National Such-and-Such Days: does the media like them?

One technique that some PR campaigns use is to create a special day, week or even fortnight of the year to mark an issue. There is Red Nose Day in the UK, which raises money for the charity Comic Relief. Hundreds of thousands of children buy plastic red noses – or, at least, their parents buy them – and many engage in charity-themed events at school. In the evening, the BBC broadcasts a fundraising programme containing performances from well-known comedians.

In the United States, National History Day involves more than 500,000 school students, who enter an academic competition by producing a paper, documentary or exhibit. The day is sponsored by, among others, The History Channel, and has gained coverage everywhere from The New York Times to Fox News.

If a “day” or “week” is commercial, rather than in aid of charity, it is vital that it is fun. Chocolate Week is an example of a week working well, with coverage across national newspapers and broadcasters. It helps that it is an industry-wide event, rather than promoting just one supplier.

So, should you use the technique of creating a “day” or “week” to mark some cause, in the aim of gaining publicity? Rarely, in my view, because most of the people who try to do this fail.

I have a friend who graduated with an excellent history degree during the recession at the beginning of the 1990s. He was unable to get a job, so set himself up as a self-employed grave-digger. Seeing the funny side of having a history BA, but doing the most menial of tasks, he send a press release to major national newspapers. Soon he was being interviewed by a feature writer and having his photograph taken by a press photographer. Seeing that it gained him publicity, he later announced National Gravedigging Day. It didn’t work. None of the press were interested. Why was this?

Well, news organisations endlessly receive press releases promoting some day or other, and the media is suspicious about them. Journalists think that most of them do not actually involve many participants. This public involvement is what makes a day or week newsworthy.

Remember, newspapers want to publish things that their readers find interesting, and so PR exercises such as “Green Office Week”, promoted by an office stationary company, are largely ignored. A journalist never wants to be accused of writing an advertisement. She is constrained by reputation, both the reputation with colleagues and also with the readers. She may personally like the PR practitioner, but she may be reluctant to write about a “day” which feels like an advert for a company. Indeed, most of the days which are promoted are created very much with the needs of the vendor in mind, not the journalist or reader.

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)