Though New Orleans is traditionally associated with Mardi Gras, other US cities hold celebrations in the days leading up to Lent.
Most years, the organizers of these smaller events realize New Orleans will get most of the attention. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana last summer, St. Louis Mardi Gras organizers turned to The Vandiver Group to educate the public that New Orleans isn't the only party in early February.
Vandiver SVP Mack Bradley and Mardi Gras executive director Tim Lorson worked initially to ensure they weren't seen as exploiting a tragedy. "Our message to reporters was we hoped New Orleans would have a successful Mardi Gras in 2006 because nobody deserved it more," Bradley says. "But we also pointed out we have our own event and we do things our own way." The firm also expanded its outreach this year beyond northern Midwest cities, such as Chicago, to other parts of the country.
In early January, Vandiver delivered press kits in Mardi Gras bags filled with a cake and other goodies. The agency worked with Lorson on marketing, including billboards and decorated city buses to reach area residents. Because organizers wanted a family celebration, Vandiver also contacted area colleges with messages discouraging underage drinking.
The St. Louis Mardi Gras received national attention, with coverage from USA Today, the Associated Press, Fox News and The Weather Channel. More important, attendance was up at all the events, including the Grand Parade, which attracted several hundred thousand celebrants.
Vandiver is working with organizers on the 2007 St. Louis Mardi Gras. "I can't praise Vandiver enough - we couldn't manage the event without them," says Lorson.
PR team: Mardi Gras (St. Louis) and The Vandiver Group (St. Louis)
Campaign: Soulard Mardi Gras 2006
Duration: November 2005 to February 2006
Budget: About $30,000 (pro bono by Vandiver)