In the PR world, there is a saying, “expect the unexpected.” That’s especially true when you are doing an event or large-scale promotion.  Monday’s “Free Slurpee Day” by 7-Eleven was a great idea, but a perfect example of why you should always have a plan B in place.

The giveaway piggybacked off successful promotions for coffee & donuts done by other brands and is a great way to leverage a giveaway for media coverage. There was a lot of buzz in the beginning of the day with #FreeSlurpeeDay trending on Twitter.

And then stores began running out of cups. And then out of the coveted slurpees. Disappointed customers turned to Twitter to air their frustrations and started the hashtag #slurpocolypse2011. Store employees from across the country were turning away customers who had come to 7-Eleven for their free slurpee. The positive publicity of the day became overshadowed by the customer backlash on Twitter.

7 Eleven responded and said they spent most of the night and early morning apologizing to customers who did not receive their free drink and said they plan to mail coupons as well.  But a more proactive option would’ve been to have coupons on hand for such an occurrence. It would’ve been an opportunity to get that customer who perhaps had never stepped foot into a 7-Eleven before to come back and maybe become a regular customer. Instead there are probably thousands of people who didn’t voice their frustrations and will forever have a negative impression of the brand. That defeats the purpose of the promotion in the first place.

Whether it’s giving away a free drink or planning an outdoor publicity stunt, having a backup plan and answering all the “what-if” questions is what truly makes a promotion a success. Sure, 7-Eleven received a lot of media coverage but, at the end of the day, they also disappointed potential customers because they didn’t plan accordingly.  And no bright blue icy beverage can make that better.