Public relations

The hug seen ’round the world: Small business earns big PR windfall

I have no idea whether Florida pizza maker Scott Van Duzer ever received media relations training or is just a savvy merchant with solid instincts. Either way, he knows how to embrace a moment that grabs attention — literally.

One surprising lift for a president, one giant PR step for a pizza shop.

You surely saw a network news clip or this image shot on the fly by Pablo Martinez Monsivais of the Associated Press during an impromptu campaign stop Sunday afternoon at Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Italian Restaurant in Fort Pierce.

I went quickly through three stages of “good grief“: shock, dismay and acceptance of a brilliant PR move.

What seems like a spontaneous bear hug may have been an impulse flowing from a clever marketer’s mind. It’s not every day — well, any day until Sept. 9, 2012 — that the president and camera-pointing national journalists jam his shop on South 35th Street. So after a handshake, back clasp and normal feet-on-the-ground hug, Van Duzer pulled a doozie of a surprise.

Prominent coverage rolled into a second day as the newsmaker — not Obama, the other one — spoke from Big Apple Pizza to Anderson Cooper, NBC Nightly News, The Miami Herald and others. “It’s been pretty crazy. I’ve never been caught up in a moment,” Van Duzer said between TV interviews, according to The Miami Herald.

His small business is mentioned in more than 320 articles, Google News shows. Framed photo to follow at his restaurant, no doubt.

A video already is on the website of a foundation he and wife Dawn created to help St. Lucie County families “experiencing financial and personal hardship brought about by unforeseen crisis or tragedy.” That’s one reason Obama stopped by, along with the 46-year-old pizza man’s local reputation as an active blood donor.

His charity’s site reinforces the sense that Van Duzer didn’t just think his famous visitor needed a really big hug. The foundation president immodestly describes himself there as “a savvy business professional [and] marketing genius.”

Scott Van Duzer

That sounds right, judging from the presidential lift that lifts Big Apple to the attention of Fort Pierce visitors and area diners. It’s no stretch to think more than a few will want to meet the gregarious pizza man who grew up in New York City (why am I not surprised?) A windfall that began Sunday — when Obama’s campaign spent nearly $200 on pizzas for aides, journalists and others — should continue at least for a while, thanks to the sudden prominence that was earned without cost.

Business communication trainers teach about key messages, speaking in sound bites, fielding questions deftly and careful preparation before media opportunities.

Scott Van Duzer was prepared with a self-promotional sense that gives his enterprise a lift right along with Obama. He could give a media training lesson.

Your turn

Over the top and disrespectful? . . . Or so audacious it’s admirable? 

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