There's something a little absurd about a 567-pound guy riding a bike across the United States and blogging about his slow... slow... slow progress. Some people say that's the point.
Meet Eric Hites. Six months ago, he would have described himself as an overweight, unemployed, 40-something ex-pizza delivery guy, whose wife had left him for another man and who was back home living with his parents in small town Indiana.
Today, according to a 2,600-word profile in the New York Times, he's a bit of a media and marketing sensation, after he decided to ride his bike from Cape Cod to California, to lose weight and to try to win his wife back. Of course he has a Facebook following and a reality television deal. He's looking for a book agent.
If you're running a business and trying to get press coverage--heck, if you're trying to get your story covered in Inc. for that matter--you can look at Hites with a combination of awe and perhaps envy. Or, maybe we can deconstruct what he's done, and why it works.
1. Tell a great story.
I get asked all the time how to make content go viral. The tough news that not everybody wants to hear, is that step 1 is to have a great story to share. Hites may be an amateur marketer, but he clearly gets that the details matter.
For example, Hites doesn't just say he decided to ride to lose weight--he instead tells an elaborate story about being inspired by the 1988 song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers, and deciding that this was how he was going to get his wife back. (It's sort of worked; she's returned and is riding alongside him in their car now.)
2. Be authentic.
I'm rooting for Hites; it's hard not to. But even so, I have to admit that I like that he stumbles along the way. He's riding very slowly for example (only about 250 miles in nearly four months). He hasn't given up smoking, and he stopped the other day at a White Castle for a hamburger.
Oh, and he owns the word "fat." (His blog is called Fat Guy Across America.) From the Times:
"People need to get over it," he said. "I'm fat and I'm calling myself fat. People are too worried about offending everybody. That's what's wrong with this country."
3. Create controversy.
His story is an Internet story, and the Internet can be mean. There are commenters out there making fun of his appearance, tearing into his effort, saying they don't believe he's actually doing what he says he's doing:
"All the people saying, 'Winter's coming, you'll never make it, this is all a scam, you've been riding in cars the whole way.' Seriously? If I was going to cheat, I'd say I did 30 miles, not five miles or 10 miles. I'd already be across the United States, if I was cheating. I'm fat and I'm slow, and that should be proof enough that I'm doing it. And if winter comes, winter comes."
4. Connect emotionally
Let's be honest, this story would never work if it were just, "Reasonably Fit Guy Rides Bike Across America." Besides his struggle with his weight, however, Hite's story revolves around his quest to get his wife back.
As his wife put it, even though some friends think she's crazy to get back together with him under such weird circumstances, "Who doesn't want their marriage to work? Name one person." (Hard to quarrel with.)
5. Repeat as needed
Let's reiterate one point from above: "2,600-word profile in the New York Times."
At this point, Hites has been on virtually every television network in the U.S. and written about on virtually every blog. Search for him on Google News, and you'll find the articles on the BBC and even Paris Match ("Eric Hites, un Américain de 40 ans, traverse les Etats-Unis à vélo.")
He's clearly learned how to milk his story, and comes up with new angles to get even more coverage almost every day. That might be the most important lesson. Like riding across the country, there's always tomorrow in marketing.