Best Practices for Publicizing an Anniversary on a Limited Budget

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.”