By Jeff Barrett, CEO at Status Creative
- Earlier this month, marketing pro Dave Kerpen made headlines with a campaign in which his healthcare company offered free therapy to New York Mets fans after a major loss.
- With a budget of just $375, Kerpen engineered a story and rollout plan that garnered an estimated 118 million media views.
- While partly due to his proprietary media contacts, Kerpen’s success is largely replicable. It’s a blend of strategic brainstorming, story-crafting, timing and distribution.
Dave Kerpen is giving away free therapy to Mets fans. But I’ll get to that later.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kerpen for years. Three things have always been true: He always makes himself available when you ask, he is brilliant at getting your attention with promotions, and he’s a die-hard Mets fan. (Again, keep that Mets part in mind.)
When Kerpen became the CEO of UMA Health, I knew it was only a matter of time before he made national news with a promotion. I mean, this is the same guy who got brands to sponsor his wedding. (That campaign allowed him and his wife Carrie to start their agency, Likeable Media.)
Kerpen’s promotion for UMA Health needed to highlight the brand’s trademark trait: accessibility. On the UMA Health site, users can search for mental health professionals in their neighborhood, book appointments online, and pay as they go.
Kerpen wanted to play into that.
“I really wanted to give people who wouldn't have tried therapy a reason to experience the benefits of therapy,” he told Grow Wire. “[UMA Health is] working to change the narrative around mental health … People are always applauded for going to the gym to work on their bodies and meet with their physical trainers, but when they say they're going to a therapist, people say, ‘What's the matter?’ Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, and everyone can benefit from talk therapy.”
Entrepreneurs don’t always have large budgets, and Kerpen likes that challenge. The budget for this UMA Health campaign was $375.
And with it, Kerpen got 118 million media views.
His campaign was a simple story: UMA Health would offer free therapy sessions to Mets fans who filled out a form asking about their most difficult moments as fans. The story was picked up digitally on ESPN, Yahoo and Sports Illustrated. New York papers wrote features.
Part of this success came from Kerpen’s proprietary “special sauce” of media contacts and relationships. But part of it can be replicated.
To come up with his campaign, Kerpen started by throwing every bad, good or insane idea at the wall and taking input from everyone, as he described in a recent Inc article. (Side note: If you have good media contacts, then start by thinking about what motivates them the most. I use this tactic, and you should make it a priority with your business. Always have a go-to source to release your message.)
Next, Kerpen always asks if a campaign story is sharable. In digital media, real traction is all about how often something is shared. Kerpen knew Mets fans are a proud and vocal niche. If you’re a Mets fan, and your friend is a Mets fan, and the Mets just lost and you’re both sad about it, then you can bet you’ll share this story about free Mets therapy on your friend’s Facebook wall. Plus, it’s an offer for free stuff. People love to spread the news about free stuff.
Sports Illustrated covered Kerpen's story, then shared the article on Facebook.
Major media (ESPN, Sports Illustrated) is always looking to pick up a story when it’s gaining traction. And yes, you can somewhat force that pickup with good media contacts. However, there’s no contact nor tool that can help a bad story gain traction.
So always look for an emotion behind the story, something that will trigger a response and compel someone to share--because the story is funny, heartwarming, shocking or affirms a certain viewpoint they have.
Timing is everything, so be flexible with it. There is nothing wrong with having a campaign ready to go but waiting to release it. If Kerpen had released his “free Mets therapy” story on a pre-planned date, the Mets may have won their game that day, and the story wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much traction.
Instead, Kerpen waited until “the Mets had a particularly embarrassing or noteworthy-in-a-bad-way event happen,” he wrote on Inc.
He launched his campaign the day after the Mets lost 25-4. It was their worst loss in franchise history. That’s perfect timing.
While the news cycle focused on how badly the Mets were doing this season—granted, it’s a season they started 11-1—Kerpen’s offer was right there for the media to add to the story.
After the story’s intial release, Kerpen used social media and a little bit of paid Facebook advertising to extend its lifecycle.
(Second side note: I’m a big advocate for starting with organic media and then boosting with paid, not the other way around. A large paid promotion upfront doesn’t ensure success. Test a few campaign stories organically, and when something works, like Kerpen’s free therapy, strike with paid. There’s less risk and more reward that way.)
Of course, no marketing method is perfect. A lot of it is trial and error. But creating good media relationships and having a sense for timing will give you much more room for error. While Kerpen’s Mets campaign followed those rules, it also dealt with the hot topic of mental health in a fun and engaging way. His is an example to follow.
The only downside? I’m still waiting on free therapy for Tigers fans.
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