You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!
Way back when Oprah was still on the air and doing more than pumping up the egos of the latest hip celebrity (she only does that for Meghan Markle now), she gave things away to her audiences. And not just packs of gum or flavored lipgloss, either. Her giveaway shows were what legends are made of because the gifts were so epic.
And then there was a show where every audience member received a car—which seemed to be the beginning of the end of that segment on her show. There were myriad reasons why, but many manufacturers began to realize that having their product featured on Oprah led to an amount of website traffic most of them could not handle—often shutting down their businesses for days as they worked to get their sites back online.
In the case of the Pontiac G6 that they gave audience members, they also paid the tax and registration fees, but that wasn’t enough in the minds of the recipients. The recipients had to pay a gift tax, which was a large sum of money…and then they complained to media outlets, which soured Oprah and her team on the whole gift-giving process.
Can You Get Us On Oprah?
Still, it didn’t stop prospects for years to come to say, “Can you get us on Oprah?” even after she stopped doing those shows and executive after executive had gone public saying it wasn’t worth the attention.
This is the example I give every time a client or a prospect says, “We just want to go viral on TikTok.”
OK. And then what?
Everyone is enamored with the idea of just one big hit—or one big viral mention—and all of their sales troubles will be solved.
Unfortunately, that’s just not how the world works.
We Want to Go Viral!
It’s the age-old story of my entire career. If you can just get us featured on the front page of The New York Times or if we can just get on Oprah or if we can just go viral, all of our sales troubles will be solved.
Be careful what you wish for.
Let’s say for a minute that the business or the leaders have a crazy good story to tell, they don’t have any competition, and they’re not a “me too” product. And, because of all of that, and the fun personality of the founder, they do go viral—on TikTok or any other social network.
Are they prepared for the onslaught of website visitors? Do they have the staff to fulfill orders? Are supply chain issues going to kick them in the butt? Will they end up getting bad publicity because they aren’t ready?
While I know these questions—and their answers—are not typically what a communications pro would come back with when asked to take something viral, we should.
Here’s why: we are the experts. We know how challenging it is to make something go viral. In 99% of cases, the organization doesn’t have a compelling enough story or leaders who are creative and interesting and fun. They all think they’re different, but they’re not.
So if they are, and they truly can go viral, they have to be ready for all of the operational challenges that come along with a big hit like that.
You Can Lead a Horse to Water
We used to work with an organization with a cult following in Southern California. I mean, the entire world puts them on their list to visit when they travel to that part of the country. A few years ago, they decided it was time to let people have access to their foods, no matter where in the world they lived.
And it was pre-Goldbelly, so they had to figure out how to do it and still make money.
While they wanted to blame the PR plan—and they did—it had nothing to do with whether or not we or the three agencies they hired after us could do our jobs.
It had everything to do with the fact that shipping and delivery cost more than the product itself. When we brought this up, their COO got aggressive and started yelling at me in front of his leadership team.
You can lead the horse to water…
Legend says that they ended up sticking with what they knew for the time being. But I did see about six months ago that you can now order their products through Goldbelly. So I’m glad someone was able to save them from themselves.
The point is that sometimes all of the PR in the world—going viral or not—will not help the organization. Sometimes they just are not ready.
Yet Agency Jumpers Are a Thing
I would love to say that I have figured out the way to the CEO’s heart where they listen to all of my counsel, believe me when I say it takes time, but it does work, and that the “strategy” of trying to go viral is a bad one, but alas. I have not.
No matter how much expertise I accumulate, CEOs still want to tell me how to do my job and that I’m wrong when I advise them to set aside some budget for building brand and be patient. I’m also told repeatedly that when they started the business, they didn’t have professional marketing or comms help, and it worked out just fine.
This lack of understanding, the inability to be patient, and the need to get fast results all the time (immediate gratification and all of that) is what causes massive tension between agencies and clients—and also what causes agency jumpers.
An agency jumper is a company that hires an agency hoping for the quick wins and even to go viral and, when that doesn’t happen, they go on to the next…and the next and the next and the next.
I get it. I do. I’m a business owner, and I want to spend money on things that have an immediate return, too. But I also understand the value of brand and that good things take time to achieve. If I didn’t, Spin Sucks would not be a thing today because it took us three years—THREE YEARS—to have any success.
It Takes Time, Patience, and Hard Work
During the pandemic, I decided I was going to learn how to do a handstand. I love to see those women who have practiced yoga for years and can beautifully and slowly invert themselves and even do the splits in the air. I wanted to be able to do that.
But it was hard. Heck, it was more than hard. It was almost impossible. So I quit—and doubled down on cycling. Something I already knew I was good at and can win at.
This February, for my birthday, I told myself I was going to try again and I have taken a yoga or inversion class six days a week since then. I still cannot invert myself without a wall behind me, but I am super close. I was venting to my sister-in-law about how challenging it is and she said, “Well, when you started cycling, could you ride 65 mph like you can now?” I muttered, “I can’t ride 65 mph.” She said, “You know what I mean!”
And she’s right. I can’t expect to be able to invert myself slowly and beautifully in only four months. I know it takes years and years and years. But I’m practicing every day and you can bet I will get there!
Some Advice for All
The point is, the good things in life are not easy to come by. They take work. They take patience. And they take time.
You cannot expect to go viral and have all of your problems solved overnight—and for them to stay solved. You cannot get a feature story on the front page of The New York Times and expect to exceed your sales for eternity.
That’s just not how it works.
For leaders of organizations, I know how hard this is, but have patience. Trust that you’ve hired the right people and give them the freedom to do their jobs. Certainly hold them accountable to monthly, quarterly, and annual results, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
For agencies, if a prospect has had three agencies in a year, run away as fast as you can. If they say things like, “We want to have a TikTok strategy so we can go viral,” RUN!
But if they ask you questions about how they can be a good partner to you and what you need from them to succeed, you probably have a good one.
And if you need some back-up, send them to this article and I’ll give them a good talking to!