How not to publicize your budding career

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Like most journalists, I get a lot of entreaties from public relations people asking me to meet with their clients. Those clients range from CEOs of fast-food companies to chiefs of online matchmaking sites to real estate developers creating jobs in the Middle East. Often, they’ve just written a book. Sometimes, they’re hawking new research. Always, they’re hoping to publicize their work. And occasionally, they’ve done nothing of particular note—which apparently should not stop them from being featured in TIME Magazine.

That appears to be the case with a young man named Ryan Blair. His publicist, Kaitlyn Hoever of B|W|R Public Relations, sent a slew of journalists this breathless e-mail yesterday:

Ryan has a truly amazing story, growing up in a broken home, Ryan went against the odds and started his career as an entrepreneur in 1996, at the age of 19. His first company, 24×7 Tech, was a technical support model that he built into a million dollar business within its first 18 months. Since then, Ryan has started 4 multi-million dollar companies and is currently the CEO of and ViSalus Holdings and the COO of Ryan is very charismatic, and has appeared before millions on both TV and in print publications. He has also delivered over 300 keynote speeches since 2005.

Oddly, the publicist chose not to blind-copy all of us but rather posted all our names within the e-mail. I see colleagues from Businessweek, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal on the list. So I wasn’t surprised when some of the journalists wrote snarky and pissy responses and hit reply all.

One asked how the guy had time to run three businesses while also giving 300 speeches in two years. Another wondered when being a product of divorce became noteworthy resumé material. A third sneered, “Charismatic? We’ll be the judge of that.”

We’ve all heard that to thrive in the 21st-century workplace, we must brand ourselves—that each of us must treat ourselves as products to be promoted, nurtured and sold. But isn’t hiring a publicist at age 31 going a little too far, especially if you don’t really have anything to promote? I don’t blame the poor flack; she’s just trying to get her client what he asked for (although perhaps she should try out the BCC key on her e-mail next time). And Ryan’s career as an entrepreneur sounds promising; he’ll probably go on to run some boffo businesses, at which point he’ll be beating off the press with a bat.

But, friends, here’s our lesson: before you embark on an expensive campaign to publicize your career in the world’s leading news media, make sure you’ve got something to talk about.