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Bringing Nothing to the Party: Ben Cohen and the art of the press release

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'His company is worth millions!' they repeated. 'And if his company is worth that, and he owns the company, then that means he is worth millions as well! He's a millionaire! A teenage millionaire! Hold the front page!'

But Cohen didn't stop there. After soJewish, he decided to expand his empire, creating a whole network of sites under the brand 'Cyberbritain.com'. And appropriately enough for a network with such a porny sounding name, the first two Cyberbritain sites were porn sites - Hunt4Porn.com and dotadults.com - both naked (sorry) attempts to attract the sticky white pound. The pitch? That the sites would provide the best way for one-handed surfers to find adult websites. Other ways include: close eyes, throw rock, hit porn site. The reality? The site was just some tacky window dressing that Cohen had bolted on to an existing public-domain listing of hard- and soft-core smut.

But there was still a boom on and, again, the press lapped it up. Everyone knew that sex sells, and lazy journalists could only speculate what adding an 'adult' arm to a company already 'worth' 'five' 'million' 'pounds' would do to its valuation. But fortunately, they didn't have to - Ben was quite happy to tell them exactly what it did to his company's valuation. It increased it immeasurably, he explained.

There was no doubt about it: he was now Britain's richest teenage dot com entrepreneur.

Even if he did say so himself.

Of course, all of this smacks of jealousy on my part. If I could have achieved even half of his success while still producing almost no original content or having any original ideas, I'd have done it in a heartbeat. Well, of course I would.

But... and here comes the but... BUT there is something very wrong about peddling other people's porn, creating tons of artificial wealth on the back of it, and then pretending you hated doing it. Which is what Cohen did the moment the market crashed and the hype dried up.

Four years after creating soJewish, Hunt4Porn and the rest, Cohen sent out a press release to journalists, marking the occasion of his 20th birthday. Reading through it, I was absolutely stunned. This was, after all, the guy who had spent the last half-decade or so relentlessly promoting himself and his media empire. The man who had gladly given journalists quotes about his wealth and how he was changing the world. A man who was quoted in a TV interview saying 'money has no morality'. And now, after the dot com industry collapses, he sends out this. A press release to mark his birthday. And what a press release...

Once I'd finished reading it, I immediately hit the forward button and sent it to my friend Sam Lewis, annotated with my own comments. Here's exactly what I sent (the text in bold is from the press release; the italics are my comments)...

To: Sam Lewis

From: Paul Carr

Subject: Total genius or unbelievable dick - you decide...

The Last of the Teenage Dot.Com Millionaires is to Disappear... He's turning twenty

A strong start. If the secret of a good press release is to grab journalists' attention with a strong title then he's played a blinder. When I read that title, my attention was immediately grabbed by the fact that I was suddenly vomiting involuntarily on my own shoes.

Benjamin Cohen has been at the forefront of one of the most innovative industries that the UK has ever seen, the dot com industry. Founder of soJewish.com, the community portal, he was thrust into the limelight at the tender age of 16.

Yeah, thrust into the limelight like Michael Douglas was thrust into Catherine Zeta-Jones. Or Harold Shipman was thrust into murdering old people.

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