths—the ability to see things differently.

If You Could Achieve Everything You Ever Wanted in Life, but Had to Die 10 Years Sooner, Would You Make that Trade?

It depends.

What are the last 10 years?

If I’m fully competent and healthy, then those 10 years would be a loss.

If I’m not, then sacrificing them might make sense.

You can’t answer that question without more data or more clarity on the assumptions.

What Industry Advice or Practice Would You Most Like to Cry Foul On?

A venture capitalist said this the other day: The benefits of PR are silent and immeasurable. That’s simply untrue. The benefits are measurable. Everything is measurable. The question really is, what is worth measuring?

The other practice?

Mass pitching.

I have a modest little blog that accrues only a few thousand visitors a month.

The pitches I get from other PR professionals are WILDLY off target, and it’s abundantly clear they did nothing other than build a list in the software of their choice, insert a bad template, and hit send to a few thousand folks.

Individual outreach unquestionably takes lots more time and effort, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of identifying influencers, use that information sensibly.

What is the Best Book You’ve Read in the Past Six Months?

Depends on what you define as best.

I read all of Game of Thrones in the last six months, and that was interesting.

In terms of books I’d actively recommend to other people, I just finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, which was worthy and insightful.

Why Does Spin Suck?

Spin doesn’t suck.

How’s that for contrary?

Spin is a tool. Spin is like a hammer, a wine, or a car.

If you use it improperly, if you have no idea what you’re doing, if you’re just doing stuff without understanding why or not caring about the big picture, then you’re going to generate bad results.

You can ruin a very expensive wine by storing it wrong or serving it with the wrong food.

You can sour it fairly easily.

You can drive a car into a wall.

You can hit various parts of your body with a hammer, through neglect or insanity.

Does that mean these things are bad?


You may be bad at them, but they have no inherent value one way or another.

Spin, which I’m defining here as PR for the purposes of changing perception from an obvious surface interpretation, is the same.

You can use it well or poorly, you can use it to change perception of an unethical client to temporarily be an ethical perception, or vice versa.

That said, there are far more cases of bad practitioners using it for nefarious means than there are skillful practitioners who use it well—or you just don’t hear about them, because their efforts just seem to make logical sense.

Where You Can Find Christopher Penn

Unlike the digital marketing ninjas, Christopher Penn is the real deal. But, like the digital marketing ninjas, he can be found almost everywhere online…he just manages his networks better than most.

You can stalk him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr, Instagram, Marketing Over Coffee (his podcast with John Wall), his blog—Awaken Your Superhero, or download his book—Marketing White Belt—on your Kindle.

ALSO! If you are interested in working with him and his team (unless you work with me…then you’re off limits), SHIFT is always looking for people in their San Francisco, Boston, and New York offices. Check out more here.

Photo credit: From my phone…my goal is to get him to smile in just one photo with me sometime in this lifetime.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Great inquisition – nice to “meet” you Chris!

  • HappyGezim

    Haha, “unless you work with me” 🙂

  • Thanks, Gini!

  • I detect a raised mouth-corner. It’s a suggestion of a smile. I can tell!

    Also: I feel like it would take me six months to finish ONE of the Game of Thrones books (that’s why I won’t start them, I’m afraid I won’t read anything else until I finish them, and it’ll take too long)! Aren’t those things huge??

  • Eleanor Pierce They go by fast.

  • cspenn Eleanor Pierce But the real question: Will it ruin the show? I’d hate to watch and become one of those “That’s not how it happened in the book!” people …

  • Welcome to the inquisition. I think you are the first person in the history of this blog to say spin doesn’t suck. I appreciate you giving me a new way to view it!

  • cspenn Thank you for hanging out with us!

  • HappyGezim You never know with these crazy people I work with. I wouldn’t put it past them to say, “But you said SHIFT is hiring in the Inquisition!”

  • Eleanor Pierce I’m trying to get it!

  • Great to meet you Christopher!   We have a lot in common, like you, Gini also considers me one of the top 5…(thousand) smartest people she knows, my rank has undoubtedly slipped since I typed this.   Like you, I have read all of the currently published Game of Throne books; A Game of Thrones,  A Clash of Kings,  A Storm of Swords,  A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons There are two more unpublished books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring to complete the seven and the seven kingdoms.

    I am now designating Laura Petrolino  to “ninja wannbe”  status. 


  • ginidietrich HappyGezim That said, Gini, if you’re ever looking to move on from Arment Dietrich… 😉 #gottatry

  • Digital_DRK Thanks!

  • ClayMorgan I enjoy breaking things 🙂

  • Eleanor Pierce cspenn The show ruins the book, really.

  • Hi Christopher,

    I loved all of your answers, especially about the uncertainty of certainty.

  • cspenn Eleanor Pierce The show doesn’t, and really can’t do the books full justice.  The story lines, imagery and fabric of the books is far too rich and complex to be fully  translated to “screen”  You accepted that and just hope that  the screen adaptation hits the “key notes”, such as “red wedding” or  Danaeyrs flying off on top of  a Dragon.

  • My brain broke, just reading Chris’s Inquisition answers. 😉 Also, I said the same thing for my “..would you die 10 years sooner?” question!! Maybe one day I’ll be as smart as Chris, eh Gini?? LOL

  • Digital_DRK cspenn Eleanor Pierce I’m sure I’ll get to them someday. You know. When I have leisure time. (HA!)

  • I can’t recall just when I started following Chris but I do recall a connection with Westboro, MA? As I began reading his posts and receiving his newsletter I couldn’t help but think his last name was so appropriate as his intelligence reminds me of Penn Station: overwhelming when you first enter, full of information on analytics at the speed of a locomotive, a centralized data brain collection that measures with alacrity and if you follow him through the maze of tunnels he’ll get you directly to destination in digital marketing goals lickety-split. I’m with you in recommending all to get on board the Penn train and buckle your seatbelt.

  • Being able to meet and have dinner with Chris and Chel was definitely one of the key highlights of Inbound. The fact that I “ran” into them among 10,000 people the first day clearly indicates we are all soulmates…. (or at least that’s the theory I’m going with so they will hang out with me more often!)

    And now that I know about your ninja studies Chris I’m going to need to turn my stalking of you up a notch!! How ridiculously interesting! What a great inquisition!!

  • Elephantdrum

    lkpetrolino cspenn SpinSucks Hey,how’s your day going?

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