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The Dive: PR Gold

An NCDOT-branded piece of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, honoring a woman who was born on the bridge — while en route to the hospital — back in the 1970s.
NCDOT
/
WHQR
An NCDOT-branded piece of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, honoring a woman who was born on the bridge — while en route to the hospital — back in the 1970s.

Every week, WHQR news director Ben Schachtman sits down with The Assembly's Johanna Still, to talk about our joint newsletter, The Dive. For this edition, we take a look at a couple of local public relation wins.

This piece originally appeared in The Dive, a free weekly newsletter jointly published by WHQR and The Assembly. You can find more information and subscribe here.


Benjamin Schachtman: Alright, Johanna Still, thanks for being here.

Johanna Still: Thank you for having me.

BS: Ok, on this week's edition of The Dive, we took a little bit of a detour into the land of PR – and we don't usually spend a lot of our, as you put it, print real estate, on this topic, but you had a story you just had to get into.

JS: That's right, I found myself unusually struck by extremely effective PR from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. And I really can't even believe I'm saying that sentence, but it was such an effective video that I just found myself thinking about it over and over. And as someone who works in the business, I find myself, you know, unusually keenly aware of when PR is working. You know the best PR is subconscious, right? It's not in your face. And so I thought that this was a really effective use. And what it was is the Department of Transportation did a video of a woman who was born on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. And if you remember, from several weeks back, many of 1000s of people surely remember, because their commute times were interrupted by the bridge being shut down temporarily while they were doing the preservation project. So this woman, who was born on the bridge, she reached out to them and said she wanted a piece of it. And so because of the you know, the uniqueness of her story, somebody working on the department's PR team, basically what I say they recognize the PR goal that had landed in their lap,

BS: Yeah, and so this woman ended up with an actual piece of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to honor her birthplace. And maybe we all just took a beat and we're a little less mad at the DOT, if only for maybe an afternoon.

JS: Right. I point out that there the department has, you know, this really long history of misusing or mismanaging funds, you know, wasteful spending. They you've got plenty of reasons to be annoyed at them, right? But with this particular video, it's this light hearted kind of fun story, and like I point out in my piece, it's a 45 year old story, right? This woman was born on the bridge, which is an interesting story, sure, but the fact that it's became part of the news cycle this time around is because the department participated in it, right? They commemorated this chunk. They didn't have to do that. Usually, the government can be slow. There's lots of layers to bureaucracy. So, they could have easily said no or ignored it, but the fact that they, recognized this opportunity, and they added this commemorative plaque, they made a video of it, participated in the fun, and maybe that's something that we could take a lesson from. And we didn't stop there. You also had a PR related takeaway for this week's edition. Ben, tell us about what happened at Eagle’s Dare.

BS: Yeah, we were following up on some reporting from John Staton at the StarNews about the Eagle’s Dare. It's a bar and beer garden in Downtown Wilmington in a renovated auto garage. The owner, Joe Apkarian, has had his fair share of run ins with the city. He's scrapped with them over the mural in the stairwell of the Pour House, right there on Front and Market, but he has remained a pretty stalwart cheerleader for downtown and downtown businesses, and so he was more than happy to pick up the mantle of free downtown concerts after WDI ended the Downtown Sundown concert series. And so he felt a little betrayed, I think it's fair to say, when he got fined by the city because he'd gone over the two stage setup permits per year. This is something he'd been working on in the background with both City Councilman Luke Waddell and WDI, but the technical language hadn't gone in front of city council yet, so he got a couple hundred dollars in fines. StarNews did a story about it, and the results were surprisingly good in his favor.

JS: Yeah, in your piece, you said you got resounding booze from all sides of the political spectrum.

BS: I – exactly, I don't see too many articles where people I know are staunch conservatives or people I know are very liberal progressives, all sort of chanting in unison, “boo.” Because everyone likes a good time. Everyone likes a free concert. This seemed like kind of an own-goal for the city, and we should note that the city council did, after the article came out, did pass at least a resolution to look at this language and update it. It will probably take a couple of weeks, but they're pausing enforcement against the Eagle’s Dare, so Apkarian won't get fined again. We should note that Councilman Kevin Spears took a little bit of a sidelong glance at this saying, ‘Oh, if you know someone on city council, you can get the city's rules changed.’ So for what it's worth, not everyone was thrilled, but by and large, most people were pretty happy for Joe, and he told me he even got a couple bucks thrown his way to help cover the cost.

JS: And the PR element of this piece is, what you point out at the very end, right?

BS: Yeah, and that is, as someone who worked in the restaurant industry for a long, long time, I can't imagine getting this much positive press and this many people to show up and support with $300 in advertising. This is just the kind of PR you can't buy

JS: Exactly.

BS: So worth $300 bucks. So I hope folks will check it out. That's on this week's edition of The Dive. And for now, Johanna, thanks for being here.

JS: Thank you.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.
Johanna Still is The Assembly‘s Wilmington editor. She previously covered economic development for Greater Wilmington Business Journal and was the assistant editor at Port City Daily.