Here's an "underdog" tale of PR that will endure for the ages.
When FlipDog.com emerged in 1999 as the first online site to use crawler technology to find and post all job listings--not just the paid postings--its founders knew they were onto a development that could turn their industry on its head.
So, they approached MWS Agency, the PR company I ran at the time.
In 1999, we were in the midst of the dot.com tornado. FlipDog.com knew it'd have an uphill climb to break through the overwhelming crush of Internet news. More challenging still, it was headquartered in Utah (as was I, for that matter).
I sought the advice of a New York-based counterpart. "If you don't have at least $1.5 million for your coming out party, don't even bother to launch," she remarked.
Agencies on the West Coast concurred. Under pressure from the board, Flipdog.com's founders secured a name-brand PR agency in Silicon Valley. Several months later, they returned.
"We're back," their marketing leader said. "We're racking our brains for ideas. We even looked into sponsoring the space on the top of the mirrored ball that drops at the turn of the year on Times Square. No go."
What happened next may sound like common sense in our current economy--but in the midst of the dot.com frenzy, it flew in the face of the principles every vendor and public relations expert held dear. And it holds lessons for entrepreneurs today.
What to Do?
We didn't hold a launch event. In fact, we skipped the $1.5 million budget as well. (Darn.)
We decided that when it comes to PR, more is more. More evidence. More strategically placed coverage, so that the business case for publishing all listings--not just the ones that vendors had paid money to post--would be clear.
The same Internet that made it possible to find and post everyone's job listings made it easy to find reporters as well. The job site space contained a dominant player--Monster.com--who had kindly opened up the category and educated columnists who covered the sector.
We looked those columnists up. We prepared our message, and we got on the road.
The Plot Thickens
We visited Perry Boyle, financial analyst and editor of the Labor Daze newsletter for the Thomas Weisel Partners investment firm in New York. We told him what our product did: that it featured all job postings, not just paid ones.
Again, this was new at the time.
"Pardon me for being a little blasphemous in this statement," Boyle said. "But I've been John the Baptist in this sector for the past six months, telling everyone in the press that something like this would happen."
"Who did you tell?" I asked. He opened his Palm Pilot (hey, it was 1999) and named a half-dozen reporters. We contacted them all.
We canvassed the U.S., and met face-to-face with reporters, beginning with Leslie Walker, the author of the Dot.com columns for the Washington Post. "Can I break this story?" she asked. Why yes, she could, with our blessing.
To do so properly, of course, she'd need to call the industry's behemoth vendor--FlipDog's competitor--Monster.com. The CEO was not easily reached; he was in the middle of breaking Richard Branson's 1.5 mile record for water skiing underneath a blimp (he prevailed, by skiing 3.3 miles across the Hudson River underneath the Monster company blimp).
We had managed to catch the market leader in our sector entirely off-guard with our launch. Walker penned a column praising FlipDog.com, which was immediately syndicated in Australia. Then it moved through Japan.
The rest of the coverage fell like dominoes. Wall Street Journal. USA Today. And, of course, Perry Boyle's analysis and coverage in the Labor Daze publication.
We chased local coverage, too--in a satellite broadcast tour that reported the hottest jobs available to a set of regional stations. The ability to see all job postings gave us some insight into the hottest types of jobs in any given region. Nobody in the industry had ever had access to that type of up-to-the-minute data before.
What This Means Today
New research in 2016 from boutique tech PR agency Bospar has proved we were right.
In September, Bospar polled 1,010 American adults in a Consumer PR Effectiveness Study to determine how likely people are to visit a tech company's website based on media coverage. Then, in October, they surveyed 500 marketers--CMOs, vice presidents of marketing, marketing directors and marketing managers--to see how PR influences them.
They discovered that in most cases--and especially in the case of consumers--people need to see multiple media placements before they are compelled enough to check a company out.
These results confirm what the best marketing and PR professionals know from experience: A single launch event, no matter how elaborate, is never enough.