CAMPAIGNS: The Arts - Gallery puts its new wing in the frame

Client: National Portrait Gallery

Client: National Portrait Gallery

Campaign: Opening of Ondaatje wing

PR Team: Colman Getty

Timescale: January 1999 - 5 May 2000

Budget: undisclosed

The new Ondaatje wing at the National Portrait Gallery is a pounds 15.9

million lottery-funded millennium project. Dixon and Jones, the

architects who designed the Royal Opera House, designed the new wing,

which increases the size of the gallery by 50 per cent. This has allowed

room for a new lecture theatre, an IT gallery, a balcony gallery to

house the 1960s-1980s exhibition, a new Tudor exhibition and a rooftop



To generate awareness leading up to the opening of the Ondaatje wing and

increase visitor numbers to the National Gallery as a whole. To secure

positive widespread media coverage at a time when other major galleries

in London were being opened.

Strategy and Plan

The National Portrait Gallery sits behind the National Gallery, and the

new wing is situated between the two. Colman Getty chose to exploit the

gallery’s quiet location and referred to the National Portrait Gallery

and its new wing as a ’hidden gem’.

At the start of 1999 Colman Getty held informal media briefings on the

site. At the beginning of this year the NPG updated the press, members

of the gallery and people on various exhibition mailing lists with a

four-page colour newsletter. This informed people of the new wing’s

opening date, what it would contain and of the gallery’s


In January the National Portrait Gallery hosted a press conference to

announce all forthcoming lottery-funded gallery and museum


It was hosted by Culture minister Chris Smith and television presenter

Loyd Grossman.

During March and April Colman Getty sold various features into the


They centred around key personnel involved in the development of the

Ondaatje wing, including patron Christopher Ondaatje, and architects

Dixon and Jones.

At the end of April the agency created a news story aimed at

differentiating the National Portrait Gallery from other galleries due

to open. It stressed the ’uniqueness of faces’ and generated media

interest by moving some portraits from the contemporary exhibition into

the historical section of the gallery and replacing them with more

up-to-date pictures. So Margaret Thatcher joined the ranks of history,

while David Beckham’s portrait was hung in the contemporary section.

The IT media were targeted with news of the gallery’s interactive

developments, including interactive kiosks so the public can view

portraits and source information on displayed art.

A week before the opening, arts correspondents were invited to a lunch

and preview of the new wing. On 3 May another press conference was


It was attended by the Ondaatje wing’s architects, representatives of

the Heritage Lottery Fund and the director of the gallery, Charles

Saumarez Smith.

The official opening of the new wing was held the following day. The

Queen attended and various figures whose portraits hung in the gallery

were invited to sit by their picture for a photo opportunity. These

included Margaret Thatcher, Zandra Rhodes and Michael Heseltine.

Measurement and Evaluation

As a result of the campaign the gallery’s attendance figures increased

by 80,000 visitors compared to this time last year.

The campaign achieved blanket media coverage. All the nationals ran

stories and features on the new development in their various sections,

including news, arts, architecture and IT. Broadcast media likewise ran

news items and features, as did consumer and trade magazines.


Art has been high on the media’s agenda this year. However, high-profile

coverage of the relaunched Tate Britain and the new Tate Modern meant

that the gallery did extremely well to attract high visitor numbers and

good media coverage.

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