What do you do once you and your business (let’s pretend that writing is a business instead of an art) get discovered? How do you maximize the fame, the exposure, the screaming fans? Yes, I know it’s a bit far fetched, but let’s pretend for a moment that all your wildest dreams actually do come true. What would you do? How would you react?
Milwaukee Burger Company, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, blazed their way to the national sporting spotlight this past week with an invitation to burn one of Brett Favre’s jerseys at halftime of the Green Bay Packers â€“ Minnesota Vikings football game. Of course, the proceeds of the contest ($10 for every article burned) went to a charity, but the real subject that interested the media was Favre. Do you hate him? Do you love him? Do you care?
For those of you who are in the â€œI don’t careâ€ category, Favre used to be the beloved quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. After 16 years of dazzling Wisconsin fans with his incredible arm and Super Bowl appearances, things fell apart. Favre considered retirement. Management decided they preferred their talented backup to an aging superstar.
It was messy. Both sides got blamed. Favre played with the New York Jets for a season, retired, and finally came back again to play for the Packers hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings. As last night’s Monday Night Football game between the two approached, the media discovered Milwaukee Burger Company’s jersey-burning night to ramp up publicity for the game.
First, local television station WQOW covered it, plastering pictures of Milwaukee Burger Company’s logo all over their nightly news story. That’s the kind of free attention that every business craves. They deserved it for their great promotional party idea. Seemingly, all of Wisconsin buzzed with the news of the Favre jersey burning. Milwaukee Burger Company had struck it big with Packer nation. Then it came time for a different kind of news story, a live interview with ESPN reporter Dana Jacobson.
On September 30th, Milwaukee Burger Company’s owner Kent Letnes and general manager Julie Kolk appeared on ESPN, dressed and prepped for the occasion with hair gel and makeup generously applied. I remember watching the video and wondering, â€œWhat sports bar is this? Where is it? Is it any good?â€ During the entire 3-minute interview, neither one of them ever said their company’s name. They explained their motivation, the cause to benefit charity, even the participation of both Minnesota and Green Bay fans. They just forgot to give people a message that could turn the Milwaukee Burger Company into a tourist destination.
It reminded me of an artist or writer telling the entire story behind their work without ever mentioning where to find it, what it’s titled, or anything else that people interested in buying it would really want to know. It got me wondering what you should say when the spotlight turns your way. If you don’t have someone else telling everyone about you, you have to promote yourself. Turns out it’s the same thing you would do if you were writing an ad or your own bio.
First, open with a strong mental image. Say something like, â€œAt Milwaukee Burger Company, we’re known for making burgers the size of your head, but our regulars suggested we turn the flames toward some Favre jerseys for the game.â€ Whoaâ€”burger’s the size of your head! Is that true? It turns out it is. The bottom of their online menu sports a 1 Â½ lb. â€œDefibrillatorâ€ burger and even the 2 Â½ lb. â€œNew Big Milwaukee.â€ Mentioning your most compelling message first might get a reporter to ask about it, as well as the story they’re interested in. At the very least, people watching will remember your name and what you’re known for, which leads me to my second point.
Know what your most compelling message is and make sure everyone can easily find it. I don’t think Kent and Julie just forgot that day to talk about â€œburgers the size of your head.â€ I don’t think they even know that it’s their most compelling message. It doesn’t appear as the central theme on their website, and I found it only with some super-sleuth digging. When I did, it made me want to try out these monster burgers, or at least get one of their smaller, but still amazingly good sounding specialty burgers. Had Kent and Julie known what people care most about Milwaukee Burger Company, it would have come out somehow during their interview. As it ended up, they talked in detail about the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety and probably got them some great publicity.
Make sure that you answer the reporter’s questions and don’t just plug yourself. No reporter appreciates trying to get a story and only getting an ad. They’d rather discover a secondary story (like a big-as-your-head burger) while getting all the information for the subject they’re currently pursuing (the reaction of Wisconsin fans to the Brett Favre saga). Kent and Julie did a great job doing this. In fact, they did too good of a job. They let the ESPN reporter lead the entire interview, and she got everything she wanted. She never found out what was really special about them.
Finally, close with an image just as powerful, if not more so, than your opener. They could have asked Dana if she was going to send in a jersey to burn, or opened the event up to people who wanted to donate jerseysâ€”along with a $10 check, of courseâ€”for them to burn. They might even have thrown in a free â€œBig as Your Head Burgerâ€ coupon to anyone who sent something as a way to say, â€œThank you, on behalf of Milwaukee Burger Company.â€
On the night of the game, their little Eau Claire burger joint was packed. The fire department actually vetoed the idea of burning all the old jerseys, so they improvised, burned one, and donated the rest to Goodwill. I’m sure the night was a huge success for them. They got a bunch of free, local publicity. Had they prepared ahead of time—as I’m sure all you writers will—they might have turned a one-time, local story into a Milwaukee Burger Company national popularity explosion.
So if you as a writer ever get a chance for some terrific publicity, donâ€™t mess up and miss the bigger picture beyond local publicityâ€”and donâ€™t let the media mess it up for you the way Milwaukee Burger Company did.
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