Have a crazy idea? Go for it!

photo courtesy of The Forks

photo courtesy of The Forks

Have you ever had an idea for a public relations campaign where everyone around you was saying: “You’re nuts, it won’t work”? Well, your crazy idea might just turn out to be a pivotal moment for your company, product, or brand.

Recently over coffee, I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend Clare MacKay, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for The Forks North Portage, who shared with me her crazy idea for a public relations campaign that, as she says, “changed people’s perception of winter in Winnipeg”.

Many people consider The Forks to be a great summer destination because of  the riverwalk, shops, restaurants, and attractions. How do you make this hip summer place the hot spot to visit in the dead cold of winter? Even more challenging, how do you do it on a shoestring budget?

Answer: Get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

photo courtesy of The Forks

photo courtesy of The Forks

One day, it dawned on Clare that they could apply to have The Forks river skating trail declared the longest ice skating trail in the world. She recognized that this would be an effective PR tool to “maximize exposure of the trail while spending very little money”. In fact, the total cost to get the trail assessed and approved was $6000.

Normally, the Guinness World Record process, from start to finish, can take several months to a year. With hard work, Clare and her team were able to fast track it so they could have a media event surrounding the measurement of the trail and then three weeks later hold a press conference surrounding the certification of the record in early 2008.

The city of Ottawa, a long-time rival claiming to have the largest ice skating trail, soon got wind of this certification resulting in national exposure by many media outlets. In addition to local media, the campaign has been featured in the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, Canadian Living, Air Canada’s EnRoute, and WestJet’s Up!.

Every winter since 2008, The Forks continues to get media attention due to the rivalry with Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. The total earned media from all this is estimated at $1.1 million. The Forks is now a cool place to go in the winter, with many people taking pride in being able to say they skated the whole 8.54 km trail. In 2012, 45,000 pairs of skates were rented at The Forks.

Not bad for a crazy idea and a small budget.

As a soon-to-graduate PR student, I asked Clare for her top tips in approaching campaigns. These are her recommendations:

  1. Try everything once.
  2. Plan, but be flexible and adaptable to changes.
  3. Learn how to pitch to the sponsors who can help provide funding.
  4. Use PR every step of the way during a campaign. Don’t wait until the end to celebrate and promote what you achieve.
  5. The idea doesn’t have to be big to be good.

After listening to her story, I have one of my own to add: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and inspiring me, Clare.