Case Study: Construction Concerto: Event Marketing & Media Relations Efforts Orchestrate a Groundbreaking Move

Company: MacPhail Center for Music Agency: Fast Horse Timeframe: 2006-2007 Since 1907, the Minneapolis-based MacPhail Center for Music has been one of the country's most respected--and most understated--music education centers. As the organization's centennial approached, MacPhail's leadership set a new vision for the organization, which focused primarily on moving from its then-current home, an 85-year-old building in disrepair, to a new facility in 2007. MacPhail began working on a number of plans and initiatives for the move. Unfortunately, a series of missteps along the way, from broken deals to canceled contracts, began to cause a high amount of stress within the organization. Local media were even paying attention, calling out several of MacPhail's misguided ventures, causing even more uncertainty and embarrassment. After nearly six years of planning, the organization had little to show for its efforts. Finally, in 2004, an independent task force was brought in to provide recommendations for "The New MacPhail." The resulting solution: Abandon all previous plans and build a new headquarters on a small plot of land along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. Although far more costly, the plan would provide MacPhail with a customized, state-of- the-art facility as its new home. Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Despite this advance, resources and trust continued to erode, particularly among key stakeholders, such as donors, board members and local politicians, all of whom were critical to the success of the new building. To make matters worse, larger, more recognized arts organizations in the area, such as the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center, were working on major renovations of their own, dominating share of voice and buzz among the community and local media. "One of our biggest challenges with MacPhail is that, while it's the largest community music school in the Midwest, it doesn't have a history of enormous media coverage," explains Barb Plunkett, marketing director for MacPhail. "If this was the Guthrie, people would sit up and listen." Time was running out and MacPhail realized it had one final opportunity to get it right. With all of the pieces finally in place for the new building to proceed, the organization turned to its then-agency of record Fast Horse to develop a public relations program to help breathe life back into "The New MacPhail" vision. Internal Audit Reveals Gaps & Opportunities Fast Horse conducted both primary and secondary research on behalf of MacPhail, including reviewing internal organization plans and documents. Research also included reviewing industry reports, such as the McKnight Foundation's report, "Arts Development in the Suburbs," which included critical information on mindsets and cultural attitudes of area residents. Additional information was uncovered during in-depth, one-on-one meetings and interviews with MacPhail staff members, teachers, department heads, school directors and board members. Through research, it was evident that gaining the support of two target audiences--potential students and state lawmakers--was critical to the overall success of the non-profit organization. Ultimately, the research concluded that an event could serve as an ideal venue to not only generate positive publicity for the organization, but also rally target audiences around a unifying cause. Based on research, Fast Horse realized the new building represented an opportunity to not only showcase the organization's journey over the past 100 years, but also re-energize key stakeholders for its next hundred years. The agency worked directly with the MacPhail marketing staff to develop a comprehensive plan that focused on primary target audiences: potential MacPhail Center for Music students; local politicians and businesses; and Twin Cities media. To ensure the groundbreaking that preceded the construction of the new facility would go off without a hitch, Fast Horse recommended several strategies and tactics, including: Breaking away from the traditional "dirt and shovel" groundbreaking activities to create a unique event that would bring the MacPhail organization to life: As part of the celebration, Fast Horse recommended commissioning an original musical score, titled the "Construction Concerto," to serve as the centerpiece for the groundbreaking festivities; Conducting a media relations campaign to secure major placements prior to the event in target media by offering behind-the-scenes exclusives to generate excitement among key stakeholders; Approaching Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to participate in a video to help launch the groundbreaking event, representing the support for MacPhail Center for Music from the Minnesota State Legislature; Sending personalized invitations to local and state political leaders to attend the event; Developing and distributing "hold the date" cards and invitations to local businesses, current and potential students and local arts and educational organizations; and, Creating media documents with detailed information about the organization, including an updated MacPhail Center for Music fact sheet, backgrounder and a comprehensive Q&A document for all PR efforts. With a $25,000 budget, Fast Horse was tasked to achieve the communications objectives of securing broad media awareness for "The New MacPhail," and to build support among key MacPhail stakeholders, including students staff, influential businesspeople and politicians in the Twin Cities community. Success would be determined by a number of factors, including coverage from local media, political support for the new building, fundraising efforts and overall class enrollment/participation. Breaking New Ground Faculty, staff, students and friends of MacPhail Center for Music gathered on the grounds of its new building on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006, for the groundbreaking celebration. A full orchestra of MacPhail faculty and students, local dignitaries, construction workers and community partners welcomed the more than 200 guests with a performance of the "Construction Concerto," an original piece composed by MacPhail instructor Bob Adney. Unlike other traditional concertos, the "Construction Concerto" was performed using both traditional orchestral instruments, such as violins, harps, guitars and drums and massive construction tools, including drills, hammers, saws, a generator, a cement mixer, a chop saw and scaffolding, combining the sounds that would be ringing from that spot during construction with the sounds that would be emanating from the new building when it was completed. Plunkett, who credits Fast Horse with coming up with the concept of the "Construction Concerto," says this piece was a considerable challenge for the talented MacPhail faculty to create--their music artistry and knowledge notwithstanding. "Executing such an enormous concerto [was a difficult undertaking]," says Plunkett. "But the MacPhail faculty are excellent in thinking outside the box." This creativity would be critical to the outcome of the groundbreaking portion of the campaign. Fast Horse also partnered with New World Productions to produce the "Legislative Support" video in the Office of the Governor at the Minnesota State Capitol building. The video featured a one-on-one interview with Gov. Pawlenty, which included several talking points, such as the state's support of MacPhail Center for Music, the importance of the passage of the bonding bill for nonprofit organizations such as MacPhail and the role MacPhail continues to play in the community. Prior to the event, Fast Horse developed a digital media kit, which included electronic materials and a CD of music from MacPhail staff. The agency conducted targeted media relations focused on the creative musical score in an effort to secure coverage of the event. The MacPhail marketing staff also developed invitations for the event, as well as series of novelties, such as hard hats and "shovel clackers" (for audience participation during the "Construction Concerto"), based on recommendations from Fast Horse. The Media's About-Face The MacPhail groundbreaking event--and the "Construction Concerto," in particular - garnered a lion's share of local news coverage. Total media impressions for the event surpassed 1.5 million in the Twin Cities, with more than 15 unique media placements and nearly 30 minutes of broadcast coverage. "We had phenomenal on-site coverage," says Plunkett. "I think we had more opportunities to do long lead advance coverage." The latter circumstance, she reveals, was a special anomaly because prior to the school's groundbreaking event, the local media had rarely expressed interest in scheduling stories about the school in advance of deadlines. More than 200 people attended the groundbreaking event. High-profile business people and politicians, including members of the Minnesota house and senate, spoke at the event, offering support for MacPhail. In addition, representatives from major Twin Cities organizations and businesses, such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, U.S. Bank and The Bemis Company, also attended. In his video that was played at the groundbreaking, Gov. Pawlenty acknowledged his support for MacPhail, stating "We are all enriched by the arts, and having MacPhail as a magnet for arts and excellence--as well as their outreach to the community--is a wonderful legacy for our state." Since the event, MacPhail Center for Music has achieved its highest enrollment in school history. In addition, MacPhail received more than $100,000 in donations for the new building immediately following the event. MacPhail has far exceeded its fundraising target to date, with more than 95% of funding for the new building already received, surpassing its goal by nearly 20%. For Plunkett, the objectives of the campaign exceeded expectations. It also gave her a good template to follow the next time she works on a similar initiative for the school. "There's nothing we would do to change [what we did]," she notes proudly. "It's really a great testament to the notion that if you really have something interesting and genuine to say, the media will cover it." PRN CONTACT: Barb Plunkett, Dare To Be Different Sometimes being whimsical in your messaging or presentation may provide a boost to your client or company's profile when it comes to attracting media attention. However, it must make sense in the framework of your team's PR strategy, says Barb Plunkett, marketing director for MacPhail Center of Music. Following are her best practices to companies and/or agencies wishing to broaden and generate media awareness of their client or organization, while incorporating an out-of-the-norm component: Don't be wacky just for the sake of it. Avoid stunts that make no sense to the mission of your campaign and its overall strategy. You will defeat your purpose and look silly. Strive to find meaning in your campaign's so-called odd component. For Plunkett, this was exemplified by the creation of the "Construction Concerto," an original composition that highlighted the construction of MacPhail's new facility, featuring unusual percussive elements (i.e. jackhammer sounds). "This was great for our audience to witness and hear [at the groundbreaking]," she says.

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