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Someone will have the luck of the Irish when Guinness Import Co. gives away a pub in a promotion that comes to a head today.

The ale marketer found itself awash in entries for the "Win Your Own Pub in Ireland" contest, which asked people to submit a 50-word essay describing the "perfect pint of Guinness."

In less than six weeks, more than 31,000 responded to the challenge, promoted entirely through spot radio commercials in seven markets and word-of-mouth, the company said.

Response far exceeded any previous Guinness promotion and resulted in worldwide publicity from electronic and print media outlets before the March 23 contest deadline.

"The essays were incredible and amazing-we were astounded at how many people spent hours pondering what Guinness means to them," said Todd Stevenson, Guinness' 32-year-old group marketing director.

The pub's winner will be decided today in a competitive shoot-out among 10 finalists at the tavern, Connie Doolan's Pub in Cobh, Ireland. The showdown follows an expenses-paid, five-day tour of the Emerald Isle, co-sponsored by Irish airline Aer Lingus.

The finalists' last hurdles include reciting another original essay about Guinness as well as demonstrating hearty bartending skills and enthusiastic dart-throwing abilities, said Stamford, Conn.-based Guinness Import Co.

One winner will be selected by a panel of ale expert judges, composed of local Irish publicans, Cobh community representatives and Guinness executives.

"We shifted a good part of our budget away from advertising and over to promotions this year to get people more directly involved with the history and lore of Guinness," Mr. Stevenson said, though he wouldn't disclose the budgets involved.

He said the contest was "a natural idea" conceived by a consortium of Guinness marketing executives and company agencies, including promotion shop Creative Alliance, Fairfield, Conn.; ad agency Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York; and public relations agency Cohn & Wolfe.

Other promotions planned for 1994 include a Caribbean-theme effort breaking later this year and a promotion at Halloween featuring the quirky artwork of illustrator Edward Gorey.

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