Friday, December 27, 2013

Furlough freebies ease shutdown pain

A slew of Washington, D.C.-area businesses hit hard by the government shutdown have concocted an ultra-savvy way to generate lots of needed PR and lots of love from federal employees: freebies for the furloughed.

These business -- both inside and outside the Beltway -- are trying to lure customers and media attention by offering everything from free cups of coffee to freebie sandwiches and free oil changes.

All the bad political karma resulting from the shutdown that's temporarily left roughly 800,000 federal workers jobless is getting re-shaped into positive PR by dozens of companies desperately trying to make public relations lemonade out of the government shutdown lemon.

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"It's a good PR move," says Katharine D. Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing, a PR measurement publishing and training company. "But it could get a little less exciting if everyone in town does it."

Well, everyone's not, but dozens certainly are -- each during slightly different times of the day and with different requirements for proof of federal employment. Among the freebies:

• Free shows. The Howard Theatre is offering free passes for federal employees for three upcoming events, including a Wednesday concert with Big Boi of Outkast and others. They'll get 50% off for a Sunday show by Rufus featuring Sly Stone.

• Free sandwiches. One top celebrity chef in the D.C. area, Jose Andres, tweeted that his three area eateries (Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel) would be offering affected workers free sandwiches "every day until it's over."

• Free oil changes. Koons of Silver Spring MD., a car dealership close to Washington D.C., says it is offering all furloughed government employees a free oil change, free tire rotation and free multi-point inspection during the shutdown. Koons "realizes the importance of the livelihood of the federal government workforce," the company says.

• Free burgers. Z-Burger, a! local burger chain, is offering burgers to folks with federal ID cards. "This might put us out of business," says co-founder Peter Tabibian. "But we want to show that we care more about the people than the politicians do."

• Free knitting lessons. Federal workers who suddenly find themselves with extra time on their hands might want to sign-up for free knitting lessons at the yarn shop Fibre Space in Washington's neighbor Alexandria, Va. Its "Intro to Knitting" classes (which it claims are a $75 value) are offered every workday that the government stays closed. But folks will have to pay for their own material.

• Special discounts. Soupergirl has a 10% "furlough special" discount for most government employees, but there's one twist: "Members of Congress will be charged DOUBLE!" shouts a sign outside its door. Later, the seller of fresh soups tweeted a post that, in fact, it "should be charging Congress triple!"

At least one national company has joined in. Federal employees who own Hyundais can to stop making car payments for as long as the shutdown keeps them out of work, Hyundai Motor America announced Tuesday.

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