Booty from l’affaire Lefevre a ‘Liar’s Jackpot’

In today’s edition, The New York Times weighed in on l’affaire John Lefevre, taking a significant swat at the self-proclaimed fly on the walls of Wall Street’s most admired or reviled elevators. As reported here in All that Twitters is not Goldman, Lefevre was outed earlier this week as the author of Twitter’s GS Elevator Gossip, @GSElevator, which chronicles “things heard in Goldman Sachs elevators.”

GS Elevator Gossip Profile (GSElevator) on TwitterDeclaring Mr. Lefevre’s lucrative six-figure book contract a “Liar’s Jackpot,” The Grey Lady’s Editorial Board likened the booty from Mr. Lefevre’s fictitious tweets “about the tasteless, boorish, smug and reliably funny things he overhears from rich bankers” to The Wolf of Wall Street, which it described as the “most debauched – and highest grossing – movie of Martin Scorsese’s career.”

Sparing no question of approval, the Board concluded: “Who needs truth when there’s a cultural moment to cash in on?”

Since Tuesday, media coverage of Mr. Lefevre and @GSElevator helped attract 9,000 new Twitter followers. Otherwise it remains to be seen how this new twist affects him, Simon & Schuster and other interested parties.

But there is no doubt that there are lessons to be learned for communications professionals who counsel clients, companies and individual executives on how to build and protect their reputations.

Interestingly, Mr. Lefevre’s book, titled Straight to Hell: True and Glorious Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals will be labeled nonfiction, The Times reports.

What do you think?


All that Twitters is not Goldman

After sending more than 1,100 tweets and entertaining over 630,000 followers, it turns out the author of GS Elevator Gossip, who chronicles “things heard in Goldman Sachs elevators,” is not a Goldman Sachs employee and has probably spent little time in that company’s lifts since the @GSElevator handle debuted on Twitter in 2011.

The self-proclaimed fly on the walls of Wall Street’s most admired or reviled elevators is John Lefevre, a 34-year-old bond executive in Texas, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times. Lefevre’s inspiration for @GSElevator was a similar Twitter account, @CondeElevator, which featured bon mots from the staff of Condé Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair, Vogue and other glossies. The Goldman name apparently was chosen for its brand recognition on both Main Street and Wall Street.

On one hand, Mr. Lefevre’s response to his outing showed deft PR instincts: a proactive, accountable message, reinforced by an executive at a venerable publishing house.

Despite crafting an alter-ego and distancing himself from it for over three years, Mr. Lefevre preempted questions and much criticism by matter-of-factly confirming he never worked at Goldman. He pointed out that “he deliberately never said in any of his tweets that he worked for the firm.”

Reinforcing his position, the editor who paid a “six-figure sum” for Mr. Lefevre to write a book about Wall Street culture inspired by @GSElevator, said he and his publishing company were not misled by Mr. Lefevre. “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise,” the book editor, Matthew Benjamin of Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint, told The Times.

@GSElevator's 9/23/14 tweet: "Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable."

Still, one wonders whether Mr. Lefevre could have tweeted his way to such heights without the Goldman reference – particularly if the true intent was to lampoon Wall Street’s overall culture instead of one specific firm’s foibles. When you think about it, is “Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable” more or less retweetable because it’s ascribed to Goldman Sachs?

Time will tell whether Mr. Lefevre’s reputation ascends or crashes to earth based on this revelation. The whole affair might even be a candidate for the PR Verdict’s “There’s No ‘There’ There” award one future Friday. What remains relevant, however, to communications professionals is an observation Mr. Sorkin made in his original column:

“The ability of people like Mr. Lefevre to create anonymous Twitter accounts underscores concerns about the veracity of what is published and the identity of authors. It also raises questions about whether publishers are blurring the line between real life and the made-up kind.”

In the best of circumstances, transmitting messages and managing reputations is as much art as science. But as communications channels evolve, attention spans shrink and traditional media outlets compete for audiences, communications pros may need the compound eyes of flies to protect their clients, executives and reputations – and avoid unnecessary skirmishes.

What do you think?


Life in the cloud

Conversation CloudIn a world increasingly influenced by social media — the 21st century equivalent of the elusive perpetual motion machine — connected people face a continuous barrage of comments, observations, images and opinions.

Tweets, LinkedIn updates, Facebook postings, text messages, old-fashioned e-mails, web sites, Google searches and numerous other sources of information in the ether that us 30- and 40-somethings haven’t yet discovered from the young ‘uns. There is no shortage of stimulation to shape (cloud?) our interpretations of modern life.

Without question, there are benefits to having this smorgasbord of content at our fingertips — and the immediacy is incredibly gratifying.

We no longer have to guess whether some famous person is dead or alive (a friend’s 1991 idea of “1-800-Who-Dead?” seems amazingly anachronistic today), which athlete was the “best” in her sport by various statistical measures, whether Donna Summer or Patti LaBelle was the bigger disco diva in 1977. Each of us can be an expert in the moment!

Yet, the stakes increase as we collectively shift to broadcasting our own content through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others, commenting on other people’s posts and engaging in very public conversations instead of simply pulling information from vast databases in the cloud — Wikipedia, IMDB, journalistic sites.

Perhaps better informed, those clouded conversations about dead celebrities, sports stars and disco divas are no longer private. Indeed, the interactions represent an endless trail of bread crumbs that potentially misrepresent who we truly are, making social media a very real threat to our reputations.

Consider: A friend asks you in a crowded bar to “Name a city in Washington that does not have an ‘e.'” Without giving it much thought, you quickly answer “Portland,” mistaking the state for Oregon or Maine. (Never mind that it is an odd question for a friend to ask in a crowded bar, but it’s especially common for friends to ask this of one another on Facebook.) Besides an immediate laugh, the mistake in this context follows you only to the extent that your friend chooses to remind you of your gaffe.

But online, that otherwise innocent error exists in perpetuity for anyone to see. And, when combined with other similarly innocuous examples or, worse, comments that border bad taste or seemingly “inside” jokes that lack the proper context or an accompanying wink, these online interactions potentially present an unflattering picture that follows — or precedes — you with friends and family, as well as prospective customers, clients and employers.

So, how can you live in the cloud without clouding your judgement?

First, remove your finger from the hair-trigger. Some sites allow users to delete their comments and posts, but people still see them and they can always be retrieved. Better to avoid trouble all together by pre-empting the problem.

Second, keep your feet on the ground even if your head is in the clouds. Just as one should never respond immediately to an annoying e-mail, be deliberate about what you say when you tweet, post or check in. Consider this the social media’s “measure twice, cut once.”

Third, reread your post before clicking tweet, share, post or send, and make sure you’ve said what you mean and that you mean what you say. Being first to say something or the most clever poster in your posse is meaningless if it’s not authentic and reflective of the true you.

A paradox of life in the cloud is that most of us live on the ground. As a result, it’s important to remember that our physical and online lives intersect eventually.

The goal for social media should be to create an online identity that complements the real-world you, so that friends, business prospects and other people you meet in the cloud recognize you when you cross paths on the ground.

What do you think? Continue the conversation….


Oh say can you sing

Did she? Or didn’t she? That was the question.

“Much ado about nothing,” wrote the folks at The PR Verdict, rightly declaring Beyoncé Knowles’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the presidential inauguration a non-event and conferring a “There’s no ‘There’ There” PR Award on the “scandal.”

After all, lip-syncing, faux-fingering and their musical equivalents are practically de rigueur nowadays when real-world conditions make truly live performances inconvenient.

Miss Whitney Houston herself, who set the bar so high with her standard-setting rendition of the sporting-event standard, sang live to a dead microphone while her pre-recorded version of the national anthem was broadcast across the globe. And, at President Obama’s 2008 inauguration, classically trained cellist Yo-Yo Ma deliberately decided to do the symphonic synonym for his inaugural performance in sub-freezing weather to preempt sprung strings, cracked instruments or intonation problems with the musicians accompanying him.

Still, tongues wagged about Beyoncé’s inaugural performance. “Was it live or was it Memorex,” Milli or Vanilli?, people pondered. Until the week before the Super Bowl, that is, when Beyoncé disabused her detractors by tackling the anthem a capella during a press conference to promote her upcoming half-time performance.

Both performances — the impromptu star-spangled singing and her subsequent Super Bowl show — dazzled, leaving no doubt that the lady, she can sing.

But what allows Beyoncé, Whitney Houston and Yo-Yo Ma to perform another day while Milli and Vanilli vanished into the vapor?

One of the attractions of live events is the unexpected, and the tension and drama that unfolds as all-too-human things happen to people who are too-often labeled superhuman.

To turn R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry’s phrase, everybody stumbles sometimes. So fans are more forgiving when otherwise reliable performers like Beyoncé and Mr. Ma do less than their best.

With that in mind, the lesson for mere-mortals is to remain true to yourselves. Stick to the things that make you, you.

If you’re naturally confident, street smart and can take care of yourself — like Beyoncé — trust your instincts, and diligently and diplomatically defend the true you. Just contain that confidence to avoid crossing a fine line and becoming cocky.

If your talent is unquestioned and you want to ward off performance demons — like Mr. Ma — dutifully disclose your decision without being unnecessarily apologetic or falling on your, er, bow.

Be self aware. Act quickly. Ask for feedback from a (brutally) honest friend if you fear you misstepped. Explain — don’t excuse — your actions and apologize if you’re remotely wrong. Respond simply and honestly.

As Watergate and numerous events since have proven, the cover up is always worse than the lie. A timely “I’m sorry” can easily and effectively build trust, allowing you and the people you lead to look ahead and focus on other, more important things.

What do you think? Continue the conversation….


Sex, lies and snide asides

In Our Hard Drives, Ourselves, Frank Bruni of The New York Times examines the misguided perception of “privacy” as a cause of the recent David Petraeus and Anthony Weiner scandals. But he makes an interesting observation that is incredibly relevant to all people who “live” online in any way — and reveals how easy it is to mismanage one’s reputation.

“Anyone who sees nothing of himself or herself in the digital heedlessness of Petraeus or Weiner is focusing too narrowly on the sex.

“Be honest: when’s the last time you tossed off a snide aside about a colleague or a secret about a friend in an e-mail whose retrieval would cause you not just embarrassment but actual trouble? A week ago? An hour ago?

“You did it despite all the instances when you or someone you knew had mistyped the address at the top of an e-mail — such an easy error, given the way our precocious devices assume our thoughts and finish them for us — and the message had landed where it wasn’t supposed to.

“You did it despite the knowledge that an employer with no compunction about intrusion could be spying.

“And you did it because that glowing and treacherous screen in front of you is somehow the greenest light of all, persuading you that you’re alone with your malice, your mischief, your game of pretend. After all, how could a communion so faceless prompt a brutal unmasking?”

This rang true for me. Does it resonate to you? Continue the conversation….