Why Christmas Eve Is Your Startup’s Biggest Opportunity
Everything you PR team has told about when to issue your blog post or press release is dead wrong.
PR folks will tell you that timing is everything, and they are right about that. In order to get maximum visibility for your story, they will tell you to publish it when: 1) your target audience is available to engage your content; and 2) when bloggers and reporters are ready to spread your story while it’s still hot.
This is usually done around conferences, trade-shows, and other events where there’s a lot of stories being written about your industry. They will advise you to publish a story around 9am on Tuesday or Thursday, when most people are in front of their computers. This advice sounds logical.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Try issuing your press release at an odd time, literally, such as 9:37am, so you’re not competing with thousands of other press releases on the half-hour and hour. View more startup growth tips.
Similarly, they will advise you that the worst time to find an audience for your story is right before the holidays, during the holidays, on a Friday, or on the weekend. This is because nobody is reading content since they’re spending quality time with family instead. Additionally, most publications have a skeleton staff during holidays leaving no one available to cover your news
This all sounds like highly rational advice, but it’s dead wrong.
As a startup founder who has had hundreds of articles written about us, and has had dozens of stories go viral with several receiving 100s of millions of page-views, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get massive visibility for your startup.
Initially, we thought it was completely random as far as which stories got coverage and which ones didn’t. But then, our big story was covered and we realized we had finally cracked the code! It turns out that timing is indeed everything — just not the way you think it is.
This particularly story about us would gain massive momentum in the media. It would increase my startup’s valuation by over 10x in less than a week and enabled me to raise over $8 million dollars in just a few days. Even more amazing is that the $8 million that we raised was more than my startup was valued at just a week prior. And this was all done at an $80m valuation, compared to our paltry $6 million valuation just a few days prior — simply incredible!
Interestingly enough, a strikingly similar story had been written about us just a few weeks prior, but nobody seemed to notice. Literally nobody cared, evidenced by our publicly traded stock trading near zero shares when the same news came out previously.
So What Was Different This Time?
This time the same exact story that went entirely unnoticed a few weeks ago now went insanely viral, and it was due to the odd timing of its publication — the evening before Christmas Eve, December 23rd.
This, of course, violates every rule in the PR playbook. In PR talk, the time around holidays is called a ‘slow news cycle’ for startups. This means that it’s a bad time to issue a press release or pitch news since few people are there to read them, and even fewer to write about them and spread your story as I explained above.
But the thing is, people do still read stories over the holidays, and blogs and newspapers do still publish stories. Maybe not as many as at 9:00 AM on a Tuesday, but the world doesn’t stop on holidays and the news cycle in 24-hours these days.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Standing out from the crowd is substantially easier when there is no crowd, and that’s what matters most to get that initial necessary traction.
In other words, over the holidays (aka “slow news cycle”), there’s still demand for content, however the supply is greatly diminished, and that’s a formula for success if you want visibility.
For an article to go viral, it needs to get some initial traction, and then if it’s quality and interesting, it will gain momentum as it works its way to national publications. And then, boom — explosive growth!
So, the next time you’re thinking about issuing a press release, consider the day before Christmas Eve. Also, the night before Thanksgiving Eve, New Years Eve, or the day before any other holiday where there’s little competition for news in your industry, and therefore an amplified opportunity to stand out.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Consider publishing your blog post or press release the day before a major holiday.
How This One Article Changed Everything
Now, let’s take a deeper dive as to how this all happened. Note that some of this information is taken from my new book Explosive Growth — A Few Things I Learned Growing To 100 Million Users & Losing $78 Million.
It was December 22, 2010, and most corporate office environments were likely recovering from some sort of massive holiday party blowout — the kind where a few too many drinks were consumed, a few too many inappropriate things were said, and way too many regrets were felt.
That wasn’t the case at the corporate office for my company, SNAP Interactive, creators of the online dating app, AreYouInterested? (AYI). We had other things on our minds.
I forget exactly what time of the day it was when I got the call from Bloomberg News, but I do have a fairly vivid recollection of how it all went down.
As soon as I picked up the phone, the reporter abruptly asked me, “I have one quick question for you guys. This might sound strange, but do you guys work out of someone’s garage?”
I was caught a little off guard by the bizarre nature of such a question from out of nowhere. “Of course not,” I explained. “You were in our office a couple months ago on 30th Street and 7th Avenue in New York City.”
I elaborated for him, “You asked for open access to our employees and to check out our data sources, because you wanted to verify information for a potential story. While you were here, you also said we might be the best undiscovered public company out there.”
The reporter acknowledged my explanation, and verified the facts with me one more time.
“Okay, I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t move operations to a garage somewhere for some reason.”
“No, we definitely didn’t do that. Why do you ask?”
“Never mind,” he assured me. “Just be sure to check out the news tomorrow.”
After hearing the click and dial tone, an unsettling mixture of emotions followed — curiosity, anticipation, and more than a little nervous tension.
When I woke up the next morning and checked out the news online, I noticed a very detailed and in-depth news story titled, “Facebook Friends in Search of Romance Drive App Growth” on Bloomberg News.
It was a nice enough piece; the content was very flattering to our company, describing the uniqueness of our product and the advanced metrics we applied to optimally serve our users. One interesting aspect of the article was the following quote from the then CEO of IAC (the parent company of Match.com): “AreYouInterested? is a flirty, fun little app. They have a few people working in a garage. We’ve got hundreds of engineers maximizing our business. You need huge degrees of sophistication, huge amounts of data behind it, and a huge community.”
Whether it was a snarky comment to describe our corporate office as a garage, or if he actually thought we operated out of a garage, is still a mystery to me.
Nevertheless, before the article came out, our stock was a very illiquid penny stock, which traded zero shares the previous day. That’s right — zero — as in, no trading at all. By the time the closing bell rang on December 23, the stock had shot up from $0.20 to $0.50 per share. That’s a nice little bump — especially when it was likely fueled by one article containing one innocuous comment — certainly worthy of notice, but the best was yet to come.
December 24 (Christmas Eve)
The following day was Christmas Eve, so the markets were closed and there wasn’t a lot of news breaking. With little else to report on, our story simmered in the news pot for a while longer. It was published in some other big-time media outlets, like the L.A. Times. It’s tough to imagine so little going on in the city of L.A. that an article about a small tech company thousands of miles away would be considered worthy of publication, but that’s exactly what happened. The snowball effect had officially begun.
Christmas was on a Saturday that year, so December 26 fell on a Sunday. That timing meant the stock market had been closed for three days since the article featuring ‘AYI’ had come out. This was the business version of the perfect storm: a seriously buzzworthy news article sticking around and creating a rising hot stock, and nowhere for either one to go because of the holiday break.
I showed up for work on Monday, December 27 just like any other day, except that day there was a note on my desk that Maria Bartiromo, the lead financial news anchor at CNBC had called (also known as the “Money Honey”) and she wanted a callback ASAP.
At first, I wasn’t sure if the message was real or some sort of unfunny practical joke, because financial news didn’t get any bigger than Maria Bartiromo. Sure enough, it was the real deal.
After turning on the television and reading some online articles from around the country, I discovered that ‘AYI’ was a lead story on the news that day. Before the closing bell, our stock had soared to unimaginable heights of around $1.50 per share. We went from zero shares traded two days previously and ten days out of the previous thirteen, to trading 2,495,000 shares in one day! What could be next?
The snowball effect was gaining momentum. We were getting television coverage from sources all over the country. Henry Blodget, a prominent former Wall Street analyst and founder of Business Insider, came out with a story about us on December 28. He said that he hadn’t had the chance to do his homework on us yet, but the numbers looked very promising. ‘AYI’ had become so hot that even though he knew nothing about us, he still had to mention us or risk appearing out of touch. That led to even more television coverage from Bloomberg and CNBC.
On December 29 — not even one week from the day we got a mysterious phone call asking if we worked out of someone’s garage — our stock traded 3.6 million shares and was up over 1,500 percent!
Time to take a victory lap, right? Not the way I looked at it, which is why another big question arose in my mind.
Press Can Be Great, But The Distractions Nearly Derailed Us
What should I do as the cofounder of a start-up whose stock price had gone up exponentially high overnight? Once again, I pondered the possibilities:
• Should I pop a $500 bottle of champagne and call Justin Bieber to get on a celebrity cruise right away?
• Should I visit my most disliked teacher from high school and rub a wad of hundred-dollar bills in his face?
• Maybe I should stop by an ex-girlfriend’s house in a blazing red Ferrari with a girl who looked like Sofia Vergara’s younger, hotter sister.
• Or, should I just say, “Huh, how ‘bout that?” and experience an overwhelming sense of concern about what this means for the more long-lasting success of my organization?
Counter-intuitive as this may seem, my reaction was not one of unfettered joy or glorious celebration. For me, it was natural to be concerned about the company and the people who helped me build it. I was worried about our ability to remain focused.
I was legitimately concerned that these ten to twelve extremely talented and hard-working people — so valuable to our success, who shared my unbridled enthusiasm for building a great product from the ground up — would get distracted.
I was worried that our drive to innovate would diminish, that we would stop out-working other companies, and ultimately that we would lose our way as an organization. For a short while, it was utter madness in the garage at 30th and 7th. People had one eye on their work and another on the stock ticker. Who could blame them?
Because most of them were paid largely from stock, several of them were officially paper millionaires — scratch that — paper multi-millionaires. We had become the number one story on Wall Street. It got so crazy that I had to totally ban watching CNBC and all financial websites at work.
It turns out that getting to this point was the easy part. What followed was an emotional and professional roller coaster ride, enough to test the mental fortitude of the Dalai Lama during a three-week-long meditation bender and mindfulness blowout.
Opportunities were seized, regrets were had, and success was ultimately achieved. But most significantly, some infinitely invaluable lessons were learned all along the way that will serve me well going forward, and I’d like to share them with you.
So the next time you’re issuing a press release for your startup, consider issuing it the day before the holidays, especially the day before Christmas Eve. This will give your story a day to gain momentum into the holiday when there’s less competition in the news cycle. I genuinely believe that if this story had been published even one day earlier, or nearly any other day of the year, none of this would have happened.
This may sound like something out of a dream or movie, but it’s true and happened to me. You can read the entire uncensored story in my new book, Explosive Growth — A Few Things I Learned Growing To 100 Million Users & Losing $78 Million.
Two books for entrepreneurs, in addition to Explosive Growth, that I highly recommend about how to get your articles and ideas to spread virally are Contagious By Jonah Berger and Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday.