PR Tip: Even When You Don’t Have a Lot, Work With What You’ve Got

Driving past a Berwyn condominium development recently, the banner draped in front of the building made a simple declaration: “New Pricing!”

I flashed back to more than four years ago, when a similarly simple phrase was behind a public relations and marketing effort to spark more sales at the development known as Century Station: “work with what you’ve got.”

At the time, I was engaged by a real estate agency to help turn what had begun as lemonade but had quickly soured into a lemon in the wake of the global financial crisis that reached a boiling point in Fall 2008.

After a significant number of people indicated plans to buy a condo at the development, they took the path traveled by so many others all across the United States: they backed out.

As a result, Century Station had a grand population of one.

There’s little, if any, value in bemoaning what you don’t have. If you have a dozen eggs, and 11 shatter, then it’s best to focus on the one that is intact than dwell on that short-lived era when you had 12.

In the case of Century Station, the course of action was clear: work with what—or, in this case, who—we’ve got. We proceeded to do our darnedest to tell the story of that one individual, a retired businessman whose experience was like a college kid who shows up at his dormitory but soon sees that nobody else has enrolled in classes.

The news release cast the man as the model of one type of buyer that the developer and real estate agency were seeking—a longtime area resident who never imagined residing in Berwyn, but was attracted by the solid quality of construction and design in his unit and the building overall.

The release also quoted local officials and the key real estate players, described amenities ranging from private balconies to customer kitchens with granite countertops, and, to underscore the location’s convenience, recounted some of the nearby businesses where the resident had shopped.

We didn’t just throw up our hands and say that we needed more sales to occur before telling the development’s story. Instead, we told the development’s story, through this one individual’s experience, in an effort to spark sales.

Sometimes, the news isn’t that the cup is 11/12ths empty, but that it’s 1/12th full. As publicists and marketers, it’s our challenge and reward to extract as much as possible out of whatever measure we have on hand.

So if you are having a hard time seeing the path to promoting an individual, an organization or a cause of some kind, remember the first step: work with what you’ve got.

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Willingness to Be on Marketing Edge Marks Legacy of Downtown Oak Park Leader

Willingness to be on marketing edge marks legacy of Downtown Oak Park leader

This new logo for Downtown Oark Park was unveiled in 2011. DTOP’s longtime director, Pat Zubak, was never afraid to try new approaches to promoting the district to spur on business.

Last week was the last one on the job for Pat Zubak, executive director of Downtown Oak Park.

After seven years at the helm of the organization, she is retiring. Her presence will be missed, as Bruce Ingram noted in a story about Zubak’s farewell in last week’s edition of the Oak Leaves, part of the Pioneer Press chain.

However, I am hopeful that her legacy of giving people the space to spread their creative wings will continue to flourish.

Over the past five years, as I provided public relations and marketing support for DTOP, I was continually impressed with Zubak’s willingness to take creative risks–and let others (like me) do the same.

The result was frequent and extensive publicity for a variety of events and other promotions, such as the mass dog wedding (her idea) that attracted the attention of Guinness World Records. I dubbed it “I Do, Doggone It!” and it garnered strong media coverage.

That’s not a self-aggrandizing observation. Sure, I worked diligently at spreading the word, but when you’re talking about a mass event where dogs will get “hitched,” let’s face it, we had the media at “woof!”

Then there was the role I played a few years ago as “Super Shopper Spotter” (my idea), a satirical super-hero who cavorted around town and awarded gift certificates to unsuspecting shoppers. Its purpose was to cross-market for businesses throughout the entire Oak Park community, not only DTOP.

To her credit, Zubak let me run with the idea–and I did so, right down to the red boots that I procured for the role. That effort, too, resulted in widespread media coverage, including a WGN-TV segment showing my alter ego accosting, then rewarding, a shopper at Marion Street Cheese Market.

(Check out this spoofy commercial, produced by the Village of Oak Park’s Joe Kreml, on Super Shopper Spotter.)

It’s one thing to possess creativity and imagination. But when you combine it with a willingness to give others the space to exercise those same qualities, as Zubak consistently did, then you have a winning PR formula.

Mancini’s Sets Stage for 11-11-11 Event

It’s the 315th day of 2011, though you probably know it more as November 11, 2011 or–even better–as 11-11-11.

As an unabashed numbers nut, I’ve had today’s date marked on my mental calendar for many moons now. And months ago, here in Oak Park, I started urging Al Mancini, a longtime friend and owner of Mancini’s Pizza Pasta Cafe, to do something special on this day.

His Italian restaurant, a popular fixture in Downtown Oak Park for the past 15 years, is located at 1111 Lake Street. The restaurant’s hours have long been–you guessed it–from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

With all of those thin digits rising up so persisently, it was almost a moral obligation for Al to do something to mark the occasion. At least, that was along the lines of what I only half-kiddingly urged Al.

To his credit, he’s not only taken my counsel, but has run with it in a big way: today and tomorrow, Mancini’s is donating 22% (11% x 2) of proceeds to a great local non-profit organization, the Hephzibah Children’s Association.

In addition, Mancini’s is offering 11 specials on the menu, each for $11.11, as well as doing some other fun 11-related stuff for patrons who come in for dinner.

Along the way, he has had full-page ads run in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest (on page 11, of course). After I devoted less than a half-hour to tip off local media outlets to Al’s plan, his restaurant received extensive local media coverage, including pieces in the Pioneer Press editions and the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal, a version of which also appeared in the Tribune.

A good idea that dies on the vine is no better than never coming up with the idea in the first place. Al’s investment of two key elements–time and money (via the advertising)–has set the stage for a memorable two-day window of positivity.

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Driving home the red sports car lesson: command attention with your next Top 10 list

Can you picture a sports car?

How about a red sports car?

With that little, colorful adjective, the image becomes much more vivid. It catches your attention in a way that a generalized statement did not.

It’s the same with “Top 5” or “Top 10” lists, which were everywhere we turned as 2010 drew to a close (year-end reviews of this, that and every other thing). Compilations along those lines should be in decent abundance as 2011 gets rolling here, too, as we learn how to get smarter, thinner, wealthier, safer and savvier.

So if you’re in the attention-getting business and are thinking about developing a “Top” list, remember the lesson of the red sports car. Be different, be flashy, be memorable–or risk winding up in someone’s “Top 10 List of Hum-Drum Top 10 Lists.”

Anyone can come up with a “Top 10 Weight Loss Tips.” Be someone who goes the extra half-ounce, steps out on an edgy ledge and offers counsel on “10 Steps to Quit Being A Fat American.”

My favorite recent “red sports car” example is from Dave Ramsey’s financial e-newsletter: “11 Ways to Be Weird in 2011.”

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A Less-Is-More Creative Gem From Bill Daniel

Providing to your readers, in an economy of words that succinctly get to the single, distilled point or principle that you seek to convey, is infinitely more effective and engaging than droning on endlessly, even if you employ 15-cent words and $1.50 phrases and $15 paragraphs that have each and every punctuation mark—including the oft-used em-dash, which I rely on a bit too much myself—in their proper place.

Or, to put it another, much better way: less is more.

That’s why I want to take a moment to rave about this fantastic ad that my father-in-law, longtime advertising genius Bill Daniel, created a few months ago.

Before moving to Palm Springs four years ago with my wonderful mother-in-law, Pat, Bill was a force in the Chicago ad world for more than 35 years. After working for the likes of McCann-Erickson and Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), for 20 years he co-owned an ad firm in Chicago (Equinox Advertising, which later became Washington Daniel).

Along the way, he was instrumental in numerous award-winning campaigns for the likes of Reebok, Allstate Insurance, IBM and Anheuser-Busch. At FCB, one of his brainchilds was The Silver Bullet, for the Adolph Coors Co.

As for this classic rabbit-foot ad, it is appearing regularly in Below the Line, a movie trade publication. It replaced a text-heavy ad that, while highly informational, was only slightly more digestible than the 70-word monstrosity that began this post.

Which Below the Line ad do you suppose will be remembered, and acted upon, more frequently?

I hope and trust that you will enjoy Bill’s creative masterstroke as much as I do. And if you want to try to lure him out of semi-retirement a bit more, just drop him an email at