I've been interested in marketing, promotions and publicity for as long as I can remember. Before the internet, I put myself through college by becoming a unique ballpark vendor in Boston known as "the Crunch n Munch guy," ending up on ESPN, numerous local TV and radio stations, the Boston Globe, and the front cover of the Boston Herald.
Before social media, my wife Carrie and I got married after a baseball game in front of 5,000 fans in a sponsored wedding that yielded features in the NY Times, ABC World News Tonight, and the CBS Early Show.
It also yielded a marketing company - and I'm proud of the work we've done for hundreds of clients to generate earned media, publicity, and marketing results. But nothing I've ever been involved with as a marketer or entrepreneur compares to the promotion I've just about wrapped for my latest role as CEO of mental health marketplace UMA Health.
Our "Free Therapy for Mets Fans" promotion yielded publicity beyond my wildest dreams. The NY Times, NY Daily News and NY Post all did features. Over 50 local TV stations across the country as markets as diverse as NYC, San Diego, and Cleveland have covered the story. It was on the front page of ESPN.com, Yahoo, and Sports Illustrated's websites. All told, we reached over 118 million people in the last 2 weeks, (yes, you read that right, and thanks to Kristi Piehl of Media Minefield for this amazing media report), and we yielded record web traffic, users, and transactions for our startup.
Because of the success, and because we did it all for only $375, I'd like to outline the steps we took to make this all happen. Of course, virality and the media are quite unpredictable, but my hope is these insights can help you as an entrepreneur and marketer achieve more for less!
Here was our 7 step roadmap to success, with insights for you:
1) Think of lots of crazy, (bad) ideas.
We wanted to test the idea of "Free Therapy" to get more people to try out therapy than would have otherwise, but through a brainstorm, we shared lots of crazy ideas, just about all of which never saw the light of day. (Free therapy for postal workers, anyone?) One of my employees Rob said it best when he remarked, "Aren't all of the best ideas thought of to be crazy at first?"
Insight: Without opening yourself up to think of and share crazy ideas, it's a lot harder to find a winning idea.
2) Choose one idea that you think will make a great story.
In an age where all traditional media compete with all of social media for people's attention, the best ideas are those that will make a great story for people to tell. I am a die hard Mets fan, and I know just how hard this season (like many seasons of late) has been for fellow Mets fans. So I knew that that we had the makings of a very compelling story that Mets fans, and really sports fans everywhere, could relate to and want to share with their friends.
Insight: Before you unleash your idea for a promotion, do the Story test: Is this something people will want to share with their friends if they see it on tv or read about it online?
3) Find the perfect time to unleash the idea.
In business, and in publicity, timing is everything. We thought of the idea a month before we executed it, but we chose to sit on releasing it until the Mets had a particularly embarrassing or noteworthy-in-a-bad-way event happen. As a long time Mets fan, I knew that would happen sooner or later, and of course, just one month in, they Mets lost 25-4, the worst lost in their 57 year history. We unleashed the promotion the next day.
Insight: Build the flexibility in your promotion or idea to be able to share it at just the right time, when the media and consumers will be most ripe to devour it.
4) Do a press release (and/or blog post) to have something to send people to.
This was the first hard cost we spent - $275 to do a press release. It was mostly to have a link to send people to, but in hindsight, we probably could have saved the $275 and just used our blog post as the press release. There is some credibility in using a wire service, but you definitely can't simply do a press release and expect the media to pay attention.
Insight: In this digital world, whether you do a press release, blog post, or both, make sure you have a link to send people.
5) Share with reporters and influencers, especially those you already have a relationship with.
Once the release hit the wire, we emailed every reporter we had worked with in the past or that we could find an email for, with a catchy subject line, a summary of the promotion, and a link to the press release. We used Twitter, where I had previously engaged lots of media folks, to find contacts, as well as newspaper and TV websites, who often list contact info for story ideas. This lead to our first two pickups: the NY Post feature and a 1010 WINS radio feature.
Insight: Use previous relationships and available tools to actively pitch your story to individuals from local and national media.
6) Buy Facebook ads to share the story with reporters with whom you don't yet have a relationship.
This is where we spent the remainder of our $375 budget. We took out a $100 Facebook ad targeting employees of media companies in New York. We knew that this would help spread the word about this exciting, breaking story, and increase the chances of it getting picked up by new outlets. While it's impossible to know for sure, I believe this is what led to the AP story which ended up on ESPN.com and all over the country, for much of our 120 million reach.
Insight: Get clever about how to reach members of the media that you don't yet have a relationship with. Know that if you have a great story to tell, and help accelerate its' reach to the right people who can help you tell it, you increase your odds of a viral success.
7) Use social media to extend the story as much as you can.
While traditional media (print, digital, TV and radio) initially got the word how about the idea, it was social media that helped spread it so far and wide. What sports fan wouldn't want to share the "Free Therapy for Fans" idea? As a team at UMA, we shared each news piece as it came out across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, and engaged with others when we noticed they were sharing the story too, especially influencers with large numbers of followers.
Insight: "The media" now includes both traditional and social media. Make sure to take advantage of both to maximize your reach for your idea.
These above 7 steps were how we launched a promotion that was seen by nearly 120 million people in 2 weeks and off of a budget of $375. Can we do that again? Likely not. Can you follow these steps and achieve the same success? Maybe not. But if you can take these steps we took and insights I've shared here, to better come up with ideas, share your stories, and reach more prospects and customers than you were doing before you read this, then that's a success worth talking about.