CAMPAIGNS: Origin keeps up debate on Body Worlds - Event PR

An exhibition featuring contorted, flayed cadavers was always going to provoke a plethora of reactions when it opened at the Old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane in March.

Anatomist Professor Gunther von Hagens has been called everything from genius to a modern day Frankenstein. While plastination is regarded by the medical profession as a pioneering method of preserving the anatomy, as a medium of art it has attracted outrage.

Body Worlds had toured continental Europe and Japan, achieving massive attendance figures, and the European media generally praised the exhibition.

Objectives

To generate footfall to the exhibition. To encourage debate surrounding the exhibition on the basis that vociferous reaction was a given.

Strategy and Plan

Six-strong design PR firm Origin Communications was hired by Body Worlds to handle the media attention that the exhibition would create upon its launch in London.

In the lead up to the launch, the agency wanted to discourage the media from writing speculative articles without having seen the exhibition.

Three weeks before its UK opening, Origin organised a press trip to the exhibition in Brussels. At this early stage of the campaign there was scant media interest and only five journalists attended.

The Sunday Telegraph wrote a piece on 3 March, with comment that linked outrage at the Alder Hey Hospital scandal (in which foetuses were used in medical research without permission) to Body Worlds.

However, following the initial dearth of coverage, the Evening Standard published a piece on 11 March. It covered the Government's examination of the legality of the exhibition. The article kicked the media into gear and a flurry of attention followed.

Acting as the press office, Origin attempted to keep the media off the story until the press conference planned for the 22 March.

In stark contrast to the Brussels press trip, the press conference was attended by more than 200 members of the press. Spokespeople at the conference included von Hagens; the commissioning editor of Channel 4's The Anatomists Sarah Marris; Sarah Simblet, an Oxford lecturer in anatomy; and Origin Communications founder Martyn Evans.

A heated debate ensued, with some members of the press expressing abhorrence at the exhibition.

Body Worlds opened on 23 March. Following the press conference von Hagens was made available for interview and appeared in radio and TV coverage. Origin tracked down opponents of the exhibition and invited them to participate in media debates.

On the launch day a member of the public draped one of the exhibits with a blanket and two days later someone took a hammer to one. Security dealt with the protagonists.

The Anatomists was broadcast just three days into the exhibition. The broadcaster's publicity department says that it would be unjust to claim credit for the extent of the PR generated. The timing of the programme was largely coincidental to that of the opening, though inevitably it enhanced the exhibition's publicity.

Measurement and Evaluation

Media coverage was extensive. Within four weeks, 215 articles had appeared in the nationals. National and regional broadcast media also covered the exhibition.

Highlights included von Hagens' appearance on the Today programme; and ITN, Sky News and the BBC's coverage on the day of the press conference. Incidents of exhibits being physically attacked generated further coverage and underlined the controversy of the subject.

Much of the coverage commented on the media hype surrounding Body Worlds, a trend that those critics were actively contributing to.

The Observer's art critic Laura Cumming condemned one of the exhibits as 'an undignified pig-butcher joke' (24 March).

On 23 March the Daily Mail stated that von Hagens' work might have the benefit of encouraging artists who ape the style of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, et al. to return to 'painting pictures'.

Results

Body Worlds provoked a diverse range of reaction and the power of its content would have generated column inches without supportive PR.

However, Origin effectively managed the media in the lead up to, and following, the press conference and facilitated debate between advocates and opponents.

Over its first three weeks, Body Worlds attracted 50,000 attendees. Origin will continue to work for the client, with von Hagens returning as new exhibits are introduced.

By the time Body Worlds closes on 29 September, Origin hopes that there will have been more than one million visitors.

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