This August a story in Bloomberg caught my attention on Twitter. Jason Wright was banned from selling eclipse glasses on Amazon just days before the solar eclipse and just as sales were hitting a crescendo. He'd invested $4,000 in the glasses and had been working up to this point since March. Once the eclipse happened his inventory would be worth nothing. I was intrigued with his story plus I saw that Jason also lives in Utah. I reached out to him on Facebook to see how things were going and tried to help. I really related because Jason is a single dad and entrepreneur.
Photo from Jason Wright's Facebook post
One thing that I wanted to know more than anything was how he got the Bloomberg media coverage. For that story, I had to wait weeks. In fact, I forgot all about it until Jason messaged me on Facebook, “You wanted to know how I scored national press, right?,” he wrote, “you are one of the few people who asked that particular question. it's a really good story that I'll probably tell my posterity forever if you still want to hear it I'd love to talk….” I called him that evening to hear more.
I can appreciate how difficult it is to get national press but that if you have the right type of story at the right time, it's actually pretty simple, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Five years ago, before another eclipse, Jason noticed vendors selling eclipse memorabilia at a fair in Idaho. So when the next eclipse was a full one he knew he wanted to get in on the hype by selling eclipse glasses on Amazon. Starting in March he ordered the glasses, created a website and set up an Amazon account. Things were going fine but as the date drew closer sales started to pick up. That's when Amazon cracked down on eclipse glasses and shut down his seller's account without notice or recourse.
Amazon claimed Jason didn't have enough reviews to support the number of sales he was getting. Nothing he did could convince Amazon to reinstate his account. So he bought a one way plane ticket to Amazon's headquarters in Seattle to see what he could do. When he finally did get to talk to someone at Amazon, he didn't get anywhere and told them he planned to publicize his plight on Facebook and through the media.
Amazingly he got national press on his first try. His story ran on Bloomberg and then (as usually happens) it got picked up by other media outlets, including making the front page of Hacker News.
So how did he get on the news? He simply typed “news” into Google maps and the local Bloomberg office came up. He called the number listed and told a reporter what happened. The reporter he talked to liked Jason's story and published it the next day. By then Jason was already back online. A key part of the story? That he bought a 1-way ticket. There was no way of knowing how long it would take to fix things (he knew and had documentation that his glasses were certified). He would stay as long it took to get things turned around. People loved that Jason was determined to stay until he resolved the problem.
The same day the story ran, people saw it and started to call and email him. Other media outlets wanted to interview him. Eventually he just couldn't keep up on it and focused on Amazon sales. All he wanted is to sell this inventory.
There are so many elements to why he got the coverage but it started with having an interesting story. People procrastinated buying glasses so there was intense demand the closer it got to the eclipse. Everywhere that sold glasses were selling out, which added scarcity. This is classic newsjacking or inserting your story into a larger one. Instead of another story about people not being able to find eclipse glasses or how your eyes might be hurt by looking at the sun, Jason told the story of a business who did everything right and yet was shut down. It was a David and Goliath story too – the single dad entrepreneur against a big corporation. People loved it!
Jason told me he didn't want or welcome fame, saying, “I didn't talk to Bloomberg to be famous…. I did it because I had to….”. He just wanted to save his business. And it worked. Not only that, he wants to inspire other small business owners not to give up when faced with their own obstacles. “Thanks for asking about my story… the only reason I'm sharing is in hopes of helping someone else to get press or inspire someone to take a wild adventure in some other way.”