I’m fairly certain I’m not allowed to talk about how I met Benson Hendrix (Fight Club), but I will tell you it was in a private Facebook group.
I just can’t tell you the name (Fight Club) or the reason we were both there (Fight Club).
Neither here nor there, upon meeting him and getting to know him, I knew we’d be lifelong friends.
Despite the fact that he lives in Albuquerque (oh, who am I kidding? I love that city…and the food…oh the food!), he is one of the kindest, gentlest teddy bears of a man I know.
Because I’m fairly certain he would hate to be described that way, I will tell you, instead, that he has been called everything from a “social media zen warrior” to the “‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper of Public Relations,” and a “behind the scenes powerbroker,” to “the loudmouth PR love child of Henry Rollins and Anthony Bourdain.”
Let’s just say no one has ever described me so colorfully. Ever.
He is one of the good guys in PR, which is why I’ve asked him to sit on the Spin Sucks Inquisition hot seat.
What is the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made in Your Career?
Wow, this is a hard one. I think it’s not recognizing when I need to cut my losses when I’m trying to make a point, or convince someone of a certain strategy for a situation.
To paraphrase from the movie “A Knight’s Tale,” I tend to tilt into situations that it might be better for me to withdraw from.
I’ve been gifted with the ability to think strategically and see a few steps ahead.
However, I also have a tendency to be hard-headed, especially when I think I’m right.
What can I say?
I was on the debate team in high school, and arguing is in my blood.
This has definitely been one of my weaknesses, especially in an industry and a career field where nuance and networking are so important. It’s a work in progress.
I’m thankful for what I’ve learned from the career opportunities I’ve had so far, and I hope there are more on the horizon, but as I grow into my career I realize there is always room for me to learn and grow as a creative and as a professional.
What is One Thing about Yourself that Would Surprise Most People?
I was never supposed to be a PR pro.
I was destined to be “El Bastardo” the great luchador from the North… or a race car driver. (Or a race car driving luchador, I was trying to work that out.)
And except for my glaring lack of physical prowess I might have been able to do it, too!
You’re not buying it, are you? OK, OK.
Seriously though, despite all of my humor and snark and sarcasm, I used to be really shy.
It’s strange for a job in public relations or social media, and it’s taken me a while to get comfortable in my skin, and with the idea that I can contribute to our ongoing global discussion, or even a cogent discussion, of public relations and business strategy.
I’m still a bit shy, it’s a work in progress. It’s funny, because once I get to know someone I really open up and let my personality really shine.
Then you can’t shut me up.
One of my friends called me the Rowdy Roddy Piper of public relations, full of humor, snark, and sarcasm once we’ve moved past the shyness, and gotten to the point of chewing bubblegum and kicking butt.
I’ve been working hard to build up my confidence and let that side show more.
If You Could Achieve Everything You Ever Wanted in Life, but Had to Die 10 Years Sooner, Would You Make that Trade?
Now, if I said that what I really wanted in life was to live forever at the age of 25, would that count and get me out of the dying 10 years sooner part of the agreement? (I’m always looking for the angles…)
This is the question out of this list that has vexed me the most.
If you had asked me this question 15 years ago, I’d say “Sure, you can take those last 10 years of my life if I got the fortune and glory I believe I deserve.”
That was 15 years ago, however.
I do want start my own company, travel the world speaking, consulting, and sharing my knowledge with others, and play rugby again. And maybe they will eventually come to pass.
But when I look around at my life now, I realize I have so many of those things that truly matter most to me—a wonderful wife to share my life with, friends and family that I care about and whose company I truly enjoy, and finally starting to feel confident enough to live my life.
While I can’t predict the future, I don’t think I’d want to lose 10 years of sunsets with my wife and evenings spent with my friends.
What Industry Advice or Practice Would You Most Like to Cry Foul On?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose from.
I think I’d like to call out our inability to talk about PR’s “bad practices.”
We love to talk about best practices, but we’re loathe to discuss the more questionable things that some PR “pros” do.
Whether it’s astroturfing campaigns, or violating FTC regs when we pay social media “influencers,” there are some questionable practices that are done because “it’s what the client wants,” or “the ends justify the means,” or “because I can and no one will stop me.”
Public relations professionals already have a really bad reputation. That we’re somehow just unethical hired guns who will come in and tell the media whatever lie we’re fed.
We’ve let ourselves be defined by those “professionals” who are the worst representations of our industry. And I think we’ve allowed this to happen for too long, and someone needs to take a stand—be it PRSA, IABC, or EIEIO-PDQ-WTF—or just ourselves as ethical professionals.
I know so many wonderful PR pros around the country—people who do their jobs ethically advocating for their clients or their companies, and educators who want to teach their students to be the best professionals possible, and I hate to see their work put down by people who just call them “spin doctors.”
We don’t have to be jerks about it, I understand these are still our peers and we don’t want to attack them. But some of the best case studies and cautionary tales for our industry have come from these situations.
Addressing these problems are how we can better prepare the next generation of professionals.
It’s playing the long game, all nine innings, to see our profession improve for the future.
What is the Best Book You’ve Read in the Past Six Months?
(Do audiobooks count? Nevermind…)
Well, I read this little book, you might have heard of it, “Marketing in the Round,” by Geoff Livingston and someone else… oh yeah! The head honcho of…
*wait for it while I get my Michael Buffer voice ready*
“One of the top rated PR blogs in the Wooooooooooorld!” Gini Dietrich!
At the end of every year I also re-read Donny Deutsch’s book, “Often Wrong, Never in Doubt.”
It’s kind of a ritual for me to help get my focus back for the new year.
I’ve always respected how Deutsch has been a maverick throughout his career, and wished I could be more like him.
I’m also a politics junkie, and I just finished the audiobook version of “Double Down,” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
It’s a fascinating look at the candidates and the main players in the 2012 primary and general presidential elections.
On the fiction front, I really liked reading my friend Will Reichard’s first book, “This Album Full of Angles.”
Merging contemporary life in Ireland with old Irish mythology, and creating a lush comparison of how religion moved into, and overtook, Celtic religion, partly through the eyes of one of the old Celtic gods living in Belfast, on the dole.
Why Does Spin Suck?
Spin sucks because it’s fundamentally dishonest, and usually done from the belief of “I’m special. I can lie and no one will ever catch on.”
(Plus, it almost never works—just ask how it worked out for BP… er, Anthony Weiner… um, Bill Clinton… OK, you get my drift.)
More often than not, people are going to eventually find out the truth, and your organization’s (or your own) credibility has been damaged. People are willing to let a lot of things slide, but when you lie to them, you’ve broken their trust in you.
I’m a fan of the “marketplace of ideas,” when we vigorously debate and advocate for ideas (education, health care, elections, which brand of soda you like the best). And part of our role as public advocates, which is what I believe our role in PR should be, is to influence people’s opinion.
I think we can do that without having to resort to lies, obfuscation or “spin.”
We have the ability to advocate for our clients, sure we’re supporting one side of a debate, but it’s never our role to deceive others.
If we do that, we may win the argument, but we turn ourselves into carnival barkers and snake oil ninjas… I mean, salespeople.
Where You Can Find Benson Hendrix
Benson, like a good PR pro, can be found pretty much everywhere online (and you can meet BensonDog, his sweet dog who was adopted from Fur and Feather Animal Assistance in Pie Town, N.M.).
If that’s not enough, his brief, crowning achievement in photography, was being picked up as part of the Time Magazine 2008 Person of the Year.
So there you have it. Drop a comment and say hello to our friend, Benson!