CAMPAIGNS: Symphony targets various audiences in Memphis return

PR Team: Archer-Malmo (Memphis, TN) and Memphis Symphony Orchestra (Memphis, TN) Campaign: Debut in the new Cannon Center for the Performing Arts Time Frame: October 2002 - January 2003 Budget: $150,000

PR Team: Archer-Malmo (Memphis, TN) and Memphis Symphony Orchestra (Memphis, TN) Campaign: Debut in the new Cannon Center for the Performing Arts Time Frame: October 2002 - January 2003 Budget: $150,000

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra lost its home when Ellis Auditorium was demolished to make way for a new performing arts center. Musicians expected to tune up in the new facility within three years, but construction delays kept them out of downtown for twice that long. Meanwhile, Maestro David Loebel moved to Memphis and kept the symphony sharp while it played in a suburban church. "Part of the symphony experience was missing at the church," admits PR director Brian Wiuff. "We were in a desperate situation," recalls marketing committee chairman Scott Heppel, CFO of NexAir. "While the place we were in had fairly good acoustics, because of the nature of that facility, it wasn't seen as a big event anymore. Our subscribers had been declining since we'd been out of the hall." Two years ago, symphony officials recruited Archer-Malmo principal Cynthia Ham and her husband, Memphis Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford, to organize a grand-opening gala for the new Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Her firm came on board to do PR, advertising, and creative work when a firm date was set. Strategy "This was a chance to leverage their return downtown to this beautiful new hall and broaden the subscriber base," Ham says. She strove to heavily promote a glitzy, blockbuster grand opening that would showcase the new hall and increase ticket sales. But first, symphony supporters had to raise more than $250,000 to stage the event. Tactics To start off, Ham called on Sir Michael Parker, the royal event producer who planned Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee. His participation alone created many headlines. The agency then developed an event sponsorship brochure, and kicked off fundraising with a presentation to local business leaders last summer. Ham followed up with lots of personal contact. Heavy doses of PR, as well as outdoor and print advertising, supported centerpiece TV spots. The overall theme, "Find a New Place Inside," alluded to the new hall, but was also meant to encourage people to feed their souls through music, Ham says. In its biggest media relations coup, the team lined up CBS affiliate WREG as the event's media sponsor. The downtown station advanced the event for two weeks, and broadcast a live special the night of the gala. On New Year's Day, actors dressed as famous composers worked busy downtown intersections holding signs reading, "Beethoven is Back Downtown." Area merchants also placed posters in their windows. The marketing team reached out to traditional audiences, but also enticed a younger crowd. Loebel and Heppel's speaking engagements included a presentation to a young-professionals group, and that demographic was heavily targeted in invitation mailings. The January 25 Winter Fantasia event featured a grand "door opening" during the reception, unveiling of the symphony "gift wrapped" inside a giant package, and a dinner/ dance peppered with street performers and ice sculptors carving sponsor logos. Results Ham's contact with business leaders generated $300,000 in funds, and more than 1,100 people attended the debut. By late January, the symphony had sold 500 half-season tickets specially repackaged for concerts in the new hall. Overall ticket sales exceeded Ellis Auditorium's last season, and the May 3 masterworks finale was nearly sold out. More than 15 local and regional media outlets covered the grand opening, which also garnered an advance brief in The Wall Street Journal. While the local daily ran some stories about construction delays, the overall tone of coverage was positive, Heppel says. Future Before its contract expires in June, Archer-Malmo will promote the fall season, but Ham doesn't know whether the agency relationship will continue. "We feel that we've given them both the template and the lift they need for going forward on their own," she says.

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