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Editorial - Weddings and wooly bears

April 14, 1998

How can a small county in rural West Virginia get nationwide publicity without spending a fortune? With a little imagination, that's how.

Officials in rural Upshur County, West Virginia made the national news yesterday with their nationwide essay contest, which will provide the winner with a free wedding and $15,000 worth of prizes. All the entrants have to do is describe, in 100 words or less, why a wedding in the hills of West Virginia would be a dream come true.

Residents of the state get no preference in the contest, which aims to lure new residents to Buckhannon, located about 130 miles south of Pittsburgh and named one of the "100 best small towns in America" in a 1995 book of the same name by Norman Cramptin.

In addition to the wedding and a fried-chicken-dinner reception, the winners will receive an acre of land and a $500 scholarship for the couple's first child to attend nearby West Virginia Wesleyan College.

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We like the idea because it doesn't require an intensive media campaign, an expensive glossy brochure or an 800 number. It's just a clever promotion that editors and news directors all over the U.S. can use to fill that spot they hold for stories called "brights" - small, good news stories that function as a counter-balance to the more serious stuff.

Other stories of this type including the annual tap water-tasting contest held in Berkeley Springs, the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil each Groundhog Day and the Hagers-town and Country Almanack's wooly bear caterpillar contest.

None of these involve a great outlay of cash, but they capture the public's attention and communicate a friendly and constructive image of the places where they're held.

We mention this because there are certainly as many smart people in the Tri-State area as there are in Upshur County. Freed from the notion that good promotions have to cost a fortune, it should only be a matter of time before this region makes the national news with something that's positively unusual.

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