The creation of “Cyber Monday” was a brilliant PR success

Nov 22, 2017

A dozen years ago, the National Retail Federation’s e-commerce division was brainstorming ways to boost online shopping during the holiday season.

They decided to promote the Monday after Thanksgiving as the digital equivalent of Black Friday, and wanted the media to spread the word. But how?

From a public relations perspective, there are two ways to do this.

The wrong way is to develop a generic press release and pitch the hell out of it. If the announcement’s simply not newsworthy, that just wastes time and ruins reporter relationships.

The right way is to make your message newsworthy.

So, the NRF first surveyed members about the previous year’s sales that day. Gathering unique, primary data instantly lends a story credibility.

Next, they crafted a narrative that Monday was so popular because people were returning to their workplaces’ high-speed internet. Reporters love surprising explanations like that.

Third, they coined a catchy name to go in headlines. They considered Black Monday (too obvious), Blue Monday (too somber) and Green Monday (too environmentalist). They ditched the colors, and called it Cyber Monday.

Best of all, rather than make it sound like they manufactured the concept, they framed it as an already-established trend. News editors can’t resist trend pieces.

On Nov. 21, 2005, they issued their now-famous press release, and the story spread everywhere.

Notice how matter-of-factly they mention the name “Cyber Monday,” as if it’s a well-known shorthand, when of course it was only created days beforehand.

By the time people pointed out that Cyber Monday wasn’t even in the top 10 most popular online shopping days, it didn’t matter. The media attention had driven consumers online and encouraged retailer promotions, making NRF’s announcement a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Long story short: the creation of Cyber Monday shows that the best way to spread your story through the media isn’t to spend time pitching something that isn’t newsworthy, but to instead find ways to make your story newsworthy.


This article first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Lee Procida.

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