The National Theatre for Children (NTC) bills itself as "the largest in-school touring company in North America."
The company puts on plays that use the theater as a tool to educate schoolchildren on topics ranging from healthy eating to safety.
NTC, a 26-year-old for-profit company, makes its money through corporate sponsorships of its touring plays. For its latest effort, it brought on Minnesota-based Maccabee Group to help woo sponsors with a showcase and a national media campaign.
NTC's new play is called Mad About Money and focuses on financial literacy tools that kids can use. Ward Eames, owner and president of NTC, says that alarming research on the topic prompted the company to develop the show - a two-and-a-half-year process.
"We started seeing all these horrific statistics and details about how unprepared these kids are to deal with financial matters," he says. "In 2001, more young people declared bankruptcy than graduated college."
Eames turned to Maccabee, the agency NTC has worked with off and on for the past eight years. "Our goals are to get funding for 1,000 schools for 2006 and 2007," Eames says.
The agency knew that Mad About Money would appeal most to sponsors in the financial-services sector. While Maccabee in the past had mostly done work for premieres in Minnesota, it decided to bring this campaign to the backyard of its sponsorship targets: New York City. The keystone of the strategy was a series of live performances of the show in New York. It was crucially important that potential sponsors turn out to see them to catch the enthusiasm that goes along with live youth theater.
"What Ward really wanted us to do was to target the investment community in New York City," says Maccabee VP Gwen Chynoweth. The agency developed a lengthy media list of reporters and editors at financial and business publications, and set about drumming up media interest in the show, which would make it more attractive to sponsors.
"What we really emphasized was the whole fact that Mad About Money is improvisational theater," she says. "Putting personal finance and humor together, there seems to be a disconnect there. And we played off that tension to get some media attention."
The agency also targeted the community affairs and philanthropy departments of financial institutions, and secured Citibank as a sponsor for the premiere shows. On September 28, NTC put on its first show before media and business institutions at an invite-only event at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. That was followed, over the next three days, by shows at New York City schools so that viewers could see how the performance went over with its target audience.
"People went to the Tribeca Grand and said, 'I really need my staff who deals with this to visit a school and see how it goes,'" Eames says. "It worked."
Sixty people attended the Tribeca Grand premiere, and more went to the follow-up shows. A Bronx alderman saw the publicity and contacted Banco Popular to fund shows in December at middle schools in the borough. Eames says that NTC is also "in negotiation with a variety of different groups" about both national and regional sponsorships for the show.
The media coverage, in outlets ranging from Business Week to the New York Daily News, was picked up on the wires and attracted the attention of sponsors as far away as Texas.
"It was a home run," says Eames.
The NTC is already working with Maccabee on its upcoming play about obesity prevention, The Power of the Pyramid. Both sides expect their work to continue for the foreseeable future.
PR team: The National Theatre for Children and Maccabee Group (both Minneapolis)
Campaign: Mad About Money
Time frame: August to October 2005