Is There Really No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?



Publicity_335x447Illustrated by Emily Kowzan.

You might call J. Maureen Henderson a one-person empire: Other than being a Gen-Y expert, Forbes contributor, and self-described know-it-all, she also founded Secret Agent Research, a creative content marketing training for small business. You can catch her other musings on her blog, Generation Meh.


If you’ve reached a certain point in your career, you’ve likely had the experience of tendering your resignation in order to move on to greener pastures, go back to school, start your own business, take a hiatus to raise a family, etc. How did you break the news to your boss? Did you write a professional-sounding letter mentioning your appreciation for what you learned on the job and the congenial work atmosphere? Did you schedule a meeting with your superior to briefly outline your future plans and to thank him or her for their career support? Or, did you just say “screw it,” use company resources to make a video of yourself dancing around the office while your complaint-heavy resignation letter streamed across the screen? I’m guessing that unless your name is Marina Shifrin, the latter probably wasn’t the option you chose.

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Shifrin recently quit her job at a Taiwanese video production company via a video of herself dancing to a Kanye West song. The video has netted tens of millions of views, landed her coverage on the likes of Mashable and Gawker, TV appearances, and a job offer from Queen Latifah. And, as The Wall Street Journal notes, in an age where Millennials are taught that personal branding and standing out from the pack is possibly the only remaining way to survive and thrive today’s stagnant job market, her choice makes sense.

“That’s the only solution that prior generations of careerists really have to offer to the new kids in the cubes — roll your own. Manage your social network. Advertise yourself. Find ways to stand out and be noticed and generate hype about your skills, your image, your identity — independent of where you work and what you do there. Seen in that light, Shifrin’s flamboyant exit was almost a logical strategic decision based on everything we’re telling and selling the Millennial generation about what they need to get ahead — and an incredibly successful one, at that.”

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While it’s tempting to chalk Shifrin’s viral video success up to a canny career gamble — the job she quit did teach her how to generate buzz-worthy content, after all — there’s something more at play. Increasingly, Milennials are taking the settling of private scores (with a boss, an ex, a company) public. The kind of behavior we’re talking predates Wikileaks, so I’m not inclined to say we’re talking about a generation whose members have simply become overzealous about whistle-blowing. For example, there’s worlds of difference between Dr. Danielle Lee taking to YouTube to publicize a Biology Online editor calling her an “urban whore” for turning down unpaid freelance work and model Piper Kennedy publicly posting a video she received from a barista suitor and having mocking parodies become plentiful enough to warrant coverage on Gawker. Why address a sensitive issue offline, when you can do it online and garner virtual plaudits in the process? And, if any chastisement or tut-tutting from the oldsters you receive is drowned out by companies clamoring to capitalize on your 15 minutes of internet fame by offering you your next opportunity, what exactly is your impetus to stay silent?

Recently, I’ve developed quite a fondness for Louis CK. Not only does his comedy remind me of someone close to me, but he rightly garners a good deal of credit for trenchant observations on the human condition. His recent wildly popular rant on Conan about why he won’t let his daughters have cell phones sheds light on the type of behavior digital one-to-many communication is both born from and continues to foster. When CK talks about the lack of in-person fallout and guilt-induced empathy if kids text cruel comments to each other vs. spitting them out face-to-face, he’s also saying that public responses to private circumstances absolve us of the need to care about or get better at difficult personal exchanges. Telling your boss you feel overworked and under-appreciated is difficult, telling someone you aren’t interested in going on a date is awkward and for a generation (and their parents) who considered failure a fate worth than death and who spent their formative years being buffered from its unpalatable realities, it makes perfect sense to shy away from these situations. If you can skip that interpersonal unpleasantness and burnish your own personal brand in the process, well, professional etiquette’s loss is YouTube’s gain. It may be an emotionally stunted approach, but it’s an exceedingly socially savvy one. Just ask Marina Shifrin.

This post originally appeared on Forbes’ The Ground Floor.