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Multiples-of-five marketing: feed the media's appetite for anniversary stories

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Did you know that the media have a soft spot for multiples of five and 10 years?

Last month, during a presentation in Virginia on the effective use of numbers in story-telling, that was one of my wrap-up points. The Blue Ridge chapter of the Public Relations Society of America had invited me to share "Go Figure: Making Numbers Count" and I urged those in attendance to explore ways they could tip off reporters, editors, producers and other media decision-makers to five-year and 10-year follow-up stories.

Or if they had a story pitch with a 15-, 20-, 30-year or an even larger anniversary date attached to it, better still.

In my 30 years of media experience (there's that multiple again), I have found such stories to be very attractive, both as a reporter and more recently as a publicist. And professional story tellers are hardly alone in this bias for crisp, clean multiples.

Back in the early 1990s, when I had a weekly feature called "Where Are They Now?" for The Courier News in Elgin, I profiled a former Streamwood Park District director. At the time, it had been seven years since he served in the position. A few days after the story appeared, his successor questioned, with what seemed like a mix of skepticism and trepidation, why I had chosen that particular moment for the profile.

"It's not like it has been five or 10 years," he said. "Why did you write that story now?"

His implication was that either my story had violated some sort of journalistic code mandating follow-ups when they were multiples of five-years, or it was a foreshadowing of his getting fired. (He wasn't on the hot seat, at least as far as I knew.)

Humorous as that anecdote may be, the larger truth is that if so many people get weak in the knees for this 5- and 10-times phenomenon, then it's sound, fundamental PR practice to point our media contacts in the direction of these stories.

So scan the horizon of your client's background, note the significant dates along the way, and then apply simple math to see how you might be able to leverage the 5-and-10 hook for marketing and media purposes.

To paraphrase (and offer a diplomatic variation on) a blunt, and oh-so-true point from Greg Duncan, Amway Triple Diamond and World Wide Group leader: our success does not come so much from how brilliant we are, but how thoroughly less-than-brilliant so many others are all over the world.

Why so many organizations fail to capitalize on this elementary aspect of communications and marketing is beyond me. Whether it's a mystery to you as well isn't so important as this truth: rather than try to analyze what's holding back others from the multiples-of-five marketing phenomenom, just get busy exploring ways to exploit it yourself.

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