Monday, January 24, 2011

We're Only Human!

Sometimes, as has been pointed out in this space numerous times, lessons can be learned from watching other people's mistakes.  And let me be very clear on this, we ALL make mistakes.  Journalists are just as human as you are and, as you have probably noticed from time to time, they make mistakes.

This isn't a posting about how to overcome mistakes in your PR or social media efforts.  You're going to make them.  In most cases, these mistakes are going to be minor in nature and you'll be able to overcome them with thought and diligence.

No, this is more like, storytime with Real Public Relations.  By the end, you'll hopefully have a bit of insight into the way newsrooms work, about how personalities can get in the way of doing good work, and how that can all have an impact on your pitches and PR efforts.

A couple of examples:

Ever make a mistake in your job?  Of course you have.  Usually when you do, the only one that notices is your boss, maybe your co-workers.  What you DON'T have is the general public breathing down your neck, pointing, laughing, cursing.  When a journalist goofs, that's exactly what happens.  Plus, mistakes don't do much for the reputation, which is basically all that journalists have to rely on.  But it happens, a lot.  Take this story for instance:
WESH News Van Gets Jammed Under Orlando Overpass:

A WESH news van got stuck under an Orlando overpass on Wednesday after the vehicle’s mast had been accidentally raised.
Reporter Greg Fox was riding in the van along with photographer Frank Burt when the raised mast struck the underside of a highway overpass, tipping the vehicle onto two wheels.
A fire rescue crew was called to the scene, according to the Orlando Sentinel, and rescue workers steadied the van using jacks so that Fox and Burt could exit safely.
Orlando CBS-affiliate WKMG reported on its rivals’ misfortune during the station’s  7 p.m. newscast.
The WESH crew told officials that the van had successfully passed under another overpass before the accident, leading them to believe that the mast’s deployment was a technical malfunction.
Here's another one:  Have you ever worked in an office with someone you don't get along with? Have you had to deal with that person under extremely tight deadlines, forced teamwork and unrealistic expectation all in an environment of pressure-cooker proportions?  No?  Well, journalists often have to deal with these types of situations.  And this can be the result:
Newsroom Brawl Lands WCCB Anchor Brien Blakely in Hospital

Anchor Brien Blakely spent Tuesday evening at a Charlotte emergency room instead of the WCCB anchor desk after getting into a violent altercation with a news producer.
Moments before WCCB’s 10 p.m. newscast, Blakely got into an argument with a producer that escalated into a physical brawl.  During the fight, Blakely, who joined the Charlotte Fox-affiliate in 2005, was sent flying over a desk.  His nose was badly cut during the fall and he was rushed to an area hospital for treatment.
Police were called to the scene but no charges were filed.
“I was protecting the honor and integrity of our station,” Blakely told the Charlotte Observer about the fight.
The news producer walked out of the station after the altercation as Blakely went to the hospital.  Both men were not at work on Wednesday.
WCCB has had its fair share of turmoil recently.  In December, news director Ken Whitewas arrested for walking off with a bag of groceries at an area supermarket.
While the station is not commenting on the fight, Blakely says that the incident is behind him.
“These things happen,” he told the Observer. “It’s over. We’re buddies again.”
Take a look at that last sentence.  "It's over.  We're buddies again."  Sounds ludicrous, right?  That two grown men got into a fight in a newsroom in the first place, but then, after one of them ends up in the hospital, that they could be "buddies".  But it's true, it happens.  I know from personal experience.

Rumble In The Rockies:

There happens to be a newsroom culture that is kind of hard to explain.  But put simply, it's a high-stress, fast-paced environment full of strong personalities.  Things get tense, tempers flare, people clash, there are arguments.  Sometimes these arguments get very, ahem, heated.  But here's what you have to understand.  It's not personal.  Unlike politics and religion, the newsroom wars are typically short, intense explosions that burn out quickly.  Afterwards, you shake hands and you go out for beers together.

I've had several clashes with co-workers while working in news.  For instance:

When I was in radio, we used to have an area called, "The Pit" where all the producers and talk show hosts used to be located.  We'd discuss news of the day, as we all tried to put our shows together.  The arguments used to get so heated and loud that management issued several memorandums telling us, in essence, to keep quiet.

One morning, my host, Peter Boyles, and I got into a short but heated argument about which topic we were going to start the show off with.  We disagreed vehemently and at 4am tempers flared.  He told me to "F" off, I flipped him the bird, words were exchanged, he threw a piece of his bagel at me.  Fortunately, we were separated by several inches of soundproof glass as I was in the booth and he was in the studio.

Fast forward several years and I had just moved from one TV station to another.  I was producing the morning news and our show had been experiencing some serious technical difficulties.  As a producer who had spent hours crafting the rundown, writing copy, organizing guests, there's nothing more frustrating than technical issues.  From the booth I continued to press the technical and editing staff to get them on the ball.  Of course, they didn't take that well.  Immediately after the show, I made a beeline to the technical room downstairs and sought out the senior editor on shift that morning.

He defended his crew, I defended mine.  Again, words were exchanged, and an offer to "take it outside" was made.  We nearly went, too.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.  We were ushered down to the News Director's office and reprimanded severely.  The fact is, by the time we reached the ND's office, we were fine.  We realized how stupid we had acted and it was completely forgotten.  There truly were no hard feelings.  To this day, that man is one of my favorite individuals that I worked with at that station.

Sh** Happens:

Sometimes, however, mistakes simply happen.  You'd be surprised how often the issue of a non-retracted tower plagues a newsroom, whether it be radio or TV.  Fortunately, the stations I worked at had the good sense to keep me from driving around any sensitive or expensive equipment.  I was relegated to holding a microphone or staying back at the station to report and write.  But I've witnessed some real doozies.

One Halloween night our station had decided it would be a great idea to broadcast live from the Denver Press Club, one of the most haunted places (reportedly) in Denver.  The shows were great radio.  Seances, wonderful interviews, compelling storytelling.  At 9pm sharp, the host signed off and the truck operator began to pack things up.  All the wires were coiled, the equipment placed and locked down.  Everything seemed in order.  With one big exception, the mast was still up.

As the truck pulled away, it carried off the awning in front of the building.  An awning that had survived fires, vandalism and a century of wear, tear and weather, was simply no match for a radio truck with a 20-foot broadcast mast.

The repercussions were swift and terrible.  We all had to train on the truck and learn the secrets of the mast.  Plus, suspensions were threatened if it happened again.  Of course, the next time a big remote was planned, the truck was operated by the manager of the department himself.  It was a great remote, again wonderful radio.  It was just after Thanksgiving and the show that aired right after mine decided to broadcast live from a hilltop above Golden where a man calling himself the "Real Santa Clause" resided.  He raised reindeer, lived in a wooden shack and dressed like Kris Kringle.

Once again, the show was a hit.  After signing off, the crew wrapped up.  With the manager in charge of things, no one thought twice to think about the truck mast.  of COURSE it had been retracted.  In a moment of serendipity, someone took a photo of the manager standing outside the truck, with the producer and talk show host sitting just inside getting ready to go.  In the background, you could see the mast clearly still raised.

Within minutes, the truck was on its way and promptly ran smack dab into several power lines directly overhead.  The power lines snapped and fell to the ground, some landed on top of the van.  This kept the crew in the van trapped inside as thousands of volts of electricity coursed through the van and into the ground.  They were safe as long as they stayed inside, but once they stepped outside, if they touched the van, they would have been torched.

Sadly, the mast also pulled some power lines out of the box at Santa Clause's shack, starting a fire.  Within ten minutes the shack was ablaze, and Clause was trying to put out the inferno with a water hose, which quickly melted.

Below, at the bottom of the hill, the fire department could see the flames.  The producer of the show told me later that she could see the firemen walk out of the firehouse and looking up at the fire, pointing and wondering what in the world was going on.  About an hour later the fire had been put out, the power lines had been cleared and the truck was back on the road.

The following morning, the picture that had been taken moments before the mishap mysteriously appeared on the door of the manager's office.  Someone had written in a thought balloon, "Hmmm, what am I forgetting?" with an arrow pointing to the still-erect mast.

True to their word, however, the manager was suspended for two days. 

Don't Judge:

There are a million stories just like those.  I alone could spend hours telling of similar events based solely on my experiences.  The point to all this is that everyone makes mistakes.  Reporters, editors, producers, they're only human.  They will, from time to time, mess up on a fact, not check a critical piece of equipment or simply misspell a name. 

I've heard many complaints in my time about how a newsroom got their name wrong, misquoted them or didn't get the right address for their business.  In some cases a wrong logo was put up, or the story simply didn't run when it was supposed to.  This happens.  Your best bet to deal with these types of mistakes is to be patient.  Don't lose your cool, get angry, yell or beat down the door. 

You can try to prevent these mistakes from happening by following up with the newsroom.  Email them the correct information in simple, easy to read fonts and short sentences.  Make sure they received the information and then follow up again to make sure they have everything correct.  Even then, it may not end up correct on the air or in the paper. 

When this happens, calmly and coolly contact the reporter or producer and let them know the information was wrong.  Ask them to make a correction and then, let it go.  Trust me, they'll feel bad about the mistake and do what they can to fix it.  By being professional about it, you'll earn way more points with the newsroom than if you yell and scream.  Because even though journalists are able to fight with a coworker and then immediately forget about the conflict, when it comes to people outside the newsroom, they have memories like elephants.  They'll remember how you treated them and the next time you pitch a story, you just won't be worth the time or effort.

You can learn something from the newsroom culture in this respect.  It's okay to disagree, even get upset, but don't make it personal and then, when it's done, forget about it.  Move on and focus on other more important things.  If you can do this, you'll quickly earn a reputation as someone who really cares about their business, but is easy to work with and handles things professionally.  Even if the mistake is completely theirs, it's best to chalk it up as an honest mistake and cheerfully thank them for their time before pitching them again in the future.  Trust me on this.  I mean, we're only human, right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Today's Post brought to you by the word: Transparency

I'm a football fan.  I also happen to be a native of Colorado; born and raised.  I learned how to ski at a young age, I remember when LoDo was a dump and spent my formative years cheering for the old "Orange Crush" Bronco defense when before Lyle Alzado went all Raider on us.

To say I'm a fan of John Elway is like saying Russians like their vodka.  So you can imagine my delight when old No. 7 took over the reigns of my beloved Broncos.  For one, it signaled the true end of the disaster that was Josh McDaniels.  But more importantly, it meant that the team I grew up loving was returning to its roots, its traditions. 

And yet, oddly enough, even as the team was starting to return to it's rich history,  a new, fresh image was being born.  Suddenly the secrecy and closed door policy that is so often a part of NFL culture was giving way to a more open, honest and transparent culture not seen in these parts since Red Miller prowled the sidelines and Tom Jackson was calling John Madden "The Fat Man."

What, you might ask, does this have to do with small business and non-profit PR and social media?  In a word...everything.

A Modern Culture:

It's often been said that knowledge is king.  In today's world of instant gratification and constant information overload, it can seem like secrets are a thing of the past and everyone knows what everyone else is doing.  But look closely and you'll see that the organizations that have the most success with social media are the ones that not only use it regularly, but they're also the ones who know exactly the kind of information to release.

Success with social media isn't just about making regular postings, daily tweets and maximizing your groups, friends and followers.  Certainly those are important, but no matter how efficient and active you are, if you don't provide the RIGHT kind of information, your campaign will ultimately fail.

We've discussed in this space before the need to make your posts informative, fun and interesting.  We've talked about adding value to your posts across all of your platforms.  But there is another element of social media content that most organizations simply overlook, an element that can help you build a massive following.

Pull Back the Covers:

I've always thought that some enterprising local TV station ought to place cameras in their newsrooms and conference rooms and let the world see the day-to-day operations.  Of course, that is nearly impossible.  But why not stream the daily news meetings?  Let the world take a peek into the workings of how news decisions are actually made.  I think people would be surprised at how passionately stories are debated. 

While that hasn't happened yet, and probably won't for many years, some local TV stations ARE using Twitter to let their followers know which stories are being discussed for later broadcasts.  I follow these newsrooms every day so I can get a jump on pitching a client if they're a right match for a story being considered. 

Clearly, some newsrooms get it.  They understand that times have changed and it's no longer just 20 people sitting around a table making news decisions, separate from a majority of public input.  Today, there is an interactivity never before seen in news.  Producers and editors are constantly updating stories, producers are using social media to gather feedback, track down guests, and dig for information.  At the same time, the public has more access to journalists through Twitter and Facebook giving them a feeling of being part of the news that impacts their daily lives.

The covers have been pulled back a bit, letting anyone who's interested see a bit of the process that takes place in newsrooms everyday.  In a similar move, Elway and the Broncos have started using Twitter to reconnect to the thousands of fans that felt betrayed and disappointed by the Josh McDaniels era.

Last week, before I heard it on the radio, before I saw it on SportsCenter, before I caught in on my local nightly newscast, I heard about the hiring of Denver's new head coach, John Fox, through Twitter.  But this tweet didn't come from a friend in a newsroom or someone who heard it through the grapevine.  No, it came from John Elway himself.  It was short, simple and to the point.  "The Denver Broncos have hired John Fox to be our next head coach."

The next day, this quote from Patrick Smyth, the Broncos' executive director of media relations appeared in the Denver Post: (click on the link to read the entire article)
"It was important to us to reach our fans directly and in the most personal way, and it was important to restore some of the credibility in our organization that might have been lost in a challenging season," Smyth said. "We owe that to our fans."
As a fan, I felt closer to my team than I ever have before, and this is coming from a guy who stood on the field of old Mile High Stadium covering the Broncos Superbowl celebration for local radio, rubbing elbows with the players and coaches, the Lombardi trophy just a few feet away.  Such is the power of social media.  It has the ability to inform, entertain, and most importantly, connect.

Reality Social Media:

With the popularity of reality television, more and more people want access to the inner sanctum of their favorite organizations.  They not only want that access, they feel they deserve it.  So why not give your customers, potential customers and supporters that access?

Remember, your business, like most small businesses, is rooted in the neighborhood in which you operate.  Your organization is more than just a name over a door and a collection of individuals.  You are, hopefully, a trusted entity in your neighborhood.  If you're brand new, you want to reach that status as quickly as possible.  One of the best ways to let potential customers or supporters get to know you is to let them see you in action.

I'm not necessarily talking about setting up cameras all over your office or store and streaming live video 24/7.  But why not tell your story online?  Why not let the world see the interesting and fun characters you have working for you?  Why not allow them access to your decision making processes so they can understand the effort you put in to make your customers happy?  By posting this kind of information, you achieve a couple of things:

1.  You build trust - People can see that you're not skimping on product or effort.  They can see exactly what they're getting for their money or time.

2.  You build familiarity - The more the public knows about you, the more likely they are to view you as someone they are comfortable with.  The old adage, you do friends with people you like" holds true. 

3.  You build interest - If your posts are interesting enough, you'll start to attract followers, friends and supporters based solely on the strength of your content.  Your existing friends, followers and customers will tell their friends about you and direct them to your pages, thus growing your base.

Elements of Transparency:

Again, transparency can be easier said than done.  But you CAN be more transparent and open to your constituency, and without divulging your trade secrets or putting your customers at risk.  For example, if you own a bakery, why not post a video once a week that shows you making one of your special sticky buns or perhaps an easy to make holiday treat for kids?  It's like your own little cooking show, only without the commercials.  You don't have to show your baking secrets, but parents would likely appreciate seeing you make your bread or sweets, so they know exactly what is in them.

If you're a dry cleaners, why not offer tips on removing stains, something special that only your shop does.  Bars can show virtual tours of their kitchens or let folks see how they decide on what beers to serve.  There are a million things you can post that gives the public more insight to your operation, letting them feel like they know you a bit better and in turn attracting their business.

Yes, this means you have to shoot some video, and do some minor editing.  It also means you have to post regularly and really make sure your content is valuable, entertaining and informative.  But really, if you plan on having a successful social media campaign, you should be doing these things already. 

What we're talking about here is the KIND of content that you're putting up.  To that end, let's look at some of the elements you'll need to run an effective transparency campaign.
1.  A good story - Just like putting together your release, you want to make sure you're pointing out the most interesting and unique parts of your story.  Unlike your press release, this isn't about telling your history, but letting folks know how you operate on a day to day basis.  What is happening in your office?  What kind of decisions are being made and how will the general public benefit from these decisions?

2.  A good character - This isn't absolutely essential, but it helps.  If you have some colorful characters in your office, let the world see them in action.  Do you have an employee that sings?  Someone who is a great artist or a whiz with computers or machinery?  Highlight them and let the world see the talent you have on your staff.

3.  Video - You can write all you want, but people really want to watch interesting video.  For example, we have a video shoot for a client coming up that shows a day at a veterinarian clinic through the eyes of a dog that is visiting for a day.  People will get to see the dog get checked in, go through the grooming, get neutered, receive follow up treatment and then go home.  It will be split up into a series of short videos.  This kind of video takes a day to shoot and a day to edit, but you get weeks worth of video out of it and it lets the world see how this clinic cares for the cats and dogs brought in for treatment.

4.  Follow the rules - Just like before, you still have to make your posts worth something.  They have to have value, be entertaining, fun, informative.  This is where a lot of businesses fall short.  So often businesses use their social media platforms to just talk about an upcoming sale or special.  That's talking TO the public.  This doesn't open the door for conversation, and a conversation is what makes a good social media campaign so effective.

5.  Be personal - One of the things that makes social media so special is that it can give people a window into the feelings, thoughts and actions of others.  I can read about a daily deal or about how the weather sucks anywhere.  But I CAN'T read about how the weather makes you feel, or how happy you are that your organization just received a prestigious award.  Don't just tell me that you got the award, tell me how you feel and what you're going to do to celebrate.
I understand that this will be harder for some than others.  Being open feels risky, particularly in this age of scammers and hackers.  And you certainly need to be aware and cautious.  You don't want to go telling the world about your trade secrets.  But you DO want the world to feel as if they know you better than they know your competitors. 

It's this kind of openness and familiarity that can truly have a positive impact on your bottom line.  So get out there, beat your chest and bang the drum and pull back the curtain.  Let the world see you in all your glory.  Take a hint from Elway and be more transparent.  You'll be surprised at how freeing, and successful, it can be.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Air of Mystery

Greetings all!  It's been a while since I've posted last.  I promise it won't be nearly as long between posts for quite some time.  I decided to take a little time off during the holidays to catch up on some work, as well as with friends and family.  It was a nice, much needed break, but I'm back and ready to get back to work helping small businesses and non-profits create and maintain their PR and social media efforts.  So with that said, let's jump right into today's topic.

The Mystery Campaign!

First, let's begin by saying that the "Mystery Campaign" is not new.  It's also not really a PR campaign.  You won't have much luck pitching a media outlet a mystery story.  Journalists have a bad habit of wanting to know details and the like.  However, as a marketing strategy, more to the point, as a social media marketing strategy, it can be real boost to your overall efforts.

Before we move forward, ask yourself this...what is one of mankind's most enduring traits?  The answer is, of course, curiosity.  We are a curious species.  When presented with something unknown, we nearly always go out of our way to satisfy that curiosity.  For decades, marketers have banked on our natural curiosity to promote products, services and businesses.  And, like the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Currently, in Denver, a series of billboards caused a minor stir when they appeared of the skyline of the Mile High City.  If you live in or around Denver, you've probably seen them.  They're big and red all over, with a single, yellow spoon situated just off to the right of center. 

There's no copy, no hint as to what it might be promoting, no message hitting commuters over the head as they go to and from work.  It's a simple, basic picture and nothing else.  What is it?  People asked.  What does it mean?  Who did it?  What's the point?  Within a week, people's curiosity was piqued. 

I spend a lot of time online doing research for my clients, as well as for this blog.  I read the papers, and the news outlets online and within a short period of time I began to see the question pop up all over the place, wondering about the giant red billboard with the yellow spoon. 

It didn't take long, about two weeks, before the answer was out and the public curiosity was satiated.  It turns out the billboards were part of a new promotion for McDonald's breakfasts.  This is just a single example of this kind of mystery campaign being used to raise awareness and generate interest in a product or service.

Those of you old enough to remember the 80's will recall fondly, maybe, the very first Apple commercial that aired in 1984.  If you don't remember, or weren't around to watch it the first go-around, here it is.

This ad ran during the Superbowl and confused millions of viewers who basically had no idea what the commercial was about.  It created waves of interest as the general public tried to figure out what they had just seen and what it was supposed to say.

The "Mystery Campaign" has even been used successfully in animated TV shows.  Anyone remember the "Gabbo's Coming!" commercials from the Simpsons over 10 years ago?  Who is Gabbo?  Why is he coming?  What will he do when he gets here?  Hell, as a casual watcher of the program I was intrigued to find out who this "Gabbo" character was. 

Why it works:

I've already explained one reason why the "Mystery Campaign" works; simple curiosity.  But that alone isn't enough to make a campaign successful.  More than anything, the successful campaigns capture the imagination of potential clients and customers.  They also provide a promise of some kind that appeals to the base desires of your potential audience.  The question is, how can you do that with your social media campaign?  Let's break it down.

The elements:

Let's get this out in the beginning; the mystery campaign doesn't work for everything.  Generally they work best when unveiling something new, something innovative, something unique.  If you're promoting a dry cleaners or widget, you might want to consider a different approach. 

But if you have an event, an opening night, an unveiling, you'll want to start with an angle.  Remember when we discussed news angles?  This isn't much different.  The goal is to build a mystique, a mystery, not just to ask question, but to truly get people's attention and tickle their imagination.

Just like in everything else you do, you also want to tease your potential customers or clients with the promise of something exciting, special, unique, wonderful.  Use any adjective you wish, but you want your audience to be waiting in anticipation, believing that what they're waiting for will benefit them some way, either materialistically, financially or emotionally. 

Let's look at the tools you need to make this work:
1.  A date - No, I'm not talking about someone you ask to the prom.  This is more like a deadline, a specific time frame in which to weave your web.  In order to build anticipation, you need to let the public know when to expect the big event.  Without a deadline or end date, you'll have a hard time creating buzz.  You can only string the public along for so long.  Eventually the excitement will wear off, they'll lose interest and move on to something else. 

2.  Appeal to the base wants and needs - What do people want?  Money, love, happiness, security?  Whatever it is, your campaign needs to give the promise of meeting at least one of their wants or needs.  Let's say you're promoting a new sandwich at your restaurant.  Give it a name, call it, the Bronson.  Then, as part of your campaign you can say something like, "Bronson is coming, and you'll never be hungry again..."  Hey, that sounds good.  Of course, as a reader, I'll be asking, "Who the heck is Bronson, and why won't I ever be hungry again?"  You have my interest.  Now all you need is...

3.  Follow up - What makes a great mystery campaign great is that it ends up being everywhere.  It gets people talking.  They start asking their friends and co-workers about the mystery.  Posters begin appearing on streetcorners, posts end up flooding Facebook, the Twitterverse is abuzz with contemplation and excitement.  But this doesn't happen without some work.  YOU have to be constantly posting online, spreading the word, going into chat rooms and asking questions about the very campaign you have created.  It takes some vigilance and effort to make a mystery campaign successful, moreso than your typical social media efforts.  But if you put in the time, you'll begin to create the kind of buzz that will pay off big in the end.

4.  Watch your timing - This is one of the most important elements of this kind of campaign.  If you start too far in advance of your big unveiling, you'll lose the interest of the public and the buzz will fizzle out.  Start too close to the end date, and you won't have enough time to build the kind of activity you want.  A general rule is to not start your campaign more than a month in advance.  Figure it will take about a week for people to actually start paying attention.  Then two weeks for the buzz to reach a crescendo.  The final week will be all about driving folks to either purchase tickets to your event, or get them excited enough to show up to your unveiling.  This is called the 3 stages and I'll cover them in just a couple of paragraphs.

5.  Have a point - It's great to catch people's attention, but once you have it, you have to do something with it.  In other words, you want to drive the folks online to a website, a Facebook page, a Youtube page, or give them a call to action of some kind.  Maybe it's to show up at a specific location at a set time for the unveiling where you'll toss out swag and have a party.  Whatever it is, you have to tell people what you want them to do.

6.  Be visual - Of course, words say a lot, but we all know the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Take the McDonalds billboard mentioned above.  A big red billboard with a simple, single yellow spoon laid against it does more to grab attention than a billboard full of words.  The same holds true online.  Even a picture of the date with a simple, short tagline can be effective.  In order for your efforts to be successful, you will want to use pictures, graphic elements, even video to help build excitement and buzz. 

7.  Be diverse - In other words, don't have one single picture or one single video.  People will tire of the same visuals very quickly.  You want to have several different visual elements, each with a slightly different message or targeted at a different audience.  For example, one of my most recent projects involves the opening night of a Shakespearean theatrical group.  They know they'll attract more traditional theater goers.  But in order to be special they need to attract those that might otherwise not pay money to watch live Shakespeare.  To reach those audiences, we created a series of videos, some that appealed to those who enjoy action and adventure, blood and fights.  At the same time we released a video that highlighted the more...sexy...elements of the show.  All the while we are keeping the entire venture wrapped in a veil of secrecy.  All these readers know is that something fun, sexy, new and exciting is coming on 1.14.2011.  Plus, by having a handful of different visual elements, you'll be able to post and repost these photos and videos over and over to catch those who might have missed them the first time around.
If your campaign has all of those basic elements, your efforts will likely be successful.  Again, you have to stay on top of this kind of campaign more than usual, which is just one other reasons why you shouldn't launch this kind of campaign too far in advance.  You simply won't have the time to truly stay on top of it all and still manage the rest of your responsibilities.  But three to four weeks of hard work and vigilance will net you some major results.

Which finally leads us to the the three stages of the "Mystery Campaign."  Let's assume you are starting your efforts one month before the end date.  As mentioned above, you can break your four weeks into three stages.  But this works with a three week advance, and, if you're desperate, even a two week advance.  Any less lead time than that and you're likely wasting your time.
1.  Launch - This is where you make a splash.  You can leak your best stuff, your most attention grabbing stuff out online over the course of the first stage.  This is the part where you want folks to sit up and ask, "What is this about?"  It's during this time that you will be posting the most content on your various social media platforms.

2.  Maintenance - Once you have their attention, you have to maintain it.  You can do this one of two ways.  A) You can continue to post constantly in an effort to build momentum quickly.  Or B) You can begin to release your material in a more measured way, designed to keep it in front of people, but still make it a bit of a mystery.  If you suddenly pull back a bit, it will get people wondering what is happening and keep them on the edge of their seat, so to speak.  Either way can be successful.

3.  Tapering Down - The final week leading up to your big event is really your make or break moment.  On one hand you can, in an effort to reap some PR bounce from your campaign, unwrap the mystery a day or so beforehand.  This is risky since you take the chance that you will kill the suspense for some folks and lose some potential customers or clients before your big unveiling.  The better move is to keep the suspense going until the very last moment.  The only change you'll likely make at this stage is to focus not so much on the mystery, but on the date and the call to action.  If your efforts up to this point has been to highlight the promise and the mystery, at this stage you'll want to really hammer the end date and what you want people to do at that time.  By this stage, people will just be starting to tire of being in the dark.  By giving them something to do on the date in question, you rekindle their excitement, knowing that their curiosity will soon be quenched.
Of course, you'll likely never make the kind of splash that Apple did in 1984, or that McDonalds did in Denver, but you can still reach thousands upon thousands of folks who otherwise might never have heard of your business or non-profit. 

Also, keep in mind, that while we're talking about something potentially viral (isn't everything online "potentially" viral?) that isn't necessarily your goal here.  Your goal is to get people questioning and talking, yes, but you don't need it to circulate around the world in forwarded emails.  What you DO want to do is get your immediate community of potential customers and clients to take notice of you.  And when it comes to grabbing attention, really, nothing does it better than a well-developed Mystery Campaign.