In the comic books, the mad scientist is intent on taking over the world through devious means. Some nefarious plot will lead to utter chaos and ruination for the good guys and a world controlled by the evil genius. Sometimes, you get the world domination play in real life.
Peter Shankman created HARO (HelpAReporter.com) a free website which has grown to be one of (if not THE) best sources for matching journalist queries and PR sources. (There was a report that Peter had taken to wearing a bulletproof vest at events sponsored by PR Newswire. At one point, if I was a betting girl, I would have laid down money on BusinessWire funding him behind the scenes.) Even better, Peter’s service is free to all comers, unlike Profnet, a service I used for years before I could no longer afford it (and HelpAReporter came around). Ah, startups…
More than a year ago, Peter Shankman was happily pairing journalists and sources via his Facebook account — which he quickly maxed out as PR professionals and small business people stormed the gates looking for the goodies. Peter shrewdly played up this limitation to transfer his followers over to his own site. I along with thousands of others, followed him to http://www.helpareporter.com. And HARO, as we all know it now, grew by leaps and bounds. (I think the current database numbers somewhere around 100,000 members.)
Just as the 2008 summer heat was reaching its height, Peter made a trip to Boston. (Another thing about evil geniuses; they are everywhere. Shankman’s travel schedule must vault him into the upper strata of the frequent flyer VIPs of all time.) I used his Boston trip as an opportunity to meet him in person at a HARO open bar. And came away convinced that there was no one holding hidden purse strings — not everyone can afford to fund an open bar for a few dozen people whenever they visit a new city. And, by following Peter on Twitter (@skydiver), I knew this wasn’t an isolated offer.
Before the Boston event, I read his book — Can We Do That?! And figured out one very very important thing. Peter Shankman can monetize anything — the guy got his 30th birthday party sponsored. But more relevant to the HARO example, he does it by offering something for everyone. He offers such a good service (and with good humor) that almost no one begrudges him the ability to earn a little baksheesh.
Maybe “little” is inaccurate — rarely does an unsponsored HARO newsletter cross my desk. For those of you capable of math and playing at home, that’s 3 times a day, 5 days a week times 52 weeks a year. Not bad, even at bargain basement ad rates.
So, what have we learned?
- Peter’s business (and frankly, his entire business philosophy) is driven by the win-win principle. If everyone gets what they want and need, everyone wins. This is the key to a truly successful business model and one that can be monetized. (Are you listening, Facebook and Twitter?)
- Even if there is a “good enough” existing product, just changing the business model might be enough to give you the win. (I.e. Free is good. Free works but you still need to pay the rent so make sure you are producing a product that someone will pay for. Peter gets sponsorship $ from people who want to reach his audience of 100,000 PR/Marketing people and journalists.)
- Get your money for nothing and your content for free. (Apologies to Sting and Dire Straits) Peter’s content comes from the journalists themselves (they fill in a form) and he gets paid to write up the little sponsor notes (or least it sounds like he does the writing.)
- Adversity, facing it and solving a problem is an opportunity. Don’t feel you have to hide it; it may make for some great publicity.
So, are you thinking about starting a business? Learn from Peter. Make it a win-win business model. Build up your audience before you try to monetize it. Make adversity work for you — “Facebook limits, bah-humbug, I’ll build my own website and use the Facebook limits for publicity! Bwah-ha-ha,” the evil genius laughs. Make it a sustainable business model.
Maybe we should set him to rethinking how the major newspapers make a living. If he can solve that little problem, I’ll drop the “Evil” part in his title.
Note: As I post this, Peter Shankman, according to his Twitter feed, is in the air on an 11 hour direct flight from Paris to L.A. 1.) This gives me time to hide. 2.) See my earlier point about world domination.