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This Week's focus: Unicycles, Foreigners and Free Publicity

My time in the South Island earlier this year was eventful. Amidst the myriad of accents, the flying unicycles, the dizzying altitudes and small armadas of insects, I found very little in the way of normalcy.

The month was January, the tour was SINZ (South Island New Zealand), the people were insane. Not just your regular insane either, this is insane to insane people, the kind of people who've gone all the way through insane and come out the other side, complete with unicycle, annoying bell, and novelty straight jacket.

Naturally, they were celebrities. From my perch in the support van, I attempted (and often failed) to make myself useful to Connie, the superwoman who held everyone together, and I discovered something wonderful. When people think you're crazy, they're a lot nicer.

I became a hit with everyone I met, in Wanaka one of the riders received a hi five from a passing skaterboarder and went head over heels in mid pedal, I later met the sister of the flatmate of the offending skateboarder at a bar and engaged in a twenty minute conversation while Ken, the tour organizer, waited for the wine I had been sent to order. The riders were immortalized in a million photos from foreign cameras as tourists came to wonder whether this was a regular occurrence in New Zealand.

Reporters came from everywhere to meet the group; interviews were conducted at backpackers, on roadsides and at the occasional café. The jokes kept repeating themselves, I can tell you just about every unicycle joke in existence, and Ken has a bulging scrapbook of press clippings containing each and every one of those awful, awful one liners.

Let me reiterate my point to you though; these people are crazy. They tackled the steepest street in the world on unicycles, one of them punched a glacier (I still have the water from the chunk of ice that fell off), they rode 160km in one day through gale force winds, they even have their own slang, their own community, hell, they've got their own website.

The point?

These people didn't pay a cent for publicity, and everywhere we went I was hearing about them before they arrived. People love a nutter. They love a group of nutters even more. Ken sent out a simple press release, and bang, every newspaper in the South Island wants to meet this loony bunch.

So how can we harness this powerful tool of free publicity and twist it to suit our nefarious purposes? Well…

Having something just that little bit strange about your business is a great conversation starter, it's a way of getting people laughing, and more importantly, getting them talking. An ongoing gimmick, even better, one that's interactive, is fantastic way to not only get attention, but to build your business a long lasting market presence, it also gives you a base from which to work your marketing, an ongoing theme, adding a consistency to your image.

Organise something a little bit different, sponsor a teddy bears picnic, hold a funny hat day, if you do something a little wild, and then let people know, you'll attract interest, it's a great of throwing your name in a positive light. You can use it to reach out to your market and the people around them and reach them in a way that builds trust, because you took the first step without pushing them to buy. And better yet, you did it will they were laughing.

Press Releases
One of the best ways to get the word out to traditional publications is a press release, it doesn't have to be long, the press release for the SINZ tour was less than half a page, but it detailed when the riders would be in certain locations, what they were doing and generally outlined how funny and bizarre these people truly are. This was more than enough to entice reporters out to meet us as we entered and left towns, and the best part is, they did all the work. Ken, the tour organizer, simply had to email half a page to fifteen or so newspapers, and the word got round. People were talking about us days before we got to them, and you only had to mention a unicycle before people knew who you were. And what did it cost? Not a thing.

So be a little funky, and let the people come to you.

Wealth, Success, and Unicycles,

- Bridget Hughes

Bridget Hughes is a member of the team at www.learning4ever.com, a resource for business owners and entrepreneurs. She also works as a marketing consultant and webdesigner, and has a bad habit of getting into odd situations.




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