How to have a happy anniversary

Milestones can translate into column inches.

Milestones can translate into column inches.

An anniversary can simultaneously celebrate history and promote the present. To woo media, though, such campaigns must be especially engaging.

An anniversary need not be celebrated on a single day. This year, Anaheim, CA, is marking its sesquicentennial (150 years) with 15 months of activities launched in 2006.

The celebration slogan underscores leveraging the past to promote the present: "Always Fresh and Never Grows Old." A series of free events is staggered to appeal to diverse residents, businesses, and visitors. And, the PR team is banking the campaign will ultimately raise Anaheim's profile in Southern California, says Jeanne Meehan, Anaheim's public information specialist.

This agenda includes unique events like the Anaheim 150 Kick-off Celebration and the Anaheim Anniversary Babies program. However, it also includes promoting ongoing annuals (Spooktacular Halloween Parade and Holiday Lights Tour) and new efforts (the History Walk unveiling and the Anaheim/Orange County Walk of Stars).

"It is important to determine which events are newsworthy," Meehan advises. "We brainstorm before each event and come up with a detailed media strategy unique to [it]."

But PR pros needn't wait 150 years or produce a program on such a grand scale. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of digging.

Researching Medical Mutual of Ohio's records, media relations manager Don Olson had a hunch it must be close to insuring the millionth baby since its 1934 inception; and he was right. But during his hunt, "he literally stumbled upon a wonderful story about Bruce Crane, the very first baby born under our insurance coverage," says Ed Byers, senior media relations specialist.

Olson then discovered that, by coincidence, Crane today works alongside the woman who gave birth to the one-millionth covered baby in 2005.

"Talk about coincidence," Byers says. "We threw a party for Bruce, mom and baby, and papers and TV from all over turned out to cover it. It was a PR person's dream."

Press releases and outreach portrayed Medical Mutual as Ohio's oldest, most reliable health insurance company, Byers adds.

Anniversary celebrations needn't be limited to your company's milestones. More general-industry milestones can provide opportunities, too.

As the hard drive's 50th anniversary neared, Weber Shandwick sought to promote clients Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA).

"Hit the press as early as you can because competitors will try to take the same approach," says Rick Popko, account supervisor at WS. "As we were dialing down, we spoke with a couple of editors who had been approached by competitor Seagate along the same story lines. It helps to go out of your way to bring more to the table for the editor."

Though larger, Hitachi trails Seagate in the hard drive space, but it has the distinction of having bought the IBM storage division that developed the original hard drive.

With that pedigree, WS helped broker a union with IDEMA and recruit Al Hoagland, a developer involved in building that first hard drive. It also produced a timeline of the evolution of hard-drive technology, fun-facts sheets, flash animations, and a calendar.

While several outlets turned down an earlier pitch, this complete packaging spurred pick-ups in Newsweek, Fortune, and others.

Popko's favorite hit was a September posting on InfoWorld's Mario Apicella's blog. It read: "Maybe it's because I'm not much for celebrating anniversaries, especially those related to unanimated objects, but isn't all the hubbub around the disk drive hitting the big five-o getting annoying?"

"When campaigns [start to] annoy editors enough to write about them, you know you've won the war," Popko says, wryly.

Intrepid PR pros can unearth unusual milestones, dig out historical coincidences, and piggy-back on other campaigns to promote products or services in a different way.

And, solid media planning, unique logos, historical fact sheets, dedicated Web pages, timelines, and partnering are all tactics worthy of attention before the party's over.

Technique tips

Research to uncover those historical coincidences editors love

Focus both on the past and on current successes

Recruit partners and be wary of competitors who may be looking to mimic your idea

Oversell. If editors don't bite, add value

Burn cash on one budget-busting event, if a few smaller ones can be more effective

Rely on just the news of the anniversary; also develop a mature PR campaign

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