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On Sharing Your Heart & Enduring The Book Business

April 13, 2015 Posted by Joe Plumeri

After 71 years of life and nearly 50 years in business, through many ups and a few downs, I finally wrote a book – The Power of Being Yourself – about my experiences. The book contains eight principles that, together, comprise “A Game Plan for Success by Putting Passion into Your Life and Work,” as the subtitle points out.

I was overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of 500 people at the Rainbow Room on April 7 when we celebrated the book’s publication. My life passed before my eyes, literally, as friends and mentors like Andrew Cuomo, Georgette Mosbacher, Frank Bisignano, Sandy Weill and Jim Robinson shared the evening with me. Not there, but present in spirit, were others who have profoundly influenced my thinking, great leaders like Henry Kravis, Bill Bradley and Jeb Bush, all of whom were kind enough to offer praise for the book on the back cover.

Then, the reality of the book business kicked in.

The Financial Times, with its daily circulation of 234,000, published the first significant review of the book, which was written by Emma Jacobs. The FT covered me pretty closely when I was chairman and CEO of Willis Group, the London-based global insurance broker, but this was the first time that its salmon-colored pages had featured significant moments from my personal life.

The subheadline of Emma’s review – “Behind a gushing promotion of authenticity in business lies a harder message about life” –was a little jarring, considering that I intended The Power of Being Yourself to be uplifting in every way for people in all walks of life. Still, when I looked beyond the headline and read the full review, I realized that Emma captured the most important elements of my book.

She even added a wonderful passage from the forward by my dear friend – and a personal hero of mine – Joe Califano, the longtime aide to President Lyndon Johnson and courageous Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter.

The Italian-American from New Jersey has a reputation as a charismatic and entertaining speaker. The introduction to the book by Joseph Califano… recounts one occasion when Plumeri spoke at a fundraising event for addiction. “As [Plumeri] spoke, some guests cried. Some cried so hard they had to leave the room to compose themselves. Over the months since, many who were there that night told me Joe’s talk had profoundly affected their own lives.”

Seeing the bigger picture beyond the subheadline, I was very pleased that the FT’s full readership had been exposed to my passion for writing the book, amplified by the global power of social media, which linked to the review through Twitter and Facebook. “Ultimately,” Emma wrote, “the stronger message is not about being your most authentic self, it is to pay attention to life beyond work.”

This is a great age for social media, but not a great time for book reviewers. Many fewer newspapers these days spend the money to keep salaried reviewers on staff. That’s too bad. That job has largely been given over to regular readers who write their own reviews for sites like Amazon and Goodreads.

So when I saw that the Los Angeles Times, with its Sunday circulation of 954,010, had published another review on April 12, I was thrilled. But then, I realized that the write-up was the same FT review by Emma Jacobs, just with a different, more ominous headline. “‘Power’ Is Shot Through With Guilt,” it read. In social media, the Times, limited to highlighting its review with 140 characters in Twitter included a link preceded by the following: “Book review: A dark undercurrent to ‘The Power of Being Yourself.’”

Almost immediately, my muscles tensed up. Was this Emma Jacobs suddenly going sour? Was she having second thoughts so soon? No – the words in the review were exactly the same. It was just a different headline, dreamed up by someone at the Times who, I have to conclude, hasn’t read the book.

The headline writer’s job, I have to constantly remind myself, is to get people to click. That’s what drives ads, and the more clicks there are, the higher the Times can charge for advertising. It is a reality of the era in which we live that news organizations believe people are more likely to click on something that promises controversy and negativity rather than an upbeat message of helping people find the special sauce that exists within each and every one of us.

Reflecting on this, my muscles relaxed. Newspapers have to do what they have to do to sell papers, whether I like – or don’t like – the way they headline their stories. I realized that I have to balance my unabashedly upbeat outlook on life with the sometimes downbeat ways that ideas are spread through the social media ecosystem.

As The Power of Being Yourself begins to show up at bookstores and on Kindles and in iPads, I’m glad that well over a million readers from London and Los Angeles – and all the places in between and beyond through social media – have been afforded a brief preview its basic and powerful message.

Now I urge everyone to read beyond the headlines and the reviews and absorb my eight principles in full. When you do, I hope you’ll harness The Power of Being Yourself in the way that works for you.