Campaigns: Event Marketing - Van Gogh makes impression on LA

The hunger for Van Gogh’s paintings has certainly changed since his own lifetime.

The hunger for Van Gogh’s paintings has certainly changed since his own lifetime.

The hunger for Van Gogh’s paintings has certainly changed since his

own lifetime.

A unique opportunity for art lovers to view Van Gogh’s most famous

creations outside their permanent home in Amsterdam challenged the Los

Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to maximize the benefits to the

public, the museum and the county.


With help from the LA Convention and Visitors Bureau and its own visitor

survey, the museum’s communications office determined who its audience

was. It then commissioned an independent study of the planned show’s

potential economic impact on the county. An informal poll of 25 art and

general-interest media outlets indicated their level of interest in and

awareness of the exhibition. The museum also reviewed media reaction to

the show during its run at the National Gallery of Art in Washington,

DC, its first and only other location.

The museum set out to reach an attendance goal of 750,000, increase

membership by 30% to 40% and bring dollars 90 million to Los Angeles

County. To succeed, it had to make this exhibition a ’blockbuster’ among

journalists. To ultimately drive attendance among its members and the

general public, it needed to draw visitors from outside of Los Angeles

and California.

’We developed a timeline that began one year prior to the exhibition’s

opening and continued through the distribution of an economic impact

analysis three months after the exhibition closed,’ explains Adam Coyne,

the museum’s media relations manager. ’Our timeline included dates and

logistics for all material development, mailings and follow-up, and was

designed to develop and maintain excitement and momentum throughout the

run of the exhibition.’


The museum developed several key messages for all of its press

materials, telephone conversations and media correspondence. It created

press materials and selected appropriate images to represent Van Gogh’s

work and the context in which it was created. One of the museum’s most

important creations was the signature image for promoting the show: a

self-portrait of the artist. The museum used the portrait to brand the

exhibition by including it in all collateral materials, street banners,

advertising and signage.

The success of the show itself became something to deal with.

’Throughout the exhibition, we had to be prepared for the potential

negative backlash associated with unprecedented crowds, long lines and

the highest ticket price for an art exhibition in the US (up to dollars

20 each),’ says Coyne. ’We counteracted this by reinforcing what a

once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this exhibition created, highlighting the

’event’ aspect, and comparing it to other popular attractions in Los

Angeles - for example, hourlong lines at Disneyland, for movies.’


The final results exceeded the museum’s expectations. The exhibition

received coverage in more than 1,000 outlets, with a combined

circulation/viewership of more than 500 million. Attendance for this

show reached 821,004, far exceeding LACMA’s original goal, making it the

museum’s most popular exhibition in more than 20 years. It even exceeded

the attendance at the National Gallery of Art - where admission was free

- by more than 300,000 visitors. The exhibition received significantly

more media coverage and attention in California than it did in

Washington, DC. And finally, the museum’s membership jumped from 60,000

to 118,000, nearly a 100% increase and more than double its original

goal of 40%.


’A final gauge of our success is still receiving coverage,’ says


’We are currently preparing to distribute the results of the economic

impact study to the business media. This briefing will, we hope,

generate another round of press coverage and reach a segment of the

media that doesn’t usually cover museum news.’

Client:Los Angeles County Museum of Art

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Van Gogh Show

Time Frame: January to August 1999

Budget: dollars 17,500

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