Word of mouth gets NATO benefit for attack victims off the ground

LOS ANGELES: In what started as an idea spread by the most

primitive form of communication - word of mouth - the National

Association of Theater Owners (NATO) organized a massive impromptu

benefit last week, donating all concessions and box-office returns for

one day to victims of the September 11 attacks.

Despite its humble beginnings, "Victim's Benefit Day at the Movies,"

held on September 25, included more than 30,000 screens across the

country, or about 85% of theaters, according to Mary Ann Grasso, VP and

executive director of NATO. Proceeds, hoped to be in the "millions,"

will be divided between The United Way September 11 Fund and The Red


Grasso said the fundraiser was a "spontaneous" grassroots idea sparked

by individual theater owners' desire to take positive action.

"One phone call to one theater owner became another phone call to

another owner, and that became a huge conference call," said Grasso.

"The next thing I know, we're sending out a broadcast fax to member

theaters and non-members."

NATO's three-person communications team handled all PR for the event,

enlisting the help of PR Newswire to distribute the information.

Individual theater chains were also given a template press release to

send to local outlets. Studios such as Miramax, Universal, and Sony

pitched in by agreeing to contribute their shares of box-office proceeds

for the day.

Along with helping victims, the event also brought some attention back

to theaters, which have suffered a drop in attendance since the

terrorist attacks. According to Daily Variety, last week's gross was

$59 million, down 11% from the previous week. However, overall

box-office revenues are up 9% from last year.

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