CAMPAIGNS: Tourism PR - History revisited for future's sake

Client: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

PR Team: Eisner Petrou and Associates (Baltimore)

Campaign: Colonial Williamsburg 4th of July History Survey

Time Frame: June-July 2001

Budget: $60,000



The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) describes its mission as

"helping the future learn from the past by engaging, informing, and

inspiring people as they learn about this historic colonial capital."

However, several other cities - Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington,

DC, to name a few - have also tried to parlay historical legacies into

tourist attention. So the nonprofit Williamsburg group tapped PR firm

Eisner Petrou and Associates (EPA), which was recommended by its

previous agency, Ketchum, to create a campaign around a history survey

and the 4th of July holiday.



Strategy



While Williamsburg was eager to "keep up" with other historic

destinations, the foundation had a greater purpose in mind: to generate

a national dialogue about history education. But according to PR

director Tim Andrews, this was hard. "There's an unfortunate stereotype

that studying history is boring or unnecessary," he concedes. "We are

asking kids to sit in a classroom and read dusty textbooks, when they

need to be engaged."



EPA and the foundation decided to see for themselves how students were

internalizing what they had learned about history, choosing teenagers as

the survey's subjects ("they represent the future leaders of America,"

notes EPA VP Lisa Miles). They also hoped the survey would drive traffic

to the group's website and entice more travelers to visit

Williamsburg.



Tactics



The foundation and EPA prepared a 10-question history survey designed

for fourth-grade students. Between May 31 and June 5, they posed the

questions to 1,020 teenagers, finding, to nobody's surprise, that teens

don't know much about history. For instance, only 10% of the respondents

knew who composed The Star-Spangled Banner.



Using preexisting Williamsburg footage, as well as newly conducted

interviews with young visitors, EPA cobbled together a VNR and an ANR.

At the end of June, the firm sent out a teaser to 75 prominent media

outlets (CNN, the major networks, and newswires), which was accompanied

by a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a genuine quill pen.

The VNR, ANR, and press release containing the survey results were

distributed by PR Newswire on July 2.



Results



The survey got significant media attention and an equally broad range of

reactions. International publications, including London's The Times,

Russia's Pravda, and The South China Post were amazed that US teenagers

didn't perform better. EPA estimates the campaign reached more than 314

million people via 308 newspaper articles and editorials, and 112 TV

reports. Among the most impressive hits were a CNN live broadcast from

Colonial Williamsburg on July 4 and an interactive quiz by ABCNews.com

(visitors could compare their performance to those surveyed).



Andrews was enthused by the media response. "They didn't just pick up

the survey story and rewrite it," he notes, pointing to a host of

editorials and features. "The type of discussion the survey provoked was

as important as the amount of coverage."



The campaign was also successful in driving traffic to

www.ColonialWilliamsburg.org.



Three times as many people visited the site during the first week of

July this year than during the same period last year. And the visitors

kept coming back, with the site receiving approximately 6.8 million hits

between July 8 and 21, up from approximately 2.1 million hits in

2000.



Future



The CWF only hires PR agencies on a project basis, so it has parted ways

with EPA. That noted, Andrews says that he was "exceptionally pleased"

with the firm's work, and he hopes to do "something creative and

proactive in 2002 that generates a national dialogue."



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