Ringling Bros. outreach adds life to circus

Circus Fit effort has performers and animals teaching kids how to stay active and healthy

Circus Fit effort has performers and animals teaching kids how to stay active and healthy

It's called "the greatest show on earth" for a reason. Since its very start, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has captivated audiences with acrobats, tightrope walkers, flashy colors, and cotton candy.

Years later, it's still one of the country's top-selling family shows, a wholesome and affordable entertainment option for everyone, regardless of age, race, or language. But Ringling Bros. is competing in a more crowded marketplace, full of consumers more cautious with their entertainment dollars.

To extend those dollars, "we don't just want to come to town for a week and provide that magic and be done," says Enrico Dinges, national PR director for Feld Entertainment's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Instead, Dinges says, Ringling Bros. aims to create memorable experiences focused not only on fun, but also on education - the kind that people will talk about and recommend long after the last clown has left town.

One way Ringling aims to accomplish this is through its Circus Fit program, launched in August 2005. An outreach priority, Circus Fit is a free, multimedia curriculum to motivate kids to get active and discover the basics of fitness and nutrition by incorporating circus themes into their physical activities.

From trapeze artists to daredevils - and yes, even clowns - some Ringling performers "really are Olympic-caliber athletes," says Dinges. With education budget cuts affecting elementary school gym programs, as well as the childhood obesity epidemic, "we saw an opportunity there to help," he explains.

To spread the Circus Fit word among educators and fitness instructors - at schools, after-school programs, community centers, and even military bases - as well as parents, Ringling presents its program at youth-fitness conferences and events. It also directs attention to the Circus Fit Web site via targeted online media kits and partner organizations, including the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NAPSE). Circus Fit's message has been featured in wide-ranging media relations efforts by Ringling's AOR, Hill & Knowlton.

For classrooms, Ringling sends direct mail posters with tips for staying fit, including stretching instructions, information on fruit servings, and staying-hydrated reminders.

The company has also made appearances at conferences hosted by NAPSE and other youth-fitness organizations. There, Circus Fit reps - assisted by a cadre of clowns - demonstrate how the program can be implemented. Ringling has set up on-site booths, too, for distributing informational window cards, brochures, and clown noses.

While Dinges oversees Circus Fit's national strategy, individual markets have their own opportunities for community outreach. Often, those include Circus Fit mini-camps led by bona fide Ringling performers.

In July, for example, Ringling partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim, CA, to treat about 200 kids to a Circus Fit afternoon, says Andy Perez, West Coast PR director for Feld Entertainment.

Straight from the big top, Brazilian dancers led kids in aerobics workouts. With an oversized jump rope, Chinese acrobats led balance- and strength-building routines. And all these activities entice kids to get moving because they resonate with their imaginations. "Everything that we're doing is skill that circus performers do," Perez explains.

In addition, these Circus Fit days give kids the chance to interact with performers, to see how they do what they do, and to try it for themselves. That's a key component to Ringling's memory-building efforts.

The circus' all-access pre-shows, which incorporate elements of Circus Fit, allow audience members to mingle with performers behind the scenes. "It's a really nice way to be entertained and educated," he says.

When space allows, part of that education includes an animal open house, where guests can get close to circus animals, which need to follow their own Circus Fit curriculum to stay healthy. That's most apparent among the elephants, which can be seen tossing sand on themselves, playing catch, and gobbling up watermelon and bananas.

For some circus guests, the sight of captive, performing pachyderms can be uneasy. That's why another of Ringling's chief educational efforts focuses on the elephants' living arrangements and the circus's Center for Elephant Conservation breeding program.

"In every city, we have activists saying there is mistreatment [happening]," Perez says. By giving the audience informational brochures and screening pre-performance graphics directing them to the elephant center's Web site, "it lets them know what we're doing and makes people feel good about their decision to come to the show," he notes.

It's all these things, Dinges and Perez agree, that "can get kids away from computers and video games for a while" - and get their friends to do the same.

At a glance

Company: Feld Entertainment's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Chairman and CEO: Kenneth Feld
Headquarters: Vienna, VA
Competitors: Big Apple Circus, Cole Bros. Circus, Carson & Barnes Family Circus 
Key trade titles: Circus Report, Variety, Brandweek
PR Budget: Undisclosed
Marcomms Team:
Enrico Dinges, national PR director
Natasha Collin, brand director
Kimberli Antoni, brand manager
Julie Robertson, marketing SVP, Feld
Suzanne McDermott, marketing and creative services VP, Feld
Marketing services agencies:
PR: Hill & Knowlton, New York and DC
Web/design: Neo Design Group, New York

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