Friday, 11 December 2009

Mugging for the Media Muggles

Mugging for the Media Muggles – Big Box shows come at a cost
Ontario Science Centre conjures up advance media event

With one wave of Harry Potter's wand, the PR bar was raised a little bit higher this week in Toronto. In a city where newspaper readership numbers are in decline and television operations are being scaled back, public museums and galleries are having to use the Dark Arts to get the attention of the media.
It took a live wizard's owl, a Hollywood-style fog machine and a smoke and mirrors performance by officials at the Ontario Science Centre to conjure up a press event of mythical proportions. The Science Centre is bringing “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” to Toronto this April, and in a bid to promote advance ticket sales, staged a press event that was big on theatrics and small on details.
Only two speakers, Leslie Lewis the CEO and Eddie Newquist, President, Branded Entertainment, stood knee deep in billowing smoke (the fog machine was working overtime) and talked to a very large group of reporters, photographers and cameramen. Like a well scripted TV show the pair teased the audience with only tidbits about the coming exhibition and took the opportunity to sell, sell, sell.
"The Ontario Science Centre is the first and only Canadian venue to host Harry Potter: the Exhibition," said Science Centre's Lewis. "Did I mention that tickets are now on sale and can be purchased on line at our website?"
Why the hard sell from a Government of Ontario owned facility? It has to. In the competition for audiences, the major public galleries and museums are bringing in large traveling exhibitions. ROM's Dead Sea Scrolls. AGO's King Tut. The Science Centre's current blockbuster Body Worlds 3. All three shows have proved in other cities that they can attract audiences ... but the cost of renting these exhibitions comes at a very high price. Marketing and Public Relation activities aren't an option, they are mandated by the companies owning the traveling exhibitions.
If the Science Centre is going to recoup its investment it must sell tickets now, five months out from the official launch. Tuesday's event will go a long way to getting word out about the coming show and the ability to purchase advance tickets, all just in time for Christmas.
Over 50 journalists from every major news outlet in the city of Toronto (except the Toronto Sun) attended the short theatrical press conference. They captured images of confetti guns booming, school children waving non-functioning Hogworts wands and a costumed actor with a live owl on his shoulder.
They learned that this spring "visitors will experience dramatic environments inspired by the Harry Potter film sets and see the amazing craftsmanship behind more than 200 authentic costumes and film props."
According to press material handed out at the conference Newquist's Branded Entertainment (a division of Exhibitgroup/Giltspur) has teamed with Warner Brothers Inc to create a 1,300 square metre exhibit space that will give ticket holders "a firsthand view of authentic artifacts displayed in detailed settings inspired by the film sets, including the Great Hall, Hagrid's hut, the Gryffindor common room, and more. The exhibition will also include costumes and props from the upcoming installments of the Harry Potter series, once production of these films has been completed."
The press conference was timed to coincide with the Canadian Blu-Ray and DVD release of the latest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The DVD is expected to sell well during the holiday season, and, if word gets out soon to consumers, advance tickets, at a base price of $27.50 each, could wind up in Christmas stockings this December 25th.
Earlier this fall the Art Gallery of Ontario proved the worth of holding a high voltage press conference for its blockbuster King Tut: The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs exhibition. Its November press conference, complete with pyramid shaped muffins, a cavalcade of international speakers and an exhibition tour that included a taped introduction by Harrison Ford, helped drive advance ticket sales of over 50,000 (base price $28.50 for adults) before the show opened to the public.
Be it Galleons, Muggle's pounds or an ancient Pharaoh's debens, that's magic that publicly owned attractions can easily understand.

CUTLINES: Top left:
Toronto students put on Harry Potter style scarves and waved non-function wands to help the Ontario Science Centre announce its next upcoming blockbuster show – Harry Potter: The Exhibition. The launch was held December 8th.
Top Right: Who? Who? Who are the media scrumming? It is a live owl being held by a costumed actor and Ontario Science Centre CEO Lesley Lewis. It was all part of a Tuesday morning press conference to announce the April arrival of a traveling exhibition about the Harry Potter movie series.
Above: Ontario Science Centre CEO Lesley Lewis announces that a new traveling Harry Potter exhibition will be coming to Toronto in April. The exhibition which will include costumes and sets from the Harry Potter movie series. The announcement was made at a glitzy Hollywood style press conference held at the Ontario Science Centre on Tuesday December 8th.