CAMPAIGNS: PRE-PUBLICITY; Canadian circus confuses critics

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

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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in