Bootstrapping your PR can be easy peasy…
A few years ago, my friend and I were walking along the river in Portsmouth, NH. As we watched them play, I saw a groundhog dash for its hole. One of us (I can’t remember which) said, “We should have a rubber duck race” The more we talked about it, the more we liked the idea — at first, simply as an excuse goof, but later as an opportunity to promote our community and raise some money for some good local causes.
As the old saying goes, you can’t buy that kind of publicity (certainly not for two hundred bucks).
We took the scheme to our neighborhood association, which approved a modest $200 budget for the event. With just two weeks to prepare, we then began planning in earnest. The result was the great ducky derby attracted about 100 people, as well as coverage from the local television station and three local newspapers. As the old saying goes, you can’t buy that kind of publicity (certainly not for two hundred bucks) — plus the occasion served as a reminder to residents and others that this is a friendly, fun, to live.
So as you can see, you don’t need a Hollywood blockbuster promotional budget to generate attention-grabbing PR for your small business or organization. But it does take ingenuity, organization, planning, attention to detail, and a little luck. Here’s what I learned from my ducky derby experience:
We realized early on that of course we should have ducks everywhere the eye could see. While several actual ducks resided in the area, but we needed a lot of the little yellow quackers. We needed a BIG one too. I suggested getting a big a ducky suit, (which as one of the coordinators of the event, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere near the inside of), and later made sure I was nowhere around when it was time to put it on.
We looked around for one, but couldn’t seem to find anything that would work. We finally ended up making one and promptly named him Howard and even made up a little story to go with it. Stupid right?? A couple of grown men playing with a duck suit and making up stupid stories, again, right?! Absolutely, Unequivocally news worthy.
We finally found someone to wear the suit, (more like threatened him with bodily injury), and made him walk around downtown, which drew a bit of attention.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CONTACTS.
We wanted some special guests to attract a crowd and the press. One neighbor had campaigned for mayor, so we had him reach out with a personal invite that was accepted quickly. A friend of mine at the time was a popular local musician and he agreed to come and sing a few songs. My next door neighbor, who teaches a children’s art class, was happy to conduct a special program with stories and crafts for kids.
Think about the people you know who can help, as well as what they can get out of the event to make it worth their time and effort. For example, the neighbor who ran for (and got elected in the next election), mayor and the singer both got good media coverage. I also put together a basket of goodies for the mayor and his family, and I gave restaurant gift cards to my neighbor and the musician.
CONDUCT TARGETED MEDIA OUTREACH.
Identify which media outlets and reporters are most likely to be interested in your event, and focus on them. Clearly, this was a community affair, so we targeted local media and promoted the community angle. We also stressed my neighbor the mayor’s participation. Since he was bucking to get into office, we knew the media would be interested in covering his activities and having the opportunity to talk with him.
KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS.
And stick to them — especially when you’re trying something new. Set a modest budget. Know what you can afford to lose and don’t spend a dollar more. At the same time, plan out your event in advance; determine how much of your time will be involved, what help will be necessary, and what — if any — extras you will need (such as security, licenses, permits, etc.). Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
LEARN FROM YOUR SUCCESSES, AS WELL AS THE SNAGS.
We had a terrific event, but we didn’t rest on our laurels. Instead we focused on what we could do differently or better the next year. For example, we capitalized on the fact that we had Howard. We designed a logo with Howard who we featured on T-shirts, buttons and refrigerator magnets to sell at the event. The next year, we had access a much bigger area for the festivities, which proved extremely party worthy. Not missing an opportunity to spin straw into gold, we stressed the rustic, historic nature of the location in our promotional materials.
the ducky derby was an annual affair for a couple years. The second year attracted similar numbers of people and again brought the media out. Now that I’m writing about it and thinking about what a great time we had, I may just start one around Gilford, but maybe add some new features and, hopefully, more special guests to make it even bigger and better. We had a lot of fun which had a huge return on a modest investment. And it all started with a walk by the river.