WASHINGTON: Reports earlier this month that dark-horse Presidential candidate Howard Dean had raised $7.5 million in a single quarter with the help of the barely year-old website Meetup.com placed both in the media spotlight.
The tiny start-up has a PR staff of one and hardly any budget for publicity. But as everyone from hobbyists to activists across the globe are finding, Meetup.com is by nature an engine for press coverage.
Meetup.com allows people with similar interests to find each other online and arrange in-person "meet-ups," whether they are fans of the Indigo Girls in Pakistan or Dalmatian enthusiasts in Colorado. Nationally, these interests don't generate ink. But locally, the meetings do.
"Meetup has enabled us to generate press on a local level and with smaller markets - newspapers that people really read," said Courtney O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the Dean campaign. Before long, those local stories got the attention of CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
The pro-gun-control Million Mom March was a major story in 2000 that quickly receded from national awareness. Now merged with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, it's resurging through Meetup.com.
"So far we've had more than 2,000 people affiliate themselves through the site," said spokesman Peter Hamm. "As a result, we've been getting a lot of local news coverage."
It's good news for the Dean and Brady campaigns, but the clear winner is Meetup.com. The website may only be a footnote in each local story, but the consistent mentions have led to outsize coverage for the tiny but increasingly influential site.
"We haven't spent a dime on advertising," said VP of communications Myles Weissleder. "The way our system is constructed, the fact that our meet-ups take place in cities and towns across the country, makes this a local story just about everywhere, for every topic."
With 1,437 topics available, that's a lot of potential stories.