Happy Christmas (all major credit cards accepted)
12 December 2008
On Mega Monday, the day this week which apparently marks the peak moment in the year for internet sales, I received an email from a fellow author. In chummy tones, he invited all of those in his internet address book to mark the day by going online to purchase his latest book. A link to the relevant page on Amazon was provided. He closed with the usual Christmas good wishes to all his friends.
For the briefest of moments, I was mildly shocked. The author in question – who, since his sales pitch was in a personal email, should remain anonymous – is a rather chipper Englishman, as far from being a vulgar hustler as one could imagine. Yet here he was, promoting his own work to friends in the run-up to Christmas. At first glance, it seemed like an act of wilful desperation.
Then I remembered those personalised, boastful Christmas cards with which the senders mark a religious festival by featuring photographs of their happy family, their pets or perhaps some piece of artwork which they or their children have done. These cards may not be flogging a product quite as openly as the email from my friend, but they are engaged, rather less honestly, in the same business.
When David Cameron’s office sends out his cards this year, the tasteful black-and-white portrait – pictured above – of his family in a relaxed moment is a marketing shot, nothing else. His wife looks pretty, the children look cute, while Cameron, gazing into the eyes of his handicapped child, is the very model of a modern, caring dad.
The truth is that none of us can now afford to be too dismissive of those engaged, for different reasons, in self-promotion. One of the side-effects of these economic times is to remind working adults, whether they are freelance or employed, that they can really only depend on themselves. Suddenly the decent, self-effacing modesty which used to be so admirable is a luxury that few of us can afford.
The economic unit on which we depend can expel us into the cold, or disappear altogether. The ever-reliable source of revenue has had to review priorities, make tough choices.
Once, self-promotion was propelled by a desire for cash or advancement. Now it may just be a matter of survival. Many people, for the first time in years, and perhaps ever, find themselves having to look for work, to make difficult calls, to go out into a chilly, hostile economic environment and sell themselves.
It is no longer enough to assume that one’s expertise or personality will speak for itself. In the short term, those best equipped to survive in the recession may be the pushy and over-confident, but soon we shall all have to play the same game.
The self-employed may be learning the lesson sooner than others. As my writer friend discovered, the internet rewrites the rules of self-promotion.
Those with their own websites are learning how to present online an idealised version of themselves and the work or service they are offering, in a way that is not so dissimilar to that of those sad people who lurk in chat-rooms under false identities.
When people like my friend abandon protocol and, in the face of etiquette and social approval, begin to hustle their products even among friends, something interesting is going on. Reserve is in retreat. Low self-esteem is for wimps. Perhaps, in the end, a more honest and open professional world will emerge from all this. For the moment though, we should get used to the idea that we are each our own little economic unit, whose sales team are going to have to work overtime.
Be careful what you say about Simon Cowell
A small but informative insight into the power wielded by the new generation of celebrities has been provided by the news that some clients of the pop impresario Simon Cowell are legally constrained from criticising him. Lawyers for the man who became famous by being rude to the public on The X Factor have ensured there is no danger of his receiving the same treatment. When signing up to his company, any winner of the talent show is legally bound not to make “unduly negative, critical or derogatory” comments about Cowell or his colleagues.
I rather hope the editor to whom I have just delivered a children’s book has not read this story in the press. She was concerned that one of my characters, Cy Smoothe, the ludicrously vain presenter of a talent show, might just possibly be thought to bear similarities to Cowell. I argued that we live in a grown-up, satirical age and the idea of a famous, powerful person being upset by the innocent laughter of children was quite absurd. Perhaps I was wrong and Cy – I mean, Simon – will sue me for being unduly negative and derogatory.
Another blow to our shopkeepers
The proposed legislation banning the display of any kind of tobacco will be yet another blow against small shopkeepers and in favour of supermarket chains. It is also based on an intellectually peculiar argument. If the display of an item is deemed to be advertising and condoning it, where does that leave pornographic magazines, which will still be visible on shelves? And why is it quite acceptable for my local supermarket to place a large display of alcohol in the part of the shop most visited by teenagers?