Client: National Portrait Gallery
Campaign: Opening of Ondaatje wing
PR Team: Colman Getty
Timescale: January 1999 - 5 May 2000
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
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
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.