The discovery of a rare purple pearl puts eBay’s communications manager at the center of viral news
REHOBOTH BEACH, DE: PR professionals are used to pitching stories and grooming experts for interviews, without being the main subject.
Yet that’s exactly what happened to Scott Overland, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at eBay, when he made a colorful discovery while dining on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
“We were at dinner a few weeks ago and ate clams and I felt something hard [in my meal] which I thought was a seashell at first,” said Overland, who was eating at the Salt Air restaurant. “It was this little purple thing.”
Overland and his wife started guessing what it might be, then Googled it and found it was a gem. In his research, Overland noticed that there seemed to be media coverage once every three to five years about someone discovering a purple pearl. In most cases, business increased at the restaurant where customers found one on their plate.
“I knew it was a fun, local story and I just couldn’t help it, having been in communications for over 15 years, so before we left our vacation I sent the picture of the pearl to a local reporter from the Delaware News Journal. [and shared our story]”, Overland said.
The reporter, Shannon Marvel McNaught, immediately emailed Overland and spent the next few days emailing her questions and searching for purple beads. Her story was published on August 15.
“My mother-in-law saw it first and texted it to my wife because it appeared on her MSN home screen on her computer,” Overland said. “From there, it exploded.”
USA Today, Yahoo, Southern Living, Fox News, NBC, the New York Post and the Food Network covered the story, along with outlets in New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and South America.
At one point, the Overland News was the #1 story on Apple News for the US
“People are craving good, positive news these days,” Overland said. “Especially something you can imagine happening to you that feels more tangible than winning the lottery. It was relatable, fun, and people enjoyed it.
Since mid-August, Overland has conducted 15 story interviews, sometimes making himself available for multiple Q&As a day. For more than a week and a half, the story hit the headlines.
Fortunately, it hasn’t been difficult for Overland to juggle media attention and his day job at eBay.
“I don’t reinvent the wheel every time I do an interview,” he said.
From his experience, he knew how to prepare well for interviews. He even created his own personal media kit, complete with images, story and quotes. Much like he advises others to do, Overland had talking points and was consistent, so he didn’t tell different stories at different outlets.
“The Zoom interviews were a lifesaver because I doubt I would have been able to do my actual work and get to the studios if that’s what TV stations were still asking for these days,” Overland said. Although a CBS station in Philadelphia sent a crew to interview Overland in person.
Of course, eBay had to get involved. The company’s social media team posted a TikTok video about the unique discovery on the eBay Stories page.
@ebaystories #pearl #purplepearl #storytime ♬ original sound – eBay Stories
“My six-year-old daughter loves purple, so for us, giving the pearl away might not thrill her,” Overland said. “But if I sold it, it would be on eBay.”
Looking back on the past two weeks, Overland said he needed to become a “bead expert.” He explained that he found it “remarkable” that the only proactive outreach he did for this story was to send an email.
“It just doesn’t happen,” said Overland, who previously worked as director of media relations for Pearson, senior adviser and communications strategist for then-Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and as deputy press secretary for the former senator and vice president. candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT). “To place a story, you usually send 15 places.”
One of Overland’s biggest lessons from the experience was that sometimes luck wins out.
“Stumbling into a story, whether it’s something like this or unexpectedly coming up with a pitch or an idea, can be the best or most successful way to go. [PR], versus spending a lot of money on brainstorming or pitch meetings or PR firms,” he said. “If I had known that to land on the Today show, all I had to do was find a purple pearl, it would have made my career easier.”
The story is not over. It could show up in another news cycle, as Overland said he was getting follow-up requests from reporters asking about the value of the pearl as he sought to have it appraised. Some friends also suggested turning the story into a children’s book.
“This is a positive viral situation and we are thinking about what the next step might look like,” Overland said.