Client: Harvey Goldsmith and The Royal Albert Hall
Agency: Mark Borkowski
Campaign: Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco tour
Timing: September 1995 - January 1996
Budget: pounds 25,000
When Cirque du Soleil first played in the UK four years ago its mix of
circus, rock music and commedia del’arte was greeted with indifference.
But when the Canadian troop staged its latest show ‘Saltimbanco’ at the
Royal Albert Hall in January it was accompanied by a fanfare of pre-
publicity orchestrated by Mark Borkowski.
The unconventional circus - in which the only animals are human - was
sponsored to the tune of pounds 500,000 by UK-based Digital PC across
much of Europe - the company’s first sponsorship commitment since the
division of the Digital Equipment Corporation into five units two years
Borkowski’s brief was to raise the profile of the show to get box office
sales moving, while Digital PC’s agency Crowcroft and Partners aimed to
raise brand awareness with the Digital PC’s target audience by playing
on the combination of youth and skill represented by Cirque du Soleil.
Borkowski was at pains to point out that Cirque du Soleil do not
consider themselves a circus - an art form he describes as ‘something of
a black word in this country now’. However, it was precisely the
unorthodox nature of the performance that created ambiguity among
To dispel preconceptions about the show before Cirque du Soleil set foot
on English soil, Borkowski moved the whole publicity process forward by
a month taking advantage of the initial European leg of the tour to
provide European previews for UK journalists. Once the troop arrived in
Britain, the agency staged a photocall drawing GMTVs London Tonight and
a number of the nationals to the steps of the Royal Albert Hall.
Borkowski concentrated much of his efforts on journalists who lay
outside of the traditional theatre, ballet, opera review circuit. Having
worked with the Moscow and Chinese State Circuses and the anarchic
French circus troop Archaos, the agency had access to journalists with
an understanding of circus/theatre and even arranged for circus-owner
Gerry Cottle to review Saltimbanco in the Guardian.
Crowcroft and Partners also co-ordinated a campaign to target
sponsorship, IT and business media with the story of Digital PC’s
sponsorship deal which included an unusually prominent onstage credit at
the beginning of the performance.
The Royal Albert Hall took pounds 2.5 million in ticket sales and public
demand led to a extension of the run by over 20 performances.
The quantity of national and regional coverage was impressive. Previews
and reviews include features and slots in most of the nationals and the
story was picked up in everything from the Scotsman and Jewish Chronicle
to Virgin’s inflight magazine Hot Air. TV items included a slot on BBC
TV’s Good Morning, Selina Scott’s show on NBC and Pebble Mill, which
recorded 300,000 phone calls over two days following the Saltimbanco
feature. Blue Peter gave the troop two hits including a live juggling
performance. Crowcroft & Partners also obtained coverage in the business
press including the FT and the European.
To a great extent Digital’s sponsorship rode on the back of some quick
footwork by Borkowski. The decision to pre-empt reviews was a shrewd one
considering the mixed critical response in the past. ‘I knew that the
theatre folk could be slightly sniffy about it,’ says Borkowski.
While the public and Digital’s customers lapped up the visual
exuberance of the show, the reviews were indeed mixed. Simon Fanshawe of
the Sunday Times was ‘spellbound’ while The Observer referred to the
show as ‘Fantasia for the Lycra generation’.
And, apart from mentions in the Financial Times and the European, the
sponsor Digital PC was conspicuously absent from most of the review
coverage. Perhaps the overt credit to the backers offended the
sensibilities of reviewers used to more discreet support of the arts.