DKC on promoting Vietnam War documentary: 'We didn't want to dictate media coverage'

DKC began framing the campaign for the film four years prior to its September 17, 2017 debut.

DKC on promoting Vietnam War documentary: 'We didn't want to dictate media coverage'

Company Name: PBS
Campaign Name: The Vietnam War, a film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Agency mix: DKC (PR partner agency), PBS (creative, social), and WETA (station relations, events)
Duration: April 2016 – October, 2017
Budget: $500,000 (not including agency retainer)

The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour PBS documentary, was in development and production for ten years.

DKC began framing the campaign for the film, created by famed documentarian Ken Burns and his co-director, Lynn Novick, four years prior to its September 17, 2017 debut.

PBS’ campaign helped garner the attention of a national audience through market screenings, media outreach, and community engagement.

The campaign team looked to create nationwide anticipation for the series and engage a wide range of stakeholders who had a relationship to the historic period featured in the film.

"The challenge was to present this in a way that both was the story of the war and of that entire period, but also making sure that people understood that the film reflected a diversity of points of view and a diversity of voices," explained Joe DePlasco, MD and partner at DKC.

The campaign team began outreach to veterans’ organizations, military influencers, Vietnamese-American leaders, and other groups one year prior to broadcast.

DKC and PBS wanted to get the attention of media well in advance of the film's release date. The idea was to engage media by holding editorial sessions to discuss the film and providing invites to playback sessions for key outlets.

To help coordinate events and raise awareness across the country, the network enlisted the help of WETA, PBS' station in the Greater Washington, DC, area. WETA helped activate PBS stations across the country for involvement with the campaign.

DKC also held large market screenings to reach sizable audiences, as well as smaller, thematic screenings for policy press coverage and community awareness.

For social, the brand developed the hashtag #VietnamWarPBS. In addition, the PBS team launched several dedicated social channels for the film and a microsite to house other content.

There is no single truth in war. The Vietnam War premieres on Sept 17 on @PBS. #VietnamWarPBS

A post shared by The Vietnam War PBS (@vietnamwarpbs) on

In April, 2016, the campaign’s first public event was held at the Vietnam War Summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Burns joined former Secretary of State, John Kerry, for a discussion on the war and shared clips of the film with the audience.

In the fall of 2016, the campaign team began inviting media to playbacks during sound mixes of the film at a postproduction studio in New York City. Some of the outlets invited to the playbacks included: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, GQ, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Rolling Stone.

"We didn't want to dictate what the coverage should be," said DePlasco. "We just wanted to present [outlets] with the film and let them determine what the coverage should be."

In January 2017, PBS held a market screening in Pasadena, California, for an audience of Vietnamese-American leaders within the area. Leading up to the September release of the film, the brand held screenings in more than 40 major markets, including: Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Diego, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Florida, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Washington, DC, and New York City.

On April 12, PBS issued a press release announcing the release date of the film and included a link to a trailer for the film, which was posted to the brand's YouTube channel the same day.

Social media outreach was handled by PBS' social and digital teams who worked to push out short-form content and media clips of market screening events.

The brand also live-streamed several events throughout the campaign, including a panel discussion on the war, and the film at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, on September 12. The discussion featured Burns, Novick, and several military leaders who were in leadership positions during the time period.

The campaign has generated more than 1,500 media placements. There were over 30 broadcast features on the film, including 22 national outlets. Broadcast coverage included CBS, NBC, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, Fox, and a number of regional outlets.

The premiere episode of The Vietnam War drew an average audience of 9.6 million across PBS stations nationwide.

The first episode has been streamed over two million times, making it the most-streamed series premiere in PBS history. All 10 episodes of the series have been streamed more than 7.2 million times, with 3.3 million of the streams delivered via PBS’ mobile/digital apps.

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