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  • Writer's pictureIgal Stolpner

How Easy is it to Manipulate Media Outlets?

In 2013, I read ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’(no affiliate link, I promise), by Ryan Holiday. A fantastic book by the young, and talented marketer, who have shared tons of great examples of how easy it is to manipulate the media. As a young SEO who was thinking of new ways to promote, I found it no less than fascinating.

A year later, I had a paid consultation with Ryan. Since we were about to launch’s iOS app, and as an SEO who knew quite little about PR, I was curious what he can tell me.

This one hour of consultation has totally changed my mind-set about PR and link building. I’ve learned and realized that you don’t have to be the biggest to get coverage, and that all you need is tell journalists what they want to hear for their next story.

Once you understand that journalists have a job just like we do, it becomes easier to connect between their interests in any given time, to what we can possibly offer them then.

Later in 2014, I hired the first PR person for This person no longer works for full-time, but his PR firm is now running’s PR. Over these years, we’ve been able to place thousands of links and mentions, by following the concepts I’ve learned from Ryan.

This post isn’t about’s PR, nor about Ryan, it’s about what I’ve learned a few months ago that has truly blown my mind!

In the end of 2020, I've left my role at after 13 years, and started my own firm. With one of the new websites that I’ve launched for the travel industry, I decided from the very beginning that I’m going to test something very dodgy for the sake of science. And for one reason, I was extremely curious to see if the Media is as messed up as I thought it was from the point of validating stats and tips.

I said that I will test it, and if it works, I’ll take the original post down after a few months, since this is purely for the sake of science.

Back at, we ran dozens of data stories over the years, always with accurate numbers from our own data, or from surveys we ran.

In fact, I even once wrote about it for the SEMRush blog, because I found data to be so incredibly valuable for PR and link building.

For this test, I’ve checked what kind of stories the media ran around Covid-19 and that specific site’s niche within Travel. I’ve quickly spotted an interesting angle that nobody wrote about before, and decided that I will share with all relevant journalists a totally fake survey.

In the past few years, I’ve stumbled upon journalists who asked to see the row data, but lately, I’ve simply seen less and less of that.

In this test, I’ve hired someone to send a press release to share a fascinating story, a story based on a 100% fake survey. After the initial outreach, the first coverage came out a couple of hours later, and within 7 days, no less than 42 websites have published my survey, linking to my site’s fake post. Only after 16 days, the very first journalist replied, and asked to see the actual survey. The rest have never replied or asked for any additional information. They’ve simply published my fake survey, linking to a totally fresh domain, with no authority or proven experience in the travel industry.

On that list of sites, there are some of the biggest newspapers in the US. As well as more specific blogs in the travel industry.

An important caveat: Since this was only a test, I had no affiliate links on that domain. And perhaps that made some of these journalists trust my site a little more. Since then, I took the post off, because I had no business interest in it, but its point is no less than insane to me personally. I now know for sure that you can easily manipulate the media, simply by telling the story the relevant journalists want to hear.

Is it even true in the first place? Apparently, nobody could care any less.

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