CAMPAIGNS: Event PR - Blaine overcomes frosty reception

Client: Nederlander Producing Company of America

Client: Nederlander Producing Company of America

Client: Nederlander Producing Company of America

(New York) PR Team: Rubenstein Associates (New York)

Campaign: Frozen in Time Challenge

Time Frame: November 20-30, 2000

Budget: dollars 40,000

Rubenstein Associates EVP Pat Smith faced a dilemma with the Frozen in Time Challenge campaign on behalf of illusionist David Blaine. Partially sponsored by ABC, the event was guaranteed coverage. However, having the network as a sponsor also proved challenging as other media outlets were reluctant to cover an ABC event. Thanksgiving, the start of the Christmas shopping season and the election crisis only compounded Smith's challenge to get widespread coverage of Blaine's two-day encasement in a tomb of ice.

'Any campaign poses a problem when one network is doing a special,' says Rubenstein Associates principal Howard Rubenstein. 'Under normal circumstances you would say that is a very tough hurdle.'


David Blaine, sponsored by the Nederlander Producing Company of America, was sealed into the ice on November 27, 2000, at ABC's Time Square studios.

He remained there until being broken out live during the ABC special on November 29.

PR planning for the event began last April - the strategy being to establish credibility with the media and to warn them of the risks the stunt posed to Blaine's health.

As the event neared, Smith had to assuage the media's competitive tendencies by downplaying the ABC sponsorship, sell the event over the din of the election controversy and guarantee coverage of the breakout in the middle of a shopper-clogged Times Square. Because of the health risks involved, Smith also had to warn the media of the possibility that Blaine would have to be taken to the hospital immediately following his removal from the ice (which turned out to be the case).

'We had an understanding that we were going to do the best we could to get the media the shots and sound they needed, and they were going to honor a promise not to rush and put microphones in (Blaine's) face,' said Smith.


To ensure the press marked their calendars given the busy time of year, Smith sent out an advisory on November 13 to all major New York and national media and held a press conference on November 20 at the Nederlander Theater in New York. He also arranged for morning talk radio and print interviews with Blaine to take place the week leading up to the event.

On November 26, while ABC did some of its promotions, Smith permitted a local ABC TV reporter and a New York Post reporter to inspect the crammed studio where the event was being set up. And on the morning of the event, Smith averted a potential disaster when, after learning that Blaine and ABC had agreed independent of the agency to move the entombment from noon to 8:30am, he sent out a second advisory alerting media to the new time.

As Blaine was encased, Smith had to accommodate thousands of onlookers on the sidewalk outside the studio and a live Good Morning America broadcast.

Additionally, 30 or more cameras from non-ABC media had to be squeezed into a 20-foot-wide space. To mollify media, ABC signage was not in view during the event.

As some 40,000 pedestrians walked by and touched the ice during the two days Blaine was inside, Smith made sure to keep in touch with interested media, arranging interviews with sponsor James L. Nederlander. On November 28, Smith held a press conference with a doctor monitoring Blaine's condition; and following Blaine's removal, Smith issued press releases about his progress. He also arranged for Blaine to appear on the Rosie O'Donnell Show and Good Morning America.


Smith says 30 reporters from print and broadcast media were at ABC studios for both the seal-in and breakout. The campaign garnered 10,000 broadcast hits nationwide, including three stories in The New York Times, and several in the New York Daily News, New York Post, Associated Press and Reuters.

Segments also appeared on New York television stations, as well as Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood. Between November 20 and November 30 alone, Rubenstein Associates recorded 1,100 broadcast hits nationally.


While Rubenstein contends 'the event would have been on page one repeatedly' but for the election controversy, he also says the seriousness of the voting crisis may have helped the Frozen in Time Challenge by providing the media with lighter fare. Neither Smith nor Rubenstein would comment about future Blaine events, but say they look forward to representing Nederlander in future.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in