Exhibition - Britain goes crazy for ancient Egypt

Campaign: Return of the Boy King Client: Arts and Exhibitions International PR team: GolinHarris Timescale: March 2007-August 2008 Budget: c. £100,000

How can you persuade a million Brits to get excited about paying up to £20 to visit an exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts held in the former Millennium Dome? This was the task GolinHarris was set by Arts and Exhibitions International (AEI), as it planned 'Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs'.

At the start of the campaign in March 2007, the Dome had not yet been rebranded as The O2 and still had a poor image after years of indecision over its future.

The £20 ticket price was relatively high, and a rival exhibition featuring warriors from the famous Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang was to open at The British Museum a month before the Tutankhamun show.

Added to that, the iconic gold burial mask, part of the blockbuster 1972 Egyptian exhibition at the British Museum, was deemed too fragile to leave Egypt again.


- To generate constant news flow

- To achieve advance sales of more than 250,000 and final sales of 1,000,000.

Strategy and plan

The strategy was to position The O2 as the best place to showcase the treasures, create high-impact publicity stunts and target London-based and tourist media.

Although this was a UK brief, AEI wanted coverage in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Spain, but had no resource for on-the-ground support in these countries, so GolinHarris brought Visit London and Visit Britain on board to reach continental Europe.

The first key message was that 'Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs' would be the first exhibition to take place in The O2's exhibition centre, opening on 15 November 2007 for nine months.

The new exhibition was to include more than 130 treasures, including artefacts found in the tombs of the boy king as well as his relatives and contemporaries.

The team struck a deal with The Times and The Sunday Times as media partners - partly because The Times broke the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.

After holding the announcement press conference in an Egyptian-style marquee with Egyptian experts, museum curators, sponsors and media, the team floated a 25ft model of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, along the Thames.

Pre-sale tickets were delivered to arts writers the day the exhibition opened. Actors dressed as Egyptians delivered a package to radio breakfast shows including tickets, a CD of The Bangles hit Walk like an Egyptian and Tutankhamun headdresses. A photo call was held at The O2 and local children were given free tickets by the Mayor of London.

Then, to kick-start a week of 'Tutmania', GolinHarris secured an interview for Dr Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The following day, 322 journalists attended a press conference and preview, and during the opening week, four London landmarks were turned gold at night. Finally a couple who met in the 1972 queue were located and offered for broadcast interviews.

Measurement and evaluation

The Anubis stunt alone generated 70 pieces of coverage in the UK and beyond, including a double-page spread in The Guardian, the Evening Standard and broadcast coverage on channels around Europe.

In the opening week, more than five hours of UK news coverage was generated. More than 90 per cent was positive and The Guardian actually came out in defence of the £20 ticket, comparing it to similarly priced National Trust attractions.

The team also achieved more than 200 pieces of international coverage.


Before the exhibition opened, more than 325,000 tickets had been sold or reserved, smashing the 250,000 target. One million tickets have now been sold, meeting the tour organiser's ultimate target.



To whomever made the decision to bring King Tut's golden treasures back to London after an absence of 36 years and exhibit them in the Dome, I salute you.

From an events perspective, it had winner written all over it and to be honest, from a PR point of view, this was one that was hard to mess up. It had all the right ingredients to be naturally newsworthy on a huge scale as opposed to the usual briefs to publicise a branded household utensil.

So to understand how well this campaign worked, you have to forget about the magic of the experience and look at what GolinHarris actually did to boost the hype.

After a little analysis, it did a very solid and professional job.

Key to its success was developing interesting visual media collateral as opposed to being limited with shots of relics.

The statue of Anubis made a fantastic media shot and its scale communicated the importance of the event.

Expanding a press conference into a mini experience with Egyptologists shows the agency was thinking about every opportunity.

Getting the then mayor surrounded by kids in Egyptian costume is another great piece of visual fodder that can be tagged to a variety of different editorial angles.

Working a leading Egyptologist via radio interviews is not rocket science but again shows that GolinHarris was pushing coverage in every direction possible.

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