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at Toys-R-Us! That sounds
I discovered the secret to effective online communication before Mark Zuckerberg lost all his milk teeth.
It was in the mid-1990s and my new boss, Rick Berman, was not pleased with my progress in generating media coverage of an economic study entitled, “Effects of Minimum Wages on Teenage Employment, Enrollment and Idleness.” I just couldn’t seem to craft a press release that made that topic interesting to reporters. Imagine that.
Following yet another of his increasingly menacing pep-threats, I locked myself in my office, thought back to my days as a reporter at The Red Bank Register, and tried to imagine what might make me pick up the phone and call the guy flacking this report. Then I drew my “press release.”
It was a mock-up of the faux resume of one “Les Likely,” an unremarkable teenager with a spotty work history and a very poor command of the English language. I added a coffee-cup ring stain in the corner and a red stenciled “REJECT” stamp in the middle of it and had the graphics department lay out and print 150 copies. Then I sent them to my media list with this short note attached: “Les Likely is about to lose his job again. Give me a call and I’ll tell you why.”
And they called. And I never wrote a traditional release again.
The lesson I learned then—which I use to this day—is this: before delivering any message, I must first determine exactly what it is about what I have to say that could possibly be of interest to my audience.
And as important as that lesson was in the 1990s, it is imperative today. You see, the days of making declarations in your best Ted Baxter voice and expecting the fish to bite are over. In fact, the more Ted Baxter-y you are the less likely you are to connect with your audiences.
Of course, there are inherent risks whenever you color outside the lines, but the benefits of creativity
are worth the occasional ding, such as that time my laminated dollar-bill plan got us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, above the fold. I’ll let them recount it, since they tell it best:
We were intrigued by The Employment Policies Institute's latest cost-saving endeavor. To protest President Clinton's proposed minimum wage increase of $1 an hour, the Washington, D.C., business-funded think tank mailed laminated $1 bills to 300 reporters at various news outlets. According to our calculations, the cost of that little stunt could've furnished a minimum-wage earner with more than two months of the boosted hourly rate.
It’s true that my heart stopped beating briefly when I read the Journal that morning. But that hit actually lit up the phones with calls from other reporters interested in the study, demonstrating once again that any press is good press.