In the beginning, everyone loves you. You’re as quotable as Kanye comparing Kim dearest to Michelle O. Jaws drop. People can’t help but talk about you. Because you’re, well, you. But eventually all startups, even the best ones, go through a lull period where it’s hard to make awesome news.
So how do you keep your startup buzzing on the internetz? Take a cue from Uber, and get creative.
The Entirety of Human Knowledge
Do you remember that joke sweeping the Internet a few months ago? If a man from the 1950s showed up, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to him about life today?
The answer: I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.
How true. Cats, it appears, are our new Achilles heel. More seductive than a woman in a G-string or a bottle of Jack.
And why is this relevant to startups, you ask? Because if you want to get in the news, you have to know your audience. What do they love? What makes them tick? What keeps them interested? And by all accounts it seems the answer for our society is pretty simple: we’re fueled by felines.
Kittens, Cupcakes, and Drivers
Pretty much everyone now has heard of Uber—a startup company that connects passengers with drivers for vehicles of hire via online app. Think sleek, new age taxi hailing. But last week for one special day—National Cat Day no less—they partnered with the Internet meme site Cheezburger and expanded their services to include on-demand kitten delivery.
Yes, kitten delivery.
In Seattle, New York, and San Francisco, people could pay $20 a pop to have adoptable kittens delivered to their door for a 15 minute snuggle, alongside a handful of sugary cupcakes from Ace of Cakes. Uber, in turn, donated all fees to an animal shelter in each city, making everyone feel warm and fuzzy. It was all the glory of cat-ownerdom without all the mess of a litter box.
Stunt or Not: Why It Worked
Uber’s National Cat Day extravaganza was incredibly successful. It was so successful, in fact, that there was actually a cat shortage with not enough whiskers to go round. Throngs of potential kitten lovers received the envy-inducing message upon order: “The kittens are currently being snuggled by someone else.” How terribly purrrfect.
And an apologetic Cheezburger spokesperson claimed, “It has been difficult for everyone to get a kitten SUV at their offices. And as we all know, kittens run on their own schedule, so we have to work around their cat naps and feedings.”
If you can find a way to insert the phrase “kitten SUV” into a sound bite, I’m fairly certain you’ve found the PR goldmine.
Stunt or not, the National Cat Day promo was a brilliant PR move by Uber—a company that, while cool, wasn’t “news” anymore and needed to find a way to stay in the public eye. Cats on-demand was a spot-on move for them because:
1. People like cats. They liked them before Uber’s snugglefest; they still like them after. Because of this, Uber didn’t have to try to manufacture a public interest in what they were doing. Instead, they took something the public already loved and utilized it.
2. It’s viral. It’s no surprise that news outlets write stories they think their audience is interested in. And with thousands upon thousands of tweets, Instagram pics, and Facebook posts of on-demand kittens circulating through social media, Uber didn’t even have to pitch their story the standard route. The public did it for them.
3. It’s so original, it’s impossible to ignore. Everyone is talking about it. CNN, ABC News, Huffington Post, Mashable, blog after blog after blog. In a world of people doing the same types of PR campaigns again and again and again, the black sheep gets the bounty.
Learn to Identify Opportunity Long Before it Arrives
Uber’s CEO did not wake up on National Cat Day, have an epiphany involving some snuggly tabbies and cream cheese icing, then snap his fingers to see his mignons immediately launching an app and driving about the city delivering a basket of “Awwwws.”
Despite popular misconception: National Cat Day is not the day to start brainstorming about how to capitalize on it. The best-laid PR plans are exactly what they say they are: plans. They are brainstormed, thought out, detailed, and then executed. They are all about timing.
Let’s leave improvisation to the comedians on stage. Instead of going off the cuff, be aware of what’s catching people’s attention. Build ideas around a central, appealing concept—holidays, awareness days, marathons—and be creative. Think: “What will be newsworthy?”
And for the sake of kittens everyone: pay attention to timing. Don’t be afraid to break ranks, shifting your stories and ops around good, timely opportunities. And likewise, be ready to shuffle dates around if someone else jumps at an opportunity before you. How many PR campaigns has a new Apple launch squashed? Exactly.
Uber isn’t successful because they’re witty people who like cats. They’re successful because they’re prepared to be successful. The question is: are you?
Have you faced the challenge a similar challenge? How did you make news for your company? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!