David Meerman Scott

Finding the Stories All Around You

Instead of griping about what the news media doesn't cover, be attentive to the stories all around you that underscore what your business, non-profit or public agency stands for.

Helping a local blood drive or contributing to a worthy cause are good things that build employee morale and pride, but usually won't earn any media coverage. Reporters, editors and bloggers are looking for stories with some sizzle.

  • A truck-driving school that trains an amputee who goes on to own and operate his own successful trucking company — opportunity for all.

  • How a rash of consumer complaints prompted a series of face-to-face meetings with company managers and designers that led to a completely revamped and much improved product — creative innovation.

  • An employee who is injured in a car accident, but still finds a way to deliver a critical part to a snow-removal crew preparing for bad weather conditions — service that goes the extra mile.

These are brand-building, reputation-enhancing stories that will attract media interest.

Responding in Real-Time

It took four minutes for daredevil Felix Baumgartner to hurtle 129,000 miles from the edge of space to earth. It can take far less time for a video to go viral over the worldwide web.

United Airlines learned that speed lesson the hard way.

On a one-stop flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska, Canadian musician and songwriter Dave Carroll watched his $3,500 Taylor guitar get tossed ungently by baggage-handlers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. 

When he discovered the neck of his guitar was fractured, Carroll appealed to United ground crew employees, whom he said reacted indifferently. He subsequently filed a claim, which United rejected, saying he failed to file it with 24 hours after the guitar was broken.

After nine fruitless months of negotiations, Carroll tried a different consumer complaint desk. He wrote a protest song, which he and his band, Sons of Maxwell, videotaped and placed on YouTube under the title, "United Breaks Guitars."

Posted July 6, 2009, the protest video immediately attracted 150,000 views. Three days later, there were 5 million views. People are still watching the amusing video that pillories United Airlines, with more than 12.5 million views as of this week. Now Carroll has written a book called "United Breaks Guitars."

It took one day after the video was posted for United to contact Carroll and offer a settlement. But the public relations nightmare was already unleashed. The only solace for United is its use of the video in its personnel training.

David Meerman Scott, author of "Real Time Marketing and PR," uses the United incident and Carroll video as an example of how important speed is in a response. Scott says businesses that know how to use time and urgency can gain competitive advantages.

United's lethargic on-the-ground and consumer complaint responses sharply contrasted with the quick, instinctive response by Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars. Showing sympathy for Carroll's plight and displaying market savvy, Taylor supplied Carroll with the guitars he needed to make the protest video. 

Taylor went on to produce a homemade video, which he posted on YouTube, describing TSA rules that allow guitars in cases to be carried on board airplanes. He included the practical suggestion of printing out the rules to show airline attendants when boarding.

Scott says Taylor employed "real-time" marketing.