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Making News

How an anniversary contest can make your business the talk of the town

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Q: My office supply store in Denver is celebrating its 10th anniversary in a few months. When I called the local newspaper, the reporter I talked to wasn't interested. Is there anything I can do with our celebration that will make reporters and TV stations pay attention to us?

A: Business birthdays aren't news. Anniversaries aren't either. Everybody has them, and nobody but the owner gives a hoot.

In celebration of your 10th anniversary, sponsor a fun contest. I guarantee you'll have everybody in town talking about your store.

Ask people to write, in 50 words or less, why someone at their company deserves the distinction of having "The Messiest Desk in Denver." Print ballots and place them next to your cash registers. Do a direct mailing to your regular customers and local companies. Post a ballot at your Web site. Write a news release announcing the contest, and send it to your local newspapers.

You can even get the morning drive-time disc jockey involved. Ask if you can come to the radio station unannounced and give your own award to the person who has the messiest desk. The deejay can announce it on the air as a way to kick off the contest. Give away a cool grand prize, such as new furniture for their home office and a two-hour consultation with a professional organizer.

Keep thinking about other clever angles. Track down a few local celebrities who are "neat freaks," and ask them to serve as judges. When you announce the winner, have the celebrity judges present the award. Be sure to ask the winner beforehand if it's okay if the TV stations film the awards ceremony in front of the messy desk.

Want to have people talking about you long after the anniversary is over? Throw in a traveling trophy and make the contest an annual event.

Here are some other ideas for anniversary contests:

  • A gourmet coffee shop can announce a "Brunch on the Boss" contest like Donald Jones, owner of New York Brunch Basket in Atlanta, did a few years ago. He teamed up with a local radio station that awarded a daily brunch basket-complete with muffins, jam, fresh-squeezed juice and that day's The New York Times-to the boss whose employee wrote a winning letter extolling the boss's virtues. The contest started out weekly but became so popular that the station did it each weekday morning for an entire year.
  • A travel agency can sponsor a "Horrible Honeymoon" contest on its 13th anniversary. The winner gets a free trip.
  • A frame shop can have fun with a "My Favorite Photo" contest. Ask a local newspaper to co-sponsor the contest and print the winning photos.
  • A men's clothing store can sponsor an "Ugly Tie Contest." Display the most ghastly nominees. Then ask people to visit your store and cast ballots. The winner gets a fashion makeover.

If you're short on clever contest ideas, ask your own employees for help. In fact, turn it into a competition. The employee with the best idea gets a day off with pay. Now that's a contest.

Joan Stewart, a media relations consultant and professional speaker and trainer, works with companies that want to use the media to establish their expertise, enhance their credibility and position themselves as the employer of choice. She also publishes The Publicity Hound, a bimonthly print newsletter featuring "tips, tricks and tools for free (or really cheap) publicity," as well as tips booklets on how to find and keep valuable employees. Visit

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.