Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Get yer boots, it's Stock Show time!

For those of you relatively new to our "Dusty ol' Cowtown" as Woody Paige like to call it, this is the time of year when the temps get colder (really), the fashion takes a backseat to cowboy hats and boots, and the air is tinged with the sweet smell of...cattle...and everything that comes with them.  Yes, folks, it is, indeed, time again for the National Western Stock Show.

***Note*** For those of you reading this in areas directly outside of Denver, this entry actually still holds relevance for you.  I tie it all together at the end, trust me.   


I know, I know, I can hear you through my computer screen.  Those of you from New York, Boston, Chicago, California, etc., are wondering why the hell should we care about a bunch of farmers and ranchers gathering to strut their stuff for two weeks in the dreary, early days of January.  I mean, I hear you, the reasons for the NWSS are about as outdated as daylight savings time.  And yet we still fall back and spring forward every year. 

As a native, I'm well aware of the impact the NWSS has on Denver, even though I personally haven't attended an event in over a decade (I'm not counting the annual kickoff media party, or the years spent broadcasting from the merchants area while working for KOA...doesn't count).  And while the whole affair seems like a quaint salute to a lifestyle that really no longer exists in Denver, or in very few other places, for that matter, it will still impact your organization's bottom line for a few very important reasons;

1.  Tradition
2.  It matters economically
3.  Tradition
4.  Cows parading through the streets of downtown Denver
5.  Tradition

You'll notice I pointed out one VERY important reason why the NWSS still matters.  Yep, I mean reason number two.  Although reasons number 1, 3 and 5 also play a role.  The media, particularly local media, will almost always give a tip of the hat to local traditions.  There's a reason why we are inundated with video of a band playing John Sousa marches in Washington on the 4th of July, and why we have to see hundreds of half naked people making a mad dash into frigid waters in Minnesota on New Years.  Neither of those things impact us here, they don't hold any great newsworthiness, but we still see them every year on our tv sets, and online, hell, I even got tweets from people while they were IN THE WATER, freezing their butts off.

So, yes, tradition is important.  Especially if it's a local tradition dating back over a century.  I never liked it, but I understood why the local media gets all geeked up about the NWSS.  First, they throw a heck of a part for the media; open bar, free food, which is great, mariachi bands, dancing, the works (although I will admit I liked it a little better when it was held on the floor of the rodeo arena, all dusty and smelly, rather than upstairs in a cramped VIP bar area, but, oh well). 

So get ready to see the local talking heads donning colorful leather vests, uncomfortable boots and tacky cowboy hats, all in an effort to give the masses a flavor of the Stock Show.  I always thought they should be eating candied almonds in front of the petting zoo while a sheep was sheared in the background and a cow was mooing as it crapped all over the floor to give a real sense of the show, but that's just me.  Anyway, I digress.  There's one other reason that the Stock Show matters and it's a reason that could impact your bottom line; economic impact.

No, it's not the Democratic National Convention in terms of tourism dollars spent in Denver, but since we only get one of those every hundred years or so, the Stock Show will have to suffice.  You see, thousands upon thousands of people descend on Denver to either participate, support or just watch the rodeos, the auctions, sample the foodstuffs and buy the wares.  While they're here they'll spend money in hotels, at restaurants  and in local shops.  Even the hardcore folks will have to take a break from all the calf roping and bucking broncos to wander the streets of our fair city.  And when they do, that's when you can enter the picture.

While tradition still holds some influence, and the video is pretty cool, what with all the flying bodies and close-ups of cute animals and kids, economic impact is perhaps the biggest reason why the local media will devote several hours of their coverage to the NWSS over the next few weeks.  Just in case you don't believe me, here's a newsworthiness list for the NWSS.

Impact - economically, the NWSS will bring millions into the Denver economy, that's impact enough, but it will also snarl traffic from time to time and thousands of local residents will be involved in the activities.

Timeliness - Well, it's happening RIGHT NOW, and it will be happening RIGHT NOW for the next three weeks.  It doesn't get any more timely than that.

Relevance - While most of us aren't farmers or ranchers, a lot of Coloradoans are.  That, coupled with the fact that the cow you just saw frolicking with Dan Daru at 7am will probably be on your plate sometime in the coming weeks, what happens at the NWSS does have some relevance to our daily lives.

Wow Factor - It's a throwback to simpler, quieter, times in this crazy, Facebook-driven world.  Plus, the videos are way cool and, come on, it's a rodeo, man.  Okay, some wow factors are better than others, but truthfully, local tv stations and print outlets love the photo and video ops, as might some online media.

What does this mean for you?

First off, you have to know that any story you plan on pitching over the next few weeks will be competing directly with the NWSS for coverage.  This doesn't mean you have to just throw up your hands in defeat and hold off pitching that story until February.  It DOES mean you might have to tweak your pitch a little, though.  Or, as many have done, find other avenues to get the word out about your organization.

You might ask how in the world you can use the Stock Show to promote your organization, and the honest answer is, not everyone will be able to.  Here are some tips, though to help you figure out if you can.

1.  Is there anything about your organization that lends itself directly, or even indirectly to the Stock Show?  Maybe you own a restaurant that could wind up with some of the beef, or lamb, or llama or ostrich that is sold at the NWSS.  The prices of those sales could directly influence the price of your meals.  It's an economic impact story that might interest newsrooms. 

2.  Is there any kind of event that you can host that might draw interest from NWSS attendees or the media?  If you own a comedy venue, maybe you have a comedy rodeo, or if you run a nightclub, have a line dancing competition.  There are a million fun ways to take advantage of the NWSS while it's in town, and while not all of them will earn media coverage, they might just catch the attention of locals or attendees who might stop by to check out what you're up to.  These are events that can be promoted via social media and cost very little to put together and promote.

3.  Is there a cause or subject that links to your organization, and if so is there something you can do to raise awareness of said cause or subject?  This is primarily for non-profits, but local businesses can get in on the act as well.  PETA is famous for protesting at events like the NWSS, as are certain green groups, environmental groups and vegan groups, seriously, vegan groups.  Be warned, though, while you might earn media attention, you face the likelihood of alienting a large portion of the audience who might not even disagree with your ideology, but just don't like you interfering with their fun, or livelihood.

The NWSS, like most other local events, is a gathering place for thousands of potential customers from all walks of life and backgrounds.  These are people you might not otherwise be able to reach through your more usual routes of media.  Why not take the time to actually go out to the NWSS and set up a booth to give away free food, or drinks or souvenier trinkets.  Or you could go the social media route and put together a flash mob to promote your organization.  Again, there are so many different ways to catch the attention of attendees, locals and media. 

The NWSS is a challenge, to be sure, for small business and non-profits looking to get their piece of the economic pie.  Folks in Wyoming understand the problem you're facing here in Denver.  The Cheyenne Frontier Days is even bigger than the NWSS, and is THE focal point for media when it's happening.  Pitching anything non CFD related is an exercise in futility when the event is taking place, so, at least you don't have to deal with that.  From a traditional media standpoint, you're at a disadvantage because you're competing with a ready-made story that meets nearly all the news criteria.  But it's tailor-made for other pr outlets like social media and public outreach. 

If, at some point, you realize that your organization has absolutely no way of linking itself to the Stock Show, you might try the anti-Stock Show approach.  During the DNC in Denver last year, several businesses took advantage of the backlash against the coverage and snarled traffic and headaches caused by the extra bodies and security to host anti-DNC parties.  These weren't against a political party, but events that purposely avoided the DNC tie-in.  Only a couple got media coverage, but thousands attended these parties, thousands that might not otherwise have learned about the particular organization hosting the event.

By the way, these are tips that hold true whether it's the NWSS in Denver, or the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston, or the New York Marathon or the Red River Rivalry in Texas.  All major events will grab the attention of the media, putting small businesses and non-profits behind the eight ball when it comes to capturing earned media coverage.  This is where social media and public outreach enters the picture.  If you have your message ready, your materials printed and a fun way to grab attention, you will make the most of any major event.  Don't be afraid to take chances, do something a little outrageous and put yourself directly in the public eye.

Oh, and remember, there are these types of events every year, all year.  In Denver, these same rules apply for the annual, "Taste of Colorado," "Columbus Day Parade," "Colorado Colfax Marathon" and a host of other major events.  These are all opportunities to use your social media and public outreach skills to raise your profile.

On the bright side (from a small business and non-profit angle, at least), the Broncos missed the playoffs, so you won't have to battle the Bronco coverage for a while.  In fact, after the NWSS, the news slate is pretty wide open and a relatively slow.  In future entries, I'll offer some tips on how to take full advantage of this lull in news.  Until then, strap on your boots, it's Stock Show time!

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