Any small business can create coupons, radio or TV ads, or newspaper circulars to drum up sales. It’s tougher to come up with a publicity stunt that will pique the curiosity of local media.
Here are six examples of innovative tactics that have worked:
1. Live Tree-Topper — Why not put something more interesting than the typical star atop your Christmas tree? Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex, England, crowned its 54-foot holiday tree with a living, breathing “princess” in November 2010. Chantelle Houghton, a 27-year-old reality TV star, dressed in a pink chiffon dress before being hoisted by crane to her perch. (Afterward, on Twitter, Houghton admitted that she was terrified.)
2. Cash Giveaways — To encourage residents of Fountain Hills, Ariz., to shop locally for holiday gifts each year, the Fountain Hills Times newspaper holds the Holidays Cash in the Hills contest. Shoppers can sign up to win a little extra spending money every time they visit one of the 35 participating merchants. Five weekly prizes of $25 — awarded in scrip that must be spent in the community by Jan. 31 — are awarded, as well as larger prizes of up to $500 in a final drawing.
3. 12 Days of “Small Business” Christmas — The North Allegheny region of Pennsylvania promoted its small businesses by featuring one idea, item, or business per day on its Patch.com site from Dec. 13 to 24. The exposure helps area merchants compete with the print advertising purchased by national chains.
4. 12 Days of Christmas Shopping — Staying with this theme, Kingsport, Tenn., encourages residents to shop in its downtown district by sponsoring a contest. Shoppers who find images of the “12 Days of Christmas” in retail store and restaurant displays (and write them down on entry forms) have a chance to win gifts and gift certificates from the participating businesses.
5. Modern-Day Nativity — In 2007, motel chain Travelodge offered a free night’s stay between Dec. 24 and Jan. 5 to any married couple that could prove that their first names were Mary and Joseph, in honor of the Christian Nativity story.
6. Holiday Parade — In 1924, a New York City department store came up with a publicity stunt to boost holiday sales. It gathered together its employees and some animals from the local zoo and held a parade. This humble event has evolved into a major holiday attraction hosted by — you guessed it! — Macy’s.