Single Dad Laughing. There, I typed it. Wasn't so hard after all.
In the last few weeks, I've heard rumblings about a big, Year Of The Dadblogging Gang Wars trend piece in the works which, well, with SDL and Dan Pearce at the center, I've kept my head down and my mouth shut. I've got 99 problems, but being unable to resist the urge to wade into a dadblog media scrum with an transparently desperate attention junkie on the off chance of getting quoted in the NY Times ain't one.
But now it's interesting, though, because Pearce is apparently trying to get ahead of the story now, in part via a long, "Don't hate me because I'm more famous than you, can't I be your famous friend, and I'll teach you about my fame" post on Babble [of course], billed as "AN INVITATION TO PARENT BLOGGERS TO DISCUSS A FEW CONTROVERSIAL BLOGGING DYNAMICS," such as, presumably, the ones he's heard people have been complaining to the Times about:
To listen to many parent bloggers, you would believe that Single Dad Laughing is an incredible, beautifully-written, honest, and well-intentioned blog. To listen to others, you would believe that SDL is a poorly-written, dishonest, self-aggrandizing, and even fraudulent blog. Being that such "discussion" has now spilled onto the pages of Babble, I thought I would respond and share my thoughts about these dynamics here where we hopefully can have a productive discussion about it.Enough about me. Let's talk about parentblogging in general. And what I mean to it.
Pearce, who started SDL in 2010, seems to think that criticism of him, his blogging, and his marketing has nothing to do with doubts about his style, his content, his facts, or his tactics. it's all only and ever jealousy over his renegade success. And he knows this because it's all happened before. When he was selling therapeutic mattresses.
I'll admit, the "Renowned Blogger Rescued From Mountaintop" press release was as pure a piece of WTF as I've ever seen in my twelve years of blogging. And I'll get to that. But it was Pearce's Parable Of The One Wise And The Twelve Foolish $9500 Mattress Salesmen that finally pulled me off the bench. So let's take a closer look at what the therapeutic mattress business can really teach us about Single Dad Laughing's amazing success.
To get the full flavor of Pearce's Important Life Lesson, you should read the whole long, drawn out, self-absorbed thing. The TL;DR is, with blogging as with mattresses, he's always been baffled at the jealousy engendered by his awesome marketing genius and the success it brings, even after he's selflessly tried to lift people up onto his exalted level. Here's a condensed account:
We sold specialty beds that sold for anywhere between $999 and $9500. I bought the store in August of 2008.And that's when he discovered blogging, which was not about money or marketing at all. Pearce said, "It was my escape from the reality of my broken life."
At the time I bought my store, the parent company was selling all 13 of its stores to individual owners. Most of the new owners started out fairly well. By the end of 2008, only half of us were still in business. By mid 2009, mine was the only store left standing.
The whole country was going down in flames, it seemed.
But for some reason, my store always did great, even throughout the economic downfall.
I remember there grew some resentment from [the other store owners] for my marketing techniques and strategies. While everyone else was pulling back, I was spending more...I would go guerilla [sic] [with a "billboard on the freeway" and "army of teenagers I would hire every weekend to wave signs."]
I promised to give them all my secrets for my success thus far, and told them I'd be happy to help them train their staff and help get their marketing in the right place, free of charge.
The owners congregated, and they learned everything I could teach them in the course of a day. They got excited...ill-feelings quickly disappeared. Surely...we could all work together to bring a great name to this product we were all peddling.
Interestingly...they openly admitted that I hadn't done anything wrong in what I'd done to make my store successful. I never apologized for anything I had done, as there really was nothing wrong with it.
Toward the end of 2009, I pulled the plug on my own store, having had a fun and profitable ride. Corporate was selling the manufacturing to another company who had their eyes fixed on national distribution.
I then worked in corporate marketing as an executive for the next year and a half.
Broken? It's a hint that the aw shucks, upbeat lesson Pearce just taught is not, perhaps, the full story. And though his blog name, Single Dad, already carries in it a whole lifetime of break, Pearce doesn't bring it up, so I won't either. Except to say that more than once I've read SDL, winced, and then shrugged; if a dadblogging superhero alter ego is what he needs to get through his day, who am I to complain?
More importantly right now, though, how does this help me turn my website into the Last Mattress Store Standing of dadblogs?
A quick Google search of "therapeutic mattress" turned up a store with a "manager" named Dan Pearce, Intelli-Bed in West Jordan, Utah, a Salt Lake Valley suburb just around the Point of The Mountain, and past the prison--and the Ikea--from Pearce's Utah Valley hometown of Alpine. The address showed it to be in Jordan's Landing, a strip mall/shopping complex along the highway. Was Pearce's "guerrilla" marketing "highway billboard" more than the store's own signage?
There are also Internet listings for the store as My Comfort Intellibed and finally, going by the dates of these CitySearch reviews, My Comfort.
THE JUDGE SAID
Here is a 2006 announcement for nation-wide Intelli-Bed franchisees by the Advanced Comfort Technologies, Inc. They had 22 stores, most in Utah, and were looking to open "an additional 18-24 stores" a year. ACTI was the "exclusive manufacturer and distributor" with the consumer sleep solutions license for Intelli-Gel, a patented honeycomb-pattern, gel column technology that's been used in hospitals and golf bag straps and Dr. Scholl's insoles for years.
Intelli-Gel was invented by the Utah-based company, EdiZONE, L.C. Prior to developing the IntelliBed products, [ACTI President and co-founder Bob] Rasmussen worked for EdiZONE. At EdiZONE, he helped develop the material and set up marketing and manufacturing relationships for the company.That was 2006.
Here is a PDF of a press release, dated Dec. 11, 2008, four months after Pearce says he bought his Intelli-Bed store, from Intelli-Bed and ACTI, declaring victory in their "bitter 3 year battle" with EdiZONE, My Comfort Stores, and Sunshine Manufacturing, in which the Utah State Court confirmed "ACTI's exclusive rights to sell Intelli-Gel® consumer mattresses." [their underline], and found that EdiZONE et al had "tortuously interfered with ACTI's business, engaged in false advertising, engaged in unlawful business practices,
[and] interfered with ACTI's economic well being."
The companies ACTI had sued were "all owned by Tony and Terry Pearce, collectively of Alpine, Utah." Based on comments Dan left on the family blog they kept during their 2010-2011 stint as senior missionaries for the LDS Church, Terry is Dan's dad, and Tony is his uncle.
I haven't pulled the court documents yet, but the judge's ruling seems to say that the Pearce family violated an agreement with a former employee-turned-partner, and started making and selling their own Intelli-Gel mattresses, competing with their licensee on a store-to-store basis. From the timeline Dan Pearce puts forward, his store was at the center of the battle. If his bitter brotherhood of My Comfort survivors were still angry with him, maybe it was regret for choosing the wrong side in the lawsuit. Or maybe they had felt that as the son of the owners, Pearce's "franchise" was being unfairly favored by the parent company.
ITEMS IN BLOG ARE LESS ACCURATE THAN THEY APPEAR
It'd take more digging to find out what "really" happened, assuming you could, and I deeply don't care. My point is, these fragments of information, found online within literally 30 minutes of Googling, tell a far different story from Pearce's Babble version. I put them out here as markers for gauging how much gets left out, how far afield from facts Pearce strays in his self-promoting pablum.
And it's worth noting that he's not sharing the lessons learned from past failures here, the kind of 'pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again' tales that serial entrepreneurs love to tell. This is his sales pitch for himself, his patented Guerilla Secrets of Success. If he's convinced himself of this kind of Happy Valley, self-help, fantasist delusion, it's a bummer. If anyone else actually falls for this bullshit and ends up basing their own real-life decisions on it, they are huge chumps.
ALSO, GEL MATTRESSES SOUND LIKE A GIANT SCAM
Let Dan's Other Lessons Of The $9500 Mattress sink in first. Read the customer reviews on CitySearch for that My Comfort store: they are a tragic soap opera of gullible sick people losing thousands of dollars they couldn't afford to scammers telling whatever lies it takes to sell poorly manufactured products that never deliver what they promise. As earliest review, from June 2009 says,
CUSTOMER SERICE. The sales guys in this store own the store... Dave [? -ed.] and Jimmy have the worst customer service I have ever seen! They do not deliever on what they promise![Hah, yes, except that was soon followed by the only two (comically) positive reviews, written by "Cindy Smith" and "Debbie Jones" on the same day in Sept. 2009. What are the odds one of these ladies is also Evangelical with a gay son?] It's classic Utah flimflammery on a mattress, Glengarry Glen Ross with the swear words edited out. [And it's not that damning, but this messageboard thread is amazing for the way these guys discuss gel mattresses as if they are vintage cars or fine wines.]
RENOWNED IN HIS OWN MIND BLOGGER TAKES APART PRESS RELEASE
And this is where the bizarro helicopter rescue press release comes in. The entire way he talks about the press release on Babble betrays the same kind of self-serving self-deception that characterizes the mattress story. It's very true that publicists and companies write press releases. And they are often, almost always written in the third person, as if they had no "author." None of that diminishes the sheer weirdness of almost every aspect of Pearce's announcement, though, starting with its existence, and the fragmentary subjective accounts of leg cramps and wooziness that can only have come from one person--the victim--to his wait, what who? random parentheticals about how his rescuers turn out to be his scoutmaster and his next door neighbor. I mean, I know Alpine is small, but even so. WHY IS THIS INFORMATION IN THIS OR ANY PRESS RELEASE? is a question that never seems to have crossed Pearce's mind once.
I mean, at the bare minimum, did he, "renowned blogger," not think to himself, while he was stuck up there on Alpine East Mountain [sic], being nursed by his friends, and waiting for the second chopper to arrive with a--and copy editors everywhere will agree with me that this is the best line in the piece--"a rescue cable and wench," did they not even joke once that, on the bright side, Dan, now you have something to blog about?
For all his brave, blogger-rule-breaking marketing in the face of withering criticism [Facebook comments], Pearce argues into the Babble comments that his press release must have been newsworthy, or else Yahoo News and other syndication outlets wouldn't have picked it up. Which is, to use some technical marketing jargon, bullshit. That is exactly what PRWEB sells you when you pay them $89 to distribute your press release.
There's an industry term for this, too:
I made a contract with a PR company before I ever put my first release out to do 24 press releases over the next year. And I intend to do every single one of them.It's called a "subscription," and it results in each press release having what experts call a "lower price."
THIS IS WHERE THE POST TITLE IS EXPLAINED
Just in terms of its sheer inexplicability, Pearce's mountaintop rescue is outrageous. But then reading his defense of it, and his explanation for using words like "famous" ["the 'f-word'"] and "renowned" to describe himself, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. When he's called out, he'll try to cordon something off as just "marketing" or "SEO," but Pearce conflates all the aspects of Single Dad Laughing--writing, blogging, marketing, PR, and business with his own identity. And the result, visible enough to some of his readers, can be inspiring, offputting, detached, oversensitive, and entertaining. There's no better evidence for this total collapse of boundaries than Pearce's perception that there's a dadblogging conspiracy plotting his demise. Or that the proper and immediate response to the discussion he instigated is an abject confession and apology to the entire Internet for blaming his own insecurities on them.
Beyond being a cautionary tale against believing your own hype, and for consuming blog marketing and PR with the skepticism you'd show a $9500 mattress salesman, I think Single Dad Laughing is important for capturing the reality TV star ethos in dadblog format. Pearce is not Our Dooce; he's our The Situation. The Snooki of Dadbloggers. Do you honestly think that if a Bravo character had gotten himself stuck on a mountain he would have done any differently?
So you can file Pearce's pro blogging tips on the shelf next to Everything I Need To Know About Business I Learned From The Apprenticeand Parenting With The Kardashians. Assuming you bought those, too, of course.
HERE IS THE TINY BUT SINCERE ATTEMPT TO SAVE THIS FROM BEING A COMPLETE SANDBAGGING
On the other hand, if Pearce launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce increasingly outrageous stunts for his other 24 press releases, I'd pledge to that bad boy in about five seconds. There's your TV deal right there, hermano.
AND HERE IS THE PART I HATED TO WRITE, WHICH MAKES ME A HORRIBLE SALESMAN. OF MYSELF.
PS: Just in case it comes up anywhere at all in this discussion, I'll tell you who the heck I think I am. I'm the guy with a Wharton MBA who started the first pro parenting blog, Daddy Types, in 2004. The concept--Gizmodo for dads--shows that it was obviously not the first pro blog.
Nor was it the first parenting or dadblog. Dooce was an already well-known blogger, who became infamous for blogging, actually, and who had just had a baby. Jon was a dad who was blogging at the time, too. There were other, journal-style, personal blogs then and since, of course, but Brian Reid at Rebel Dad had been doing at-home dad evangelist blogging for a couple of years already, and Doug French was already killing it at LOD.
I had affiliate links from the start--that was the point--and added ads before or at the same time Dooce did, though she took more heat for it because she has always had a more high-strung audience. That's her incredible skill, and I never wanted it, nor did I long have any delusions of being able to write as well as LOD.
As for the folks who've come along since--I don't use the word "followed," because I don't presume to have influenced them in any unique way--I was proud to be included in the launch of Jason's Dadcentric, and my pepper-crusted pork recipe is still awesome. I was happy to be included in the launch of Babble, too, and happy that DT has remained independent after their every acquisition overture.I'm glad to have been generally wrong about my reasons for turning down Federated Media; they turned out OK, and seem to make a decent amount of money for their bloggers.
As for DT, I started it with the express purposes of 1) being useful to new dads around me, and to those coming behind me into fatherhood, and 2) socking away a little money for the kids' college. So far so good.
I quickly realized--after successfully pitching the first newspaper story on dadblogs, just weeks after our daughter was born, that featured Jon Armstrong and myself, two's a trend, but that also included my daughter's name--that I did not want to do anything that might impinge on my kids' privacy, which at the time basically meant Google results. So I don't flog that story. I don't have pictures of my kids on the site. I accepted every TV news show's request to be interviewed over the years, and then I said sorry, no thanks, when they wanted to include my kids.
I had a parenting advice book deal and bailed on it, and the world's a better place for it. I wrote an intentionally un-self-aware-sounding essay for Heather Armstrong's first book, the one she didn't want to write herself. I don't think anyone really read it, much less got the point.
I have done startups and private equity and bus dev for my real job in the past, and when the blogging boom took off around me, and every year was supposedly The Year Of The Dad, I consciously decided to spend as little time or energy as possible doing sales and marketing and the kind of corporatizing timekilling that I'd come to dislike. I stopped doing conferences after being on a panel with Ze Frank, who told me about his five-figure speaking fee, meanwhile the exec who had invited me could never even get her shit together to reimburse my travel. I do not want to be a guru or a presentation monkey.
I wince at the deeply weird confluence of commercialism, marketing, and parenting that parentblogging has grown up around me, and it makes me feel better about every giveaway and freebie and twitter party I've rejected over the years. Fine and decent peoples' mileage may vary, of course, but for me, what Daddy Types is--and is not--represents a conscious decision on my part, and I'm fine with it. As my kids get older, I think they're better served by the moneymaking or famegrabbing opportunities I've left on the table.
Oh yes, since this is now apparently all about me, I am Mormon, and I was born--but never lived--in Spanish Fork, Utah, while my parents were at BYU. I grew up mostly outside Utah, and have spent 20 years in New York City, but have deep family ties to the state. So though I feel I could talk about it at length, I'd really not like to discuss the strong overlap between Utah, Mormons, and emotionally overwrought parentbloggers.