I Want it Now! The Long Path to Overnight Success

"Your Name in Lights" by Almond Butterscotch

“Your Name in Lights” by Almond Butterscotch

“I’ve been working with you for a couple of months, why am I not famous?”

A client once said that to me. Well, more than one client. The fact is, he wasn’t famous because these things take time.

Very often prospects come to us and say “we’re launching in two weeks and we want big media, can you do it?”

Our answer is always, “no, we can’t.” Getting attention takes time, not just for the initial launch, which is a good start, but for long-term growth. No one story or one blog post or one tweet will set the world on fire. You need a plan, a full program, aimed at an ultimate goal. Any PR program, whether it is focused on media or social, takes consistent, sustained effort to truly develop and grow.

While I’m writing about PR programs, this is also true of careers. In a great blog post on the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Gulati points out that fast-tracking your career isn’t always the best move. Whether it’s pop music stars or Amazon, time matters. Spending the time to build means long-term success, but rushing to get things done can lead to failure.

As an example, let’s take a look at two recent viral video examples, both of which took a lot of time to become “overnight sensations.” The first is the “47 Percent” video that is credited with helping paint Governor Mitt Romney as out of touch with the electorate.

Scott Prouty, the man behind the video, discussed taking it and making it public this week, but what’s most interesting to me is the work he put in to getting publicity.

According to a Buzzfeed timeline, the video first surfaced online on May 31. Then on June 10, Prouty worked to get some buzz on it. According to the Huffington Post, Prouty spent the next few months going into comments sections of various sites and writing about it, sending it to journalists and even sending it to the Romney campaign.

Finally he reached out to James Carter using tried and true media relations techniques: research and outreach. The Huffington Post started chasing the story in late August, but it wasn’t until early September that the story finally hit anything resembling a mainstream media target. The same day Mother Jones posted the video and it took off from there.

So from the moment the video was first posted online to the moment it began its true rise took about four months.

Now let’s look at a more recent video, one that graphically and clearly demonstrates wealth inequality in America. It’s a great video, I first saw it on Facebook and many of my (liberal) friends are sharing it.

Marketplace points out that the video had a long road from production to mass viewership. It first went live in November, but as you can see from the stats, its viewership didn’t take off until the very end of February, nearly three months. And most of that came thanks to mentions by both Mashable and uber-meme-leader George Takei.

The viewership stats for the Wealth Inequity in America video show a long time of inactivity before virality.

The viewership stats for the Wealth Inequity in America video show a long time of inactivity before virality.

Now to be fair, three to six months isn’t a lot of time. But to many tech companies who expect results immediately, it can seem like an eternity.

However, hidden in both of these examples are the stories you didn’t see and the luck involved in creating viral success. What videos of politicians did we not see because the people posting weren’t as committed to getting the word out? What if Mashable just didn’t find the inequities video all that interesting? Or if they weren’t searching YouTube in the first place?

Also to consider: what defines “success” for these videos? In the first case it was about broad exposure, but for the second I’m not sure the producer ever had much of a goal in mind. For other videos, if the goal is to reach a small audience or explain something to a specific group, then the measurement is much different.

The bottom line is that true fame (and any fortune ensuing from that) takes time and effort. Overnight successes are rarely overnight successes, even in the fast-paced world of social media.


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Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.

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