Publicity Stunt, Minneapolis, 1906

The “Yesterday’s News” blog at the Star Tribune website is consistently cool.

Of particular interest to marketing types, there’s a great (and exhaustive)  posting this week profiling 16 days of local buzz creation a century ago

Sometime between 1906 and now, the idea of encouraging people to lay hands upon strangers has shifted from a clever PR idea to a bad one. But, in any case, I wonder if the ghost of the The Tribune’s Mysterious Mr. Sly still treads Minneapolis streets.

— Hornseth

2 thoughts on “Publicity Stunt, Minneapolis, 1906

  1. I read about that, too. Very cool idea. It sounds so much like a modern marketing tactic, but it’s fascinating that it happened a hundred years ago.

    Could you imagine the potential problems now, though? People getting shot while trying to drag Mr. Sly to the paper’s offices, all sorts of false kidnappings of people who aren’t Mr. Sly, fake Mr. Sly’s luring people into dark alleys on the way to the paper’s offices…”Why, yes, I *am* Mr. Sly…”

  2. EMM says:

    Hornseth and all:

    This look back into Minneapolis press promotion was priceless. Thanks for finding it.

    To build on Mike’s comment, can you
    imagine walking up to a stranger today, placing “a hand on the suspect,” and then asking the question: “You are the Tribune’s Mysterious Mr. Sly. Do you deny it?” I fear the response might go something like this:

    “Deny it, buddy? If you don’t get your (expletive deleted) hand off of me, I’ll deny you of your (expletive deleted) face.”

    And now, a lecture. If you hated school, skip to the bottom of this commentary:

    This 1906 Tribune promotion must have grown out of the successful “yellow journalism” stunts created by the two leaders of journalism at the time, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s New York Journal routinely ran stories such as, “Strange Things Women Do for Love,” “Real American Monsters and Dragons,” and “Startling Confessions of a Wholesale Murderer Who Begs to Be Hanged.”

    Pulitzer, the patron saint of journalism, also engaged in stunt-filled promotion. For example, he sent reporter Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane) around the world by ship, train and animal to see if she could beat the record suggested by Jules Verne in his novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” (She did.. in 72). The people of New York breathlessly read her daily accounts of where she was so that they could send in their nearly one million guesses as to how many days it would take the reporter.

    But, Pulitzer (and even Hearst, on whom Charles Foster Kane’s cinematic story was quite accurately based) used these stunts to draw in readers so they then could shine a bright spotlight on the ills in New York city life: child labor, tenement housing, white slavery. Once they exposed these horrors, campaigns for progressive political reform could begin.

    Pulitzer once wrote: “Every issue of the paper presents an opportunity and a duty to say something courageous and true; to rise above the mediocre and conventional; to say something that will command the respect of the intelligent, the education, the independent part of the community; to rise above fear of partisanship and fear of popular prejudice.”

    Now there is nothing at all wrong with the media making money. It’s by and large a good thing that we still have predominantly privately- (and not state-) owned mass media in this country.

    But the question then becomes: Do we have newspaper publishers or any other media owners who would commit their considerable resources today to such a principle as that stated by Pulitzer?

    End of lecture. Carry on. (But, please. Don’t touch anyone you don’t know.)

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