Follow your dream and your mustache, and you too can become a social media sensation

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Following the example of Fox Business Channel, I’ve decided to make this a more aspirational business blog (no, not really, but bear with me for this post). So I thought I’d share the inspiring story of Aaron Perlut, with whom I had breakfast Wednesday. Here’s Aaron, as captured by my cameraphone:

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Aaron, as you can see, has a mustache. “I’ve had one on and off since I was four,” he says. Early in the summer of 2006, he and several colleagues in the St. Louis headquarters of PR firm Fleishman Hillard–some mustachioed, some not–were sitting around shooting the breeze and came up with the idea that it would be amusing to start a campaign to bring back the unfashionable mustache. They founded the American Mustache Institute and organized ‘Stache Bash 2006 that summer in St. Louis, a party that attracted about 50 guests and raised a couple hundred dollars for charity.

Early this summer, Aaron and the boys were trying to come up with a way to garner more attention for their efforts. They’re PR guys, so they thought of sending out a press release announcing their choice for Best Sports Mustache of All Time. But they also know their way around the Internets, so they decided they’d be better off making a participatory event out of it. They set up a Website with a sports mustache poll, told all the journalists they knew about it, and waited. “Next thing we know we’re getting 250,000 unique visitors to our Website weekly,” Aaron says.

Articles in USA Today and the Daily Telegraph played a role, but it was really the sports blogosphere that made it happen. Dan Steinberg’s brilliant D.C. Sports Bog at washingtonpost.com and Matthew Cerrone’s MetsBlog.com (which may well be brilliant, but I’m not a regular reader so I can’t say) led the way, Aaron says.

“It’s been unbelievable, the impact of social media on what has happened,” he says, adding that it’s “very interesting to see what the 21 to 25 male age group latches onto.”

Thanks in part to Cerrone’s hard work, Mets announcer and former first baseman Keith Hernandez–a write-in!–won the honor. In response, the Mets organized a Mustache Night at Shea Stadium Sept. 14, handing out fake mustaches to the first 20,000 fans to show up. I happen think it was something of a travesty that the award didn’t go to a member of the 1972 Oakland A’s, who reintroduced the mustache to baseball after an absence of 40 years (that’s what Aaron says, and as executive director of the American Mustache Institute he ought to know). But I guess I should have been on Athletics Nation drumming up support for Rollie/Reggie/Catfish/Joe/etc. Or better yet just Rollie, who was the one A on the ballot.

Anyway, a bunch of guys who spend their days battling to get attention for their mostly corporate clients (Aaron, for one, is always bugging me about UPS) suddenly found themselves deluged with publicity that they barely had to work for. The reason Aaron was in New York this week was to do a taping of Fashionably Late with Stacy London, a soon-to-launch talk show on TLC. He and co-conspirator Daniel Callahan have done scores of interviews with media outlets around the world. Stuart Elliott portrayed the mustache effort as the model of a modern advertising campaign in the New York Times a couple weeks ago.

“I spend so much time on far more legitimate issues, and there has been an amazing cultural response to bringing back the mustache,” Aaron says. Why? He figures it’s because (a) it’s funny and (b) there are “no strings attached. It’s very clear that there’s nothing to be gained other than to bring back the mustache and raise money for charity.” (This summer’s ‘Stache Bash raised about $5,000 for Challenger Baseball for disabled kids in the St. Louis area.)

There might be some for-profit strings attached in the future, though. “There’s definitely been an interest by some companies in harnessing what we’re doing,” Aaron says. He doubts he’ll ever turn mustache-promotion into a full-time job: “I don’t see myself leaving the Knights of Flackhood anytime soon.” Still, given what’s happened over the past three months, you’ve got to think it’s at least a possibility.

So what’s the aspirational lesson here? Follow your passion, or at least your humorous faux passion, and make sure Dan Steinberg and Matthew Cerrone know about it.

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