Five PR Lessons I Learned from Driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

Driving the Wienermobile from Dallas to El Paso during the summer of 1995, I encountered one of my most memorable experiences during my year-long PR gig with Oscar Mayer.

I stopped to refuel at a lonely looking gas station in west Texas. Then, a black hearse pulled up to the pumps. A few minutes later a small crop duster plane comes taxiing down the dusty, two-lane road in front of the station. The pilot pulled his plane up to a pump.

Here we are with the Wienermobile, a hearse and a Cessna all fueling up at the same random gas station.

My 365 days on the Wienermobile truly were random and memorable. I never knew what to expect. This was before GPS and the Internet. My company-issued cell phone was the size of a laptop. As I reflect back on those Hotdogger days, I recall five valuable PR lessons.

No. 1 - Always be Prepared.

When running an event or doing mobile marketing, be prepared. Don't assume anything. Have a well-stocked event boxes with everything that you might need. Anticipate the possible outcomes and possible questions from the public and the media.

When asked about a pro-vegetarian group in interviews, I was ready with my responses that aligned with Oscar Mayer's corporate messaging.

No. 2 - Be Creative. Be Different and Be Visual.

Clearly, the Wienermobile was the star. It offered incredible visuals for the public and the media. Oscar Mayer has been on the cutting edge with mobile marketing for 75 years. Hence, all of the copy cat vehicles from the Hershey Kissmobile to the mobile Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.

The Wienermobile made interviews and stories a lot easier to pursue. Yet as we revisited media markets, we had to get even more creative with our publicity efforts, often partnering with community organizations.

For example, when I visited my hometown of Richmond, Va., the local paper wasn't particularly interested, but I honed in on columnist Ray McAllister, now the editor of Boomer Magazine, and offered him a unique opportunity to visit his kids at school. He liked the creative approach, and it resulted in a great column.

No. 3 - Be Flexible.

Go with the flow.

Listen to reporters and editors and ask questions. Find where their editorial interests are and align your product, service or event to meet their needs as journalists.

As the Wienermobile was a mechanically challenged vehicle, I quickly learned how a day's schedule could get changed. Being open minded and nimble was key to maintaining my sanity and meeting our business objective with the famous frank.

No. 4 - Stay on Message.

Despite being asked the same questions hundreds of times each week by both the public and the media, I learned to answer each question patiently with the same enthusiasm and poise as if it was the first time I answered it.

The hot dog puns got a little stale for me. But they were part of the experience for our visitors and fresh for them — no pun intended.

This mentality is critical for any ambassador of your organization who is in a public-facing role whether working a front desk, special event or as a media spokesperson.

No. 5 - Create Magic.

Many of my Hotdogging co-workers from around the country had worked at Disney and completed extensive training for working with the public. 

I learned from them (and my experiences as a teenager bagging groceries at Ukrop's Super Markets and working as a brand ambassador for the Virginia Lottery) to ensure that each customer encounter whether at 2 p.m. in a grocery store or 11 p.m. in a hotel parking lot was magical.

... personal attention and connections were what the public truly craved.

Older Wienermobile visitors wanted to share their stories and memories from seeing Little Oscar, the world's smallest chef, and younger fans wanted to see the inside. Premium items, like free wiener whistles and T-shirts, helped, but the personal attention and connections were what the public truly craved.

Whatever your brand, product or company, always think about how you can create magical experiences with your customers.

Jonathan Rhudy only serves Oscar Mayer dogs at his family cookouts. His cooking secret: boil the franks and then grill them for just a few minutes. Despite the current “Wiener Wars” in litigation, Jonathan thinks OM makes America’s best franks.