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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
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