By Rosemarie Yu
To paraphrase Carrie Fisher, if you have the chance to get The Wall Street Journal to publish an inflammatory excerpt from your recently published book, yielding thousands of comments and more than a few death threats - DO IT!
The hue and cry over Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's extreme parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom(Penguin Press, January 2011), has run the gamut - from American mothers defending their "Indigo Child" parenting methods to economists wagging their fingers at a generation of lazy American kids unprepared to compete with a Chinese workforce armed with the discipline to practice the piano for three to four hours daily.
As an Asian American parent, I can't stay away from this dialogue and won't stop reading everything I see on the subject. As a communications professional, I know when I'm being manipulated and have held out for a good two months on purchasing a copy of this book that I've been dying to read.
Which brings me to my point - that Amy Chua's book is selling millions, and Tiger Mom isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I'm wondering what next - Memoirs of a Tiger Cub? Why Confucianism Kicks the Socratic Method's Ass for Teaching Law School? Regardless, someone is definitely doing their job.
So, after finally breaking down and placing my order from Barnes & Noble, I put together this list of take-aways from the truly superior communications strategy of the Tiger Mom:
1. Choose a controversial topic that everyone has an opinion on. And if it's chock full of other simmering issues such as fear of China's emerging power, the "model minority" stereotype and - the most universally sacred of all cows - parenting techniques, so much the better. I know what you're thinking - you're selling widgets, and they're not that sexy. Well pull the telescope back on those widgets and see what you come up. Are these widgets made in China? Do these widget-makers have mothers? You get the drift. Be creative.
2. Once you've hit upon this highly controversial topic, go even further by taking an extreme position. The Wall Street Journal blasted in huge font that Chinese mothers are "SUPERIOR." Okay, so the death threats were a bit much and Ms. Chua ended up having to backpedal on that position. But that didn't hurt book sale none, and the backpedaling, in the end, only extended the dialogue further.
3. Launch this extreme position via an exclusive in as high-profile an outlet as possible - but choose with care. Why The Wall Street Journal, a business paper, to launch a book about parenting? Well, aside from the demographic of the readership (more affluent parents are likely to be more involved), it's the perfect place to rile up those deep-seated business fears about China's potential to overtake the US. (And who thought a 7-year-old pianist could be that scary?
4. Use social media to engage your audience in a robust two-way dialogue. The original WSJ article alone has almost 8,000 comments to date. It has been "liked" by 349,000 Facebook users. That's not even beginning to count the number of blog posts, Tweets and other ways in which Amy Chua has been propelled through the digital world. She's "gone viral" without even having to shoot a music video, so imagine if she did?
5. Hang on to that 16th minute just as long as you can. That means get out there and shill, Baby, shill! Don't go resting on the laurels of having created some juicy controversy and few reviews. Do the morning news shows, talk to The New York Times, and get one of your daughters to write a Stockholm Syndrome evoking article defending you, further fueling the controversy.
6. Leverage your new-found fame into high-profile speaking gigs - Because, really, you ain't nobody 'til you've debated Larry Summers - formerly president of Harvard, Obama's economic advisor and Treasury secretary - at the World Economic Forum in Davos - the Carnegie Hall of speaking venues. Is this shooting too high? Apparently not for a Chinese Mother.
To sum up, wherever your communications plan happens to take you, remember to keep your eye on the prize. If you're here to sell books, sell books! I don't mean to reduce serious issues such as suicide among Asian teens and America's trade imbalance with China down to a simple Amazon ranking (which, by the way, was as high as 4 and is right now hovering around 16). But we have a goal here, and the dialogue, although interesting, must always have that underlying purpose in mind. Because, at the end of the day, if you can convince millions of people that your product, service or program is superior to everyone else's, DO IT!
Rosemarie Yu is principal of Rosemarie Yu, LLC, a communications consultancy specializing in professional services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.