Case Study: Making History (Again): An Anniversary Celebration Puts America’s First Permanent Settlement in the Spotlight

Company: Commonweath of Virginia Agency: Ruder Finn & Jamestown 2007 Timeframe: 2007 In 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia wanted to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the New World's first permanent English settlement. For this unique milestone, the Commonwealth put together an ad hoc agency with a self-explanatory moniker--Jamestown 2007--to spearhead event planning for the commemoration. Jamestown 2007 tapped Ruder Finn to conceptualize and execute a massive awareness campaign that would generate national and international attention for "America's 400th Anniversary," an 18-month program punctuated by 14 signature events. According to Robin Crawford, SVP of Ruder Finn's D.C. office, the agency got involved after responding to an RFP from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ruder Finn's background and expertise were a boon to the skeletal staff of Jamestown 2007. "We brought Ruder Finn on board when we began to reach out nationally," says Ross Richardson, the director of marketing and communications for Jamestown 2007, which officially shuttered on July 1, 2008. "We needed an agency that had a cultural background to help get that message to national and international audiences." "We wanted to make sure that we were putting together a program that made sense, was attention-getting and would help to attractive the underlying goal," Crawford adds. Based on this overarching goal, specific campaign objectives were to: Increase and sustain media and public awareness of the Jamestown sites and the historic commemoration; Encourage participation in commemoration events; and, Drive visitation to Jamestown and Virginia. The anniversary program focused a national and international spotlight on Jamestown and the signature events that enlivened the 18-month commemoration. Messaging highlighted the scientific discoveries and recent scholarship shaping a "new" Jamestown story, one different from that of Pocahontas and John Smith. New discoveries included the archaeological remains of the original 1607 James Fort, thought to have eroded into the James River. The site has now yielded more than 1 million artifacts that have reshaped the understanding of the early years of the Jamestown colony. Significant efforts were also made to ensure that America's Anniversary Weekend, the program's culminating event, was sensitive to the cultural diversity of Jamestown's roots. Programs and events highlighted the accomplishments and perseverance of the Virginia Native American, European and African-American cultures. These strategies laid the groundwork for the campaign: News Bureau Strategy: Jamestown 2007 and Ruder Finn constructed a massive news bureau to generate an ongoing stream of unique, creative and exciting news stories to attract media attention, provide hard-to-reach spokespeople to the media, build and maintain media databases, draft media materials and monitor news coverage. This bureau would disseminate customized materials on all 14 high-profile signature events; and, Signature Event Strategy: Jamestown 2007 and Ruder Finn built and executed imaginative strategic media outreach plans and tactics for each of the 14 individual signature events. Planners of the commemoration wanted to remind Americans of the shared struggles and achievements of their past. Campaign success was dependent on the communication team's ability to articulate this compelling story in a customized way to highly diverse media audiences. Continual media relations encompassed pitching feature stories, op-eds, photo ops and signature event details to editorial contacts at media outlets globally. In particular, Ruder Finn orchestrated tactics that reached specific target audiences including: Sandra Day O'Connor Public Service Announcement (PSA): Commemoration spokesperson (then Supreme Court Justice) Sandra Day O'Connor was featured in a TV PSA in which she emphasized the historical significance of Jamestown's founding and invited Americans to come see the Jamestown sites for themselves. Ringing of the New York Stock Exchange Closing Bell: Ruder Finn arranged for Jamestown 2007 and sponsor reps to ring the Closing Bell at the New York Stock Exchange on March 21, 2007. This event helped celebrate the first permanent business venture in America and the birth of free enterprise. National Press Club Newsmaker Series: The team hosted a newsmaker panel at D.C's National Press Club featuring well-known Jamestown authors and experts. One highlight among the 14 signature events was Godspeed Sail--The Journey That Changed the World. This was the first signature event that introduced Jamestown to audiences via its tour of historic East Coast harbors. With its colorful costumed crew members and educators, the Godspeed Sail helped illuminate Jamestown's pivotal role in our nation's founding through a replica of one of the three ships that delivered the first settlers to Jamestown. A half-million people participated in this one event alone, which garnered more than 1,200 media placements. Another event that was part of the celebration was Jamestown Live!--an international educational webcast. This brought America's 400th Anniversary to life for more than 1 million students and educators globally. Using Jamestown as the backdrop, the hourlong webcast communicated its legacies of exploration, cultural diversity and democracy. Ruder Finn secured 175-plus media placements in outlets across the country. The culmination of the festivities was America's Anniversary Weekend, on May 11-13, 2007. During this period, more than 63,000 visitors flocked to the Jamestown sites. Visiting dignitaries included President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, Supreme Court Justice O'Connor and Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine. Queen Elizabeth II and his Royal Highness Prince Philip toured the Jamestown sites the weekend prior to acknowledge and honor the singular landmark's historical significance. America's 400th Anniversary was by any measure a resounding success. Over the span of the campaign, the PR team secured more than 24,000 placements in top-tier media outlets reaching an estimated audience of more than 12.6 billion in the United States and in countries around the world. A post-event survey showed awareness of Americas 400th Anniversary jumped from 1% to 39%. Close to 50% of respondents cited print articles and broadcast spots as their information source. Also, visitation at Jamestown historic sites passed the 1 million mark in November 2007, a 44.7% increase over 2006. The Web site had an almost 600% increase in the number of visitors in May 2007 over May 2006. In hindsight, Richardson feels his biggest lesson learned while working on the commemoration was the structuring of the message. "You have to have an effective relevant message," he says. "We had some false starts but once we found the messaging that was historically accurate and relevant to audiences today, we found that the media was receptive." PRN CONTACTS: Robin Crawford,; Ross Richardson, Sustaining The Momentum For an 18-month project like the Jamestown 2007/America's 400th Anniversary, which encompassed much detail and preplanning, it was necessary for the team players to come up with fresh tactics and unique messaging that would attract national and international attention. To companies wishing to launch a similar commemorative initiative, Robin Crawford, senior vice president of Ruder Finn D.C and Ross Richardson, director of marketing and communications for Jamestown 2007, offer these best practices: Make the story compelling to media by highlighting different angles: "We got some great experts to serve as spokespersons for the program," says Crawford. "This kept momentum going over 18 months." As a result, by the time the program was rolled out, the interest had not peaked. Get buy-in from partners early and leverage them: "In media requests, there's always an 11th hour scramble, so having everyone on board was great," adds Crawford. Incorporate an element of surprise for your target audiences: "People thought they knew what Jamestown was about because they had heard about John Smith and Pocahontas," says Richardson. "Through recent scholarship and archaeological discoveries, we were able to tell a new and fuller story about Jamestown." Overcoming Challenges Built Over Time When Ruder Finn partnered with Jamestown 2007, the ad-hoc organization created to plan and executive the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Va., awareness of the historic town was low. In July 2004, the Virginia Tourism Corp. conducted a national Omnibus Survey to measure U.S. residents' awareness of significant American historical events, specifically Jamestown and the first permanent English settlement. The research revealed that less than half of respondents had any knowledge of Jamestown and far fewer had heard of America's 400th Anniversary. When asked, "In 2007, America will commemorate what significant historic event?" only 1% of respondents accurately responded "Jamestown." To drum up the broadest possible national and international media interest and catapult the Jamestown sites to the forefront of American consciousness, several goals had to be met, including: Build media and public interest for each and every signature event and other promotional opportunities during the 18-month commemoration; Coordinate logistics with and satisfying the individual needs and self-interests of more than 40 organizations, including competing state agencies, the National Park Service, Virginia historical foundations and sponsors; Sustain a memorable campaign over 18 months without over-saturation of Jamestown's story; and, With virtually no paid advertising, Ruder Finn was charged with generating enough awareness for Jamestown's 400th Anniversary through public relations alone to significantly increase visitors year over year to this destination. Making the commemoration relevant to national and international audiences was also problematic. "We had to make a case as to why this was more than just a Virginia event and why this was a milestone in American history," says Ross Richardson, the director of marketing and communications for Jamestown 2007. Also adding additional stress was the need to find equal ground with the multiple partner organizations aligned with the campaign. "When you get [all those] groups working together, you're going to get many different interests and priorities," says Robin Crawford, senior vice president of Ruder Finn's D.C. office. "We made a point of really working with the different partner organizations, creating clear lines of communications but also being very focused on what the messages were for the program, which were highlighting America's 400th Anniversary and its legacies. We wanted everyone to feel invested and know what was going on."

Subscribe Now  |  Login

Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $200 Off PR News' Digital PR Conference

Join us June 1-3 where you'll hear from top brands such as Walmart, Miami Heat, Verizon and Ritz-Carlton on PR and communication best practices for the next wave of digital trends.

Use code “200off” at checkout to save $200 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Book of Employee Communications


In this 5th volume of PR News’ Book of Employee Communications, our authors cover more than 45 articles on crisis communications, social media policies, human resources collaboration, brand evangelism and more.

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription


Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.