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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."