PR and the Value of a Broken Laser Pointer

By Matter

Public relations is an interesting business. Stay in the game long enough and you get exposed to just about every kind of client and story you can imagine.

I was recently reminded (by a blog on that the first item sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer. The story goes that founder Pierre Omidyar wanted to test the auction website he had designed (originally called AuctionWeb), so he offered a non-functional laser pointer that was destined for the trash bin for auction. He sold it to a collector for $14.83 and the site’s march into history began. The first week or so saw items like a Superman metal lunchbox ($22), a Toyota Tercel ($3,200) and autographed Marky Mark underwear ($400) auctioned – and the site’s current inventory is just as eclectic.

Why did this story come to mind – other than the fact that it’s fascinating to look at the humble origins of businesses that become cultural icons? Public relations people are often involved with startups and new ideas at established organizations and the job requires the vision to see what they might become. It can be an invaluable ability, to be able to imagine how the products, services and people with whom we work might be the “next big thing”. Even if they don’t all rise to the level of eBay or Amazon, many of our clients produce products and ideas that are truly valuable. But, as with every great idea, their story starts out untold.

PR professionals help clients mold and tell those stories. And more and more, we help tell it through multiple channels. Our teams contribute written material (bylined articles, blogs, press releases, white papers, etc.) but also have a hand in social media content creation (on every platform imaginable) and – here at Matter – we also work with our outstanding in-house creative team to produce video, broadcast services, graphic design, infographics and websites for our clients.

Whether the client is in the business of healthcare, high technology – or even selling broken laser pointers, the public relations team is a vital and creative partner in the story-telling. What’s your favorite business “humble origin” story? I’d love to hear it.