By: Angela Raleigh, Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “Where’s Waldo?” and maybe even searched for Waldo at some point in our lives.

This past weekend, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) took the “Where’s Waldo?” concept and brought it to life. They staged “mystery men” in both Green Bay and Pittsburgh to give away one trip in each city to Super Bowl XLV.

The rules were simple – the mystery man would wander the streets between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, January 28 through Sunday, January 30 until he was found. Clues were given daily on the Dallas CVB’s Facebook and Twitter pages about each mystery man’s whereabouts. In order to win, contestants had to locate and approach the mystery man and say the secret phrase, which was posted on the Dallas CVB’s Facebook page. The contest had plenty of green and gold fans running around Green Bay asking, “Have you been to Dallas lately?” It created an incredible amount of buzz both online and off line. In fact, the CVB’s “Visit Dallas” Facebook page acquired more than 9,400 “likes” in a matter of days and the “DallasSBHunt” Twitter account had more than 1,900 followers! Now that’s impressive.

So who won the package? A homeless couple from a nearby shelter uttered the phrase to the correct person in downtown Green Bay on Saturday afternoon. They won a prize package that included two tickets to Super Bowl XLV, NFL Experience passes, hotel accommodations for four nights and $500 towards travel expenses. After finding out that the winning couple was homeless, the Dallas CVB upped the ante and agreed to cover all of the couple’s travel expenses. I don’t think the addition to the giveaway was in the Dallas CVB’s original plan, but they adjusted to the situation in order to make sure they could get the winners to the big game. Local media interviewed the couple numerous times and the situation caused a bit of debate and discussion online and in the community.

This is a prime example of why companies need to be prepared for any situation that might occur when they run a contest. It also demonstrates how social media, while an effective way for companies to interact with current and prospective clients, can turn out vastly different than originally anticipated. Going forward, you can bet this will be discussed in PR groups as how to handle situations that no one would have expected. This was a brilliant use of social media, but was it successful?

If you were a part of the Dallas CVB contest development team, would you have suggested anything different for the contest?