Celebrate Anniversaries. Break a World Record.

Universities create unique PR and engagement opportunities through record-breaking anniversary marketing campaigns.

What do stuffing backpacks for charity, building a giant cake to benefit veterans and their families, and dressing as penguins have in common?

Those are just a few ways universities across the U.S. have celebrated a significant anniversary to engage key stakeholders including students, alumni, employees, and members of their communities. Beyond celebrating a key milestone for the school, the underlying theme for those anniversary-related events was that each university attempted and successfully broke a Guinness World Records title.

Anniversary marketing is big business and helps drive earned media for all types of organizations. Universities are no different. University administrators are seeing added benefits once a Guinness World Records title is incorporated into an anniversary campaign, including creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience while giving back to the local community, making students feel part of the fabric of a school’s mission, or re-engaging alumni.

Stuffing Backpacks

A recent example from this past June is the collaboration between Brown University staff members to break the Guinness World Records title of “most backpacks stuffed with school supplies in one hour.” The event commemorated the 25th anniversary of the school’s staff development day.

Each backpack was filled with school supplies, including pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, and glue sticks. The participants partnered with United Way of Rhode Island to distribute the stuffed backpacks to area children. In addition to the community benefit, the school received tremendous earned media and the staff swelled with pride after setting the record by forming an impromptu conga line.

“Anniversary campaigns that tie in a Guinness World Records attempt provide many touchpoints to raise awareness and create lifetime memories for university administrators, marketers, and those charged with student and alumni engagement,” says Sonja Valenta, director of marketing for Guinness World Records, Americas. “There’s a compelling human interest to share with media and it creates a uniquely entertaining and collaborative experience for participants, regardless if it’s internal staff, students, alumni, or members of the community.”

Baking a Cake. A Big Cake.

From stuffing backpacks to eating cake: Stratford University created a unique campaign to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The university, which has eight campuses across Virginia and Maryland—as well as internationally in New Delhi, India—built “the tallest cake pyramid” to raise funds for a local charity that supports military and veterans’ families, as well as to honor Stratford’s founder, a U.S. Navy veteran. The event took place at mall outside of Washington DC, as curious onlookers watched university’s chefs construct the 9-foot, 2-inch, 8,000-pound cake comprised of more than 32,00 slices.

University officials asked for a $1 donation for each slice, with proceeds benefitting the Fisher House Foundation, which is best known for its network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay for free while a loved one is receiving treatment.

“Stratford University was founded by a U.S. Navy veteran 40 years ago, and we have always had a strong commitment to our veterans and military students,” says Mary Ann Shurtz, executive vice president of Stratford University, after the successful campaign. “It is very fitting for us to host this world-record-breaking event on Veterans Day, and it is an honor to partner with the Fisher House Foundation, an incredible organization that helps tens of thousands of our military families each year.”

Penguins, Crabs, and More

Youngstown State University in Ohio found a different way to commemorate its 50th anniversary of becoming a state/public university. The school engaged students, staff, and alumni to dress up in penguin costumes as part of the school’s homecoming game last fall to break the Guinness World Records title for “the largest gathering of people dressed as penguins.” School officials reported to the local media that more than half of the participants were alumni. What better way to show school pride than having alumni, students, and faculty dress up as the team’s mascot?

Interestingly, about 200 miles across the state, officials at The Ohio State University are taking its upcoming anniversary so seriously that there are at least four staff members dedicated solely to the events and programming that will celebrate the school’s sesquicentennial in 2020. The school already has a sesquicentennial webpage, too.

“Anniversary milestones used to be approached mostly from a celebratory perspective, but marketers now understand they offer a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity,” says Jason Dressel, managing director of Client Strategy and Development for The History Factory, whose company recently organized its second annual Anniversary Marketing Summit in Chicago. The unique one-day conference brought together marketers from nearly 25 companies to learn more about how other brands celebrated corporate milestones. “For colleges and universities, anniversary milestones can be especially effective. From brand differentiation in a crowded landscape to engaging alumni to development, anniversaries offer a platform for these institutions to tell their story authentically and unapologetically.”

“It’s a sure way to stand out from the crowd, especially in a competitive industry or environment,” continues Valenta, from Guinness World Records.

As Rev. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun after a successful attempt of “most people crab walking”(subsequently broken by a charter school in North Carolina), “In the weeks when kids are making their college decisions—it’s a May 1 deadline, so they have a couple weeks—it shows a lot of school spirit.”

That school spirit can also shine through when universities celebrate a key milestone like a major anniversary, and a record-breaking element heightens the excitement and promotional opportunities for school officials and their various audiences.  

To learn more about record-breaking campaign ideas for your school, visit the Creative Campaign Solutions page on the Guinness World Records website.

About the Author

Keith Green is vice president B2B Communications & Partnerships, Guinness World Records North America.

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