At 10:30 a.m. on May 25, 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals launched "Stand for Stan," a PR campaign with the express purpose of winning a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Cards great Stan Musial.
But the Cards didn't issue a press release. Nor did the team give any local media outlet an exclusive interview about its game plan.
Instead, the Redbirds tweeted.
"#Cardinals begin campaign to honor Stan Musial: http://tinyurl.com/24fr3lw Watch daily photo tweets of fans Standing for Stan #standforstan"
The tweet was the brainchild of the Cards' new director of public relations, Ron Waterman. At 43, he freely admits he is a far cry from the social-media hipster of cliché, glued to the Twitter feed on his iPhone. "I have absolutely no concept of social media," he says. But, he acknowledges, "I know people."
And that proved to be enough. What the Cardinals launched that morning without fanfare had already become a sensation by the first pitch of that evening's ball game in San Diego. Waterman remembers watching the game on TV and seeing fans at Petco Park sporting a homemade sign calling on America to "Stand for Stan."
"I thought, 'This social-media stuff works!'" he says.
And how. By the time the Obama White House announced in November that, yes, it had decided to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Musial, more than 50,000 fans had visited the campaign's website, www.cardinals.com /standforstan. Another 20,000 signed a petition in support of a medal for Musial, while celebrities from Sarah Jessica Parker to Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg endorsed the campaign by taking pictures with a Cards-endorsed "Flat Stan." (The Cardinals, not so coincidentally, increased their number of Twitter followers by 60 percent.)
Best of all, everybody's favorite Cardinal got the joy of watching the campaign crescendo.
The Musials get together every Sunday for dinner, Waterman recalls. And during Stand for Stan, friends reported, the family made a ritual of checking the campaign's website: "They'd all get together and look at the computer and look at all these pictures that people submitted."
Months after the White House announcement, Waterman sounds shocked that the plan actually worked. "If Napoleon Dynamite and Fredbird were tasked with designing a social-media campaign to honor Stan Musial, it would be Stand for Stan," he says. "We just tried to have fun with it."