Oh, Canada...

A PR pitch that worked for an unexpected reason.

Bill Murphy Jr.

I’m Bill Murphy Jr. Welcome to Understandably, my new regularly published email about “the story behind other stories.” I hope you will consider subscribing!

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Quick post today about a PR pitch that worked—as in, it worked on me.

The story ran early last year. It was about a Canadian accounting software company with a nice little publicity stunt.

A Canadian Company Ranked All 50 U.S. States by How Polite They Are. Here's the List.

The company went through thousands of invoices from their U.S. small business clients, then organized them by state and counted the number of times that they used words like “please” and “thank you.”

Then they ranked the states. As I wrote at the time:

No, this is not exactly a double-blind study in a peer-reviewed journal; admittedly, it's more of a publicity stunt. But it piqued my interest.

‘Just because we Canadians are polite…’

Now, in truth, it’s extremely rare that a cold pitch from a public relations firm leads directly to me writing an article. But it worked in this case.

Here’s the chronology:

  1. January 2018: I got an email from a PR firm. (I’ve emailed the PR rep recently to say I was thinking of writing this article but never heard back, so I’m not going to quote directly.)

  2. The angle that the pitch suggested was that New York had come in as the 42nd least polite state. However, I saw something else: Canada!

  3. The person who pitched me couldn’t have known this, but while I was born and grew up in the U.S., my mother was born in Montreal. My siblings and I had this this funny relationship with Canada growing up: enjoying visiting there, but also frankly making fun — and I guess ribbing my mom, too.

Anyway, it just kind of clicked. It was fun to write. As I ultimately summarized in the subhed: “So now the Canadians are going to judge us on how polite we are, eh?”

I got to quote a Canadian friend: "Just because we Canadians are polite, don't assume that means we're nice."

Heck, I literally just came right out and said that I was writing the article because I thought it was funny.

People liked it. The story did well, in terms of readership. And the comments drew people in. They knew to take the “results” of the “study” with a grain of a salt. But it prompted some good debate about why it pays to be polite.

‘Oklahoma has the best people!’

One more big point: About 300,000 people read the story. A majority of them found it via Facebook.

But the Facebook boom didn’t “just happen.” Instead, I saw an opportunity as I was writing it: namely that Oklahoma came in as the #1 most polite state according to the survey.

So, my assistant and I spent a few hours after the story published, reaching out via Facebook to every single television station, radio station, newspaper, politician, and news-type celebrity (think local news meteorologists, for example) that we could find in Oklahoma.

It worked. Here’s what some of it looked like. (If you’re reading this via email and you can’t see the photos below, you might have to enable images. Sorry.)

The net result was a fun article, a sense of humor, a good fit for my business publication (it was ultimately about invoices and small business accounting, after all), and a timely pitch — all combined with a gut feeling about how regional pride might make it take off.

That’s the story behind the story. It worked out pretty well for everyone—most importantly from my perspective, for the readers.

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