To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars, Lucasfilm planned to transform the Los Angeles Convention Center into the largest fan celebration in franchise history.
For five days, the massive festival would lure enthusiasts with interactive activities, contests and exhibits, exclusive merchandise, celebrity appearances, film and video presentations, and plenty of fan-created entertainment.
There were some media misconceptions, however, that Lucasfilm was hoping to avoid, says John Singh, the company's director of publicity.
"We didn't want this to be a look back" at Star Wars, he says, but a celebration of its "amazing future."
"We knew that we had a great opportunity to convey the message that Star Wars was something you share," Singh says, "that it's a lot of fun to be able to experience Star Wars with people you care about."
Contrary to stereotypes, he notes, those people are not all geeky 20- to 30-year-old men. In fact, Celebration IV was positioned as an all-ages, family-friendly event. To communicate that - and assist with overall media relations and strategy - Lucasfilm brought on Schwartzman & Associates. The firm was also tasked with key missions, including getting media away from the idea that coverage had to include franchise celebrities and talent.
In working with the press, "a lot of what we did was just inform and very aggressively communicate about what they would and wouldn't see" at Celebration IV, says Eric Schwartzman, agency MD. Efforts both "placed Star Wars in the here and now," he says, and provided "a really compelling reason to make this something they needed to see."
For longer-lead media, main events centered on previews of LucasArts' The Force Unleashed video game and the latest chapter of the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. In addition, the US Post Office unveiled its Star Wars stamps in conjunction with Celebration IV, and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proclaimed May 25 Star Wars Day.
For short-lead media, "part of our tactic was just to get them to come," Schwartzman says. "Once they were there, they saw there was a lot more to cover then what they may [have] thought."
Journalists were pointed toward diverse story opportunities, he notes, based on their individual interests. Whatever the angle, emphasis was on fan interaction and reiterating the key messages.
Attendance expectations were exceeded by several thousand. More than 35,000 fans from around the world attended Celebration IV. That's the most ever for a Star Wars gathering, about 1,500 more than the record set at 2005's Celebration III.
Media coverage, Schwartzman says, "was truly international." About 500 journalists were credentialed, "from every major country," he adds. This resulted in some 1,450 print and 1,760 TV stories, a number of which were broadcast live from the Convention Center floor.
The global media representation also allowed Lucasfilm to build awareness for its Star Wars Celebration Europe, the first official Star Wars event outside of the US.
Lucasfilm and Schwartzman & Associates aren't adverse to a follow-up campaign, but, "it'll need to be another milestone," says Schwartzman. "We hope there's a 40th anniversary [celebration]."
The Star Wars Celebration IV campaign - and the event itself - managed to rise above fan-fest stereotypes, thanks to Lucasfilm's knowledge of and interaction with the saga's dynamic fan community, and Schwartzman & Associates's ability to convey that to the media.
The effort effectively positioned the Celebration IV atmosphere as one in which Yoda-loving toddlers - many of whom haven't even seen the movies yet - felt as welcome and excited about Star Wars as their Padme-smitten dads. That is an impressive accomplishment, one that reinforces the campaign's key messages, especially considering the last franchise feature was released more than two years ago.
PR team: Lucasfilm (San Francisco) and Schwartzman & Associates (Los Angeles)
Campaign: Star Wars Celebration IV
Duration: February to May 2007