From media relations efforts to vacation sweepstakes, New Zealand worked with New Line Cinema to parlay its role as the backdrop to The Lord of the Rings into a tourism-driving PR success.When just about any blockbuster movie begins production, companies swarm around the studio for a chance to get their products into a scene or two. But what happens when your product was essential for the filming of the movie, and was never intended to open up a promotional opportunity? How do you leverage it? Such was the situation Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) found itself in as interest in New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings films began to surge. No other country offered the diversity of landscapes - from Hobbiton-like pastures to rugged mountain passes resembling the road to Mordor, and everything in between - required for the daunting three-film shoot. The country provided the perfect backdrop for the portrayal of Middle-earth, its natural features serving as spectacular yet uncredited characters. So TNZ took an active role in ensuring that the films' success would draw more tourists to the island nation. Strategy "We looked at how can we take a popular-culture phenomenon, and use the message that it's generating about New Zealand in a positive way to assist the country's profile from a tourism perspective," says Simone Flight, TNZ PR manager for the US and Canada. "We wanted to draw a relationship between the film and New Zealand," explains George Hickton, CEO of TNZ. "We saw a real opportunity to raise the profile of the country." But since Middle-earth is fictional, TNZ had to tread carefully. So the idea developed into positioning New Zealand as "home of Middle-earth," with The Lord of the Rings films "demonstrating the environment you can experience very easily," says Hickton. "You can go see, touch, and feel these sets - they do exist," adds Flight. Tactics A few tour companies in New Zealand had already begun attaching The Lord of the Rings name to their offerings. But because New Line owns the rights to anything having to do with film franchise, TNZ had to counsel tour companies against what they were doing, and suggest they approach New Line for permission. Still, TNZ could see that the relationship between the country and the film was swelling, and it became an issue of how best to ride the wave. "We approached it by saying to New Line, 'We'd like to help you promote The Lord of the Rings,'" explains Flight. "'We can bring non-traditional media to your campaign, i.e., lifestyle and travel, who are reinforcing key messages about the films, but obviously from a New Zealand perspective.'" It took some convincing, says Hickton, but New Line agreed around the time it began to market the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring - essentially, once it understood what TNZ sought to achieve. "We worked with key PR staff at New Line to make sure they got to New Zealand, and got to see what the cast and crew had been talking about," recalls Flight. Fortunately, around the same time, there were entertainment reporters traveling to the country as well, and TNZ was able to assist "since we have the experience on the ground in New Zealand," says Flight. "It was really taking what we do well, and offering it to New Line to add to their quiver of tools in promoting The Lord of the Rings." New Line and TNZ began to target several publications, offering up stories from several different angles, such as what aspects of New Zealand life the cast and crew took advantage of while on location. For example, several stories ran about the actors who played Hobbits - including Elijah Wood - taking up surfing in Wellington's Lyall Bay. It was "the actors talking about how they fell in love with the country," says Elissa Greer, SVP of national publicity for New Line. And for the first DVD release, TNZ developed a contest for a free trip to New Zealand. "We were able to pull together the airline, the tour wholesaler - all of the components required - to have a sweepstakes package ready to go," says Flight. "It was taking our strengths and offering them to New Line to use in the most beneficial way in terms of promotion of the product." And because tourists had already begun to flock to New Zealand, TNZ published a map indicating which parts of the country were used for various pieces of filming. There is also an interactive version at purenz.com, complete with side stories, interviews, images, and even information about nearby attractions. A CD-ROM version was also made available to the press. Results Stories linking New Zealand and The Lord of the Rings films have run with numerous publications and TV outlets, such as USA Today, the New York Post, The Denver Post, and the Chicago Tribune. And during the week that New Line had appearances booked for the Today show to promote the second film, The Two Towers, New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark was interviewed on the show for 12 minutes. More importantly, Hickton claims that New Zealand has seen tourism grow 10% through 2002, which is rare in the post-September-11 travel market. Furthermore, the uniqueness of the various film locations has pushed tourists beyond the standard destinations of Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, and Queenstown. "The Lord of the Rings helped us push people out to the regions, and spread the money and spread the visitors," says Flight. And companies offering tours with The Lord of the Rings name attached have "crossed their t's and dotted their i's" with New Line, she adds. The campaign has also transformed the way the media approaches TNZ. "I now have something they can relate to," says Flight. And "in terms of the media who do know New Zealand, it's given them a fresh story." Future New Line and TNZ meet and strategize every couple of months, and plan to continue doing so beyond the release of the third film. "It's a constant exchange of information and ideas," says Greer. "We share what we know, what outlets each of us are going after, and how we can make it better. It's really partnering and expanding any opportunity to promote the movie, and they get to promote New Zealand." "It's been wonderful. They've been incredibly supportive," says Flight. And with tourists flowing in, her compatriots would likely agree.