PR TECHNIQUE: NATIONAL AWARENESS DAYS - The right way to seize theday

Creating a national day is easy. Getting the media to take notice

is not. But with good timing, a strong story, and a bit of luck, you can

crack a very cluttered calendar. Anita Chabria reports.



Most people know that November 11 was Veteran's Day, but that week was

host to a half dozen other national promotional events, such as Stamp

Collector's Month, Children's Book Week, and Clock Day - all intended to

inspire, educate, and maybe drum up some media interest for the

founders.



The creation of "national days" for PR purposes, or piggybacking on

existing days, is dubbed a "mature" strategy by kindly PR professionals,

and "from hell" by their more sardonic counterparts. But despite being a

less-than-fresh PR technique, a well-done national day, week, or month

can garner positive media attention for years to come.



Take Breast Cancer Awareness Week, started 16 years ago by ICI

Pharmaceuticals, with the help of Burson-Marsteller. In 1985, breast

cancer was not widely talked about, and the benefits of early detection

relatively unknown to the public. A decade and a half later, the week is

still going strong, and with a coalition of 17 organizations backing it,

the majority of US women know the phrase "early detection," and the

media remains receptive to new angles on the issue. However, such

national week success is the exception in a glutted field of promotional

ploys.



"There are a lot of national days, so breaking out of the clutter can be

challenging," warns Kathy Beiser, Burson's client managing partner in

Chicago, who works on the breast cancer campaign. She cautions that not

all products and services lend themselves to national days. Those with

strong health or educational components seem to do best, according to

Riff Yeager of Colle & McVoy. Yeager linked an awareness campaign about

canine arthritis to May's National Arthritis month for Pfizer

Pharmaceuticals, which makes a drug to treat the condition. Those types

of issues provide a platform that gives the public useful information,

while at the same time creates a call to action or facilitates

scholastic or medical services (such as information on how to get

arthritis tests for pets).



Strong action and informational aspects give the media the non-biased

angle they need to justify a story. Days with an abundance of silliness

- such as National Take a Potato to Work Day - also have a chance at

media attention, as do patriotic-themed events. But, warns Yeager,

national days "only work if the information you provide is substantive,

credible, and provides some kind of public service. If it's just

attaching itself in a gratuitous way, that just doesn't fly."



Finding the right date for an event is the starting point for

success.



While National Man Watcher's week (January 7-11) may not present much

media competition, the Fourth of July - or even National Firefighters

Day (October 8) - certainly does. Picking a day free of other draws

increases the chance of media interest, as does picking a slow-news

period, such as a Friday before a holiday. Chase's Calendar of Events

(in print or at www.chases.com) and the book Holidays and Anniversaries

of the World are good guides for sousing out appropriate times. It's

also helpful to have a news hook for the day you choose - such as a

historical anniversary (say, the first trans-Atlantic flight for

National Aviation Day).



Once the date is set, the challenge is to make it interesting and timely

to the media. That means notifying them in advance, rather than on the

day of the event. This is especially important if your event is tied to

a popular national day, when media outlets will receive dozens of

releases - many of which are tossed straight into the trash.



"Clients often think these national days are a fantastic way to get

publicity, when in fact it's one of the least interesting kinds of news

you can present to the media," says Audrey Knoth, VP of

Pennsylvania-based Goldman & Associates.



Knoth planned an event in conjunction with National Grandparent's Day

for an assisted-living facility.



Putting a human face on the event and creating a strong coalition of

supporters can lend credibility and interest as well, she adds, and can

provide the picture-worthy image needed to pull reporters away from

their desks.



For Knoth, that meant staying away from the standard PR issues for

Grandparent's Day, such as special luncheons. Instead, she researched

the origins of the event, and discovered that it was founded by a West

Virginia woman who is now a grandmother. Knoth contacted the founder's

teenage granddaughter and asked her to attend an event as the official

spokesperson of the day.



That fresh angle earned coverage from newspapers, television, and

morning radio in the Harrisburg, PA area, where Knoth's client's event

was held.



"A day is just a day," she says, "but if you can really associate it

with something that is human, warm, and vibrant, you'll have a much

better chance at getting media attention."



Yeager agrees. His canine arthritis efforts were boosted by a national

animal healthcare expert, as well as b-roll testimonials of pet owners

who suffered from the human form of arthritis, while their dogs had the

canine version. These elements led to a spot on Good Morning America, as

well as appearances on broadcast outlets in six major markets, including

New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.



Successful national days come with a built-in downside, however. A

positive press reception for a national event draws other publicity

seekers, which divert attention away from the original founders. While

the breast cancer awareness campaign has been hugely successful, the

hundreds of other organizations that have done events around the week in

the past years have overshadowed Burson's client.



"If you establish a certain day and you are successful, it attracts

others who want to make a contribution," warns Beiser. "It can dilute

the individuality of the sponsors."



TECHNIQUE TIPS

1. Do have an educational component or a call to action

2. Do make sure the campaign has a human element

3. Do find credible experts and partners for the media to interview

1. Don't pick a date that has many other national events

2. Don't piggyback on an existing day without the founder's OK

3. Don't expect success to continue year after year - good days will

attract other events, which can steal media attention



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