It’s the classic viral success story.

Regular guy posts something to the World Wide Web. People take notice; then the right people take notice. Other people start to notice all the noticing that’s going on. Suddenly, regular guy isn’t so regular anymore. Now, he’s a meme, or he’s a hero, or, if regular guy’s newfound stardom is attached to some sort of tangible stream of revenue, he’s an overnight millionaire. (Or like, a thousand-aire. Or something.)

Such is the story Patrick Wensink, a humor novelist and fellow member of Louisville’s coolest, most inspired, and most all-around awesome improv troupe, Project Improv.

When I first started doing improv comedy last spring, I thought it would be a really great way to sharpen my creative instincts and improve my ability to think fast — a skill that I rely on heavily as a copywriter at CurrentMarketing. One of the first people I met in the troupe was Pat, who had just released his second novel, “Broken Piano for President.” I was really stoked that my new improv troupe had a published author among its ranks (hey, maybe this can make me a better writer!) but I gotta admit, I was even more stoked when Pat said I didn’t totally botch my first practice.

Back then, “Broken Piano for President” had shown a solid opening, and was being reviewed kindly on the literary blog circuit. And Pat was happy.

But at last week’s improv practice, Pat wasn’t so happy. He shared with our troupe that he’d gotten a cease-and-desist letter from corporate giant Jack Daniels. His publisher was going to have to change the cover art of the novel—an obvious parody of Jack’s iconic packaging design. It wasn’t fun news, but there was a silver lining: Pat told us the offer he got was not only very reasonable, but the letter was unusually genteel. “Must be ol’ Jack’s southern charm,” Pat joked. We laughed, with sympathetic undertones.

After all the business with Jack Daniels’ copyright lawyers and the publisher had been settled, Pat decided to write about his experience on his blog, sharing his plans for the book while complementing Jack Daniels’ cordiality in the matter. He even posted the cease-and-desist letter in full, so that others could reach the same conclusion about how pleasant it was. That’s when the viral storm started brewing.

I don’t need to tell you how big of a PR boost Jack Daniel’s earned as a direct benefit of the highly publicized story — just read the comments on Yahoo, Buzzfeed, or The Huffington Post. And I don’t need to tell you how Pat’s book sales soared during the whole ordeal — NPR and Mashable already covered that angle, too (or you could just check out Amazon’s top sellers.) But what I can tell you is this: the marketing power of social media continues to prove itself time and time again, all over the country.

Also… I totally know that guy!


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