Friday, January 30, 2009

Michael Arrington and the price of Fame

Success - and subsequent fame - always comes at a price. Little children are taught this through fairy tales, we see it in our society's craving for celebrities and how they are hounded and stalked, and we even see it in our business leaders who fly private jets and get vilified for it.

Very successful business people sometimes learn it the hard way. Like my friend who ran a multi-billion dollar telecom company and had his house ransacked by a disgruntled shareholder, or my girlfriend who was a dot com CEO with out-of-sight press coverage and found she couldn't date because she had too many bad experiences of creeps (who appeared OK at first) dating her for her fame.

Now Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is learning it and doesn't like it (see Alley Insider's story). He doesn't like it enough that he may quit. He won't be the first to step away and say "I don't want to live with fame" and it is a very unfortunate that he has had the unpleasant experiences of being stalked and being spat at.

But at the same time if you live by the sword you must be prepared to die by the sword (corny I know - from Matthew 26:52). Many bloggers make their name through sensationalism. Look at the spectacular success of the Huffington Post (full disclosure here - I have nothing but admiration for Arianna and the media phenomenon she has created) - but HuffPo's headlines are sensational and drive their enviable traffic. Likewise Techcrunch, ValleyWag et al have grown their traffic by not only providing interesting coverage of new and breaking technologies or scandal stories, they have also used individual personalities to grow the brand - and Mike Arrington drove the creation of the TechCrunch using the force of his personality.

I don't judge. As a CEO I know when to use persona to create coverage and open doors; I know when to use my personality or press-ability to further my business objectives. But I am also very aware of the personal stress doing that can create over time and how much animosity from strangers can hurt. And I recommend anyone who isn't willing to live with the price of celebrity chose a different line of work than being a personality blogger (or a CEO!) because blogging is one of the new forms of celebrity - with all the downside that comes with the upside.

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