The Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) approached Michels Warren to help launch their new work Devolution at the 2006 Adelaide Festival of Arts.
The concern was that with hundreds of world class acts coming to Adelaide for the Festival of Arts, the Fringe Festival and WomAdelaide, the Devolution story could fail to make an impact.
Therefore, the ADT wanted assistance to generate awareness of their new and exciting production and maximise their audience, with particular emphasis on trying to attract younger people.
An intense, carefully planned media campaign was planned, built around using fantastic visuals which truly reflected the power and vitality of Devolution.
The campaign also had to be conducted in a short period of time – just a few weeks before the international acts started to arrive.
The results were outstanding, with better than expected crowds and coverage.
Some 5,291 people saw Devolution over seven shows, with 60% of the audience aged 35 or younger
As the client described it - “…Devolution was the most successful season in the ADT’s 41 year history”.
In early 2006, the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) was putting the final touches on its newest and most ambitious project to date – Devolution.
It was to make its world premier at the upcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts and as Devolution represented an enormous investment of capital and reputation, it was crucial that it succeed.
It was to make its world premier at the upcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts and as represented an enormous investment of capital and reputation, it was crucial that it succeed.
The Festival of Arts brings many of the world’s most extraordinary acts to Adelaide and there was serious concern that Devolution could be “lost in the crowd”.
With the Adelaide Fringe and WomAdelaide coinciding with the Arts Festival there was unprecedented pressure on limited media space.
So the ADT approached Michels Warren to help build audience numbers by increasing public awareness of the work.
There was no money to run a broad advertising campaign, so public relations was crucial to the ADT’s publicity drive, and it had to work.
Small audiences would cause severe financial strain for the company, damage the ADT’s reputation as a world class contemporary dance company, and – most grievous of all – sow the seeds of doubt amongst reviewers.
Devolution was being launched to the world – there would be no second chance.
Several days were spent developing a full understanding of the situation, and identifying the opportunities we had.
A detailed briefing was provided by the ADT, covering the company, the new production, the specific individuals involved in the creative process, and the realities of the Australian and international artistic dance industry. To ensure this briefing was as comprehensive as possible it involved the ADT’s full-time marketer and a senior Board member.
Following the briefing, the detailed biographies of the principal figures behind Devolution were provided and studied. People give a campaign a ‘human face’ and provide the media with various story angles.
Importantly, considerable time was spent examining the Festival acts which would be competing for the same audience. It was necessary to identify Devolution’s key points of difference. Time was also taken to look at where Festival audiences originate so we could speak to people before they left.
The research was capped off by a viewing – a first-hand experience of a small but representative piece of the work, to get the true feeling of what was to be promoted.
With the ADT having little statistical information about its audience breakdown, and there being no time and no money to conduct any targeted audience research, it was decided the campaign would focus on two broad publics:
- Arts lovers – not specifically dance lovers, but people who have enough interest in the arts in general to consume stories via specialist publications and arts columns.
- The general public – given the nature of the Devolution, and the feedback provided by those few people who had experienced the show to date, it was firmly believed that people who would not normally consider watching contemporary dance could be enticed to a performance.
Following the briefing from the ADT it was clear that an intense media push was the only effective option due to the dual constraints of time and money.
A media partnership was rejected as an option given there was little time to go through the formalities. Furthermore, it was judged that such a partnership would effectively limit the number of people we could tell about the show.
Devolution is a dramatic, riveting piece of contemporary dance which poses questions about the interaction of man and machine. The performance combines humans and robotics at a level never seen before on a dance stage. The robots, ranging from giant moving scaffolds to skittering spider-things, are as much a part of the act as the dancers.
It was these visually arresting qualities of Devolution which formed the core of the communication’s strategy.
- It was clear that we had to use the advantage of time. The cost factors involved in traveling mean that the main international acts, those that would potentially take media attention away from Devolution – weren’t arriving until just before the Festival opening. We decided to act fast before the market became too crowded.
- We needed to develop a comprehensive media list covering broadcast and industry outlets, to ensure all possible points of contact were covered in our tight timeframe. Given their long-term relationships, it was decided the ADT would concentrate on that smaller, but still important arts media, with Michels Warren responsible for the general media.
- As our research had uncovered the largest number of visitors to the Festival come from Melbourne and Sydney, so it was clear that we would need to target media in those cities.
- The ADT had committed to a small advertising spend, principally with Channel 10, so we had to try to leverage this relationship to assist with coverage.
- Each journalist was to be contacted personally. It was decided that a media release, no matter how good, would fall short of telling the whole story. Furthermore, given our time constraints, we couldn’t afford journalists “sitting” on the story. By speaking to journalists directly we could communicate the essence of Devolution, and engender a sense of urgency.
- It was considered vital that the journalists got to see the piece to fully understand its power and appeal, and the brilliant use of robotic technology. Using the correct words would be very important, but nothing that could be written in a media release could properly convey the reality of the piece.
- We also decided to highlight the fascinating international flavour behind the production. The robots’ creator and operator is a young French-Canadian professor and the costume and set designer an exotic German who specialises in leather and fur. By far the majority of the headline acts at the Festival were from overseas which gave them added appeal. By highlighting Devolution’s international dimension we would be able to better compete.
- Importantly, we recognised the need for there to be full commitment to the media push from everyone inside the ADT. With so many acts it was a buyer’s market and we couldn’t afford to miss an opportunity.
To maximise our window of opportunity, we hurried to start the media campaign before the majority of the other big name acts arrived.
Starting in mid-January, and with the Festival opening on 3 March, we estimated we had only four weeks to achieve our aims.
- Initially, a specialised photographer was employed to take a series of dramatic, high quality photographs to convey the essential spirit of Devolution. These were taken during a rehearsal, and clearly showed the intensity of the work and the close interaction between dancers and robots. (Appendix A)
- At the same time, we developed a suite of words and phrases which best conveyed the reality of the work – the sweat of the dancers as they slammed into each other, the staccato hydraulics of the stalking ‘bots etc. These were used to craft a general media release, but were also to be used to “sell-in” the story.
- The media list was developed by Michels Warren and ADT. Many publications didn’t have a full-time arts journalist, but had appointed one or two people to fill the role for the duration of the festival season. We needed to make sure we got to the right person, because we didn’t want our message diluted.
- Each journalist was then contacted by phone and sold the story using the suite of words. The phone call was immediately followed by an email containing the media release and, more importantly, the pictures which conveyed a much more powerful version of reality.
- A vital tactic was that during the conversation, every journalist was invited to attend one of the rehearsal sessions which were now occurring virtually daily. At a rehearsal the true impact of Devolution could be felt, visuals could be taken, and interviews conducted. For several major outlets, it was impossible to coincide the journalist or photographer’s schedule with the rehearsal program, so a number of special sessions were organised.
- Channel 10, which was running the ADT adverts, was offered the story as a TV exclusive. This worked well as Channel 10, with a one-hour news service, could allow a longer piece to go to air.
- Those journalists who did attend a rehearsal were then super-serviced, with access to all areas and all people.
As the client described it - “…Devolution was the most successful season in the ADT’s 41 year history”. (Appendix A)
The media coverage undoubtedly played a major part in this result. (Appendix A) The following list is not exhaustive as there was no budget for media monitoring.
- The Sydney Morning Herald
- The Age
- The Advertiser’s Saturday Review (with a front-page, full-page photo)
- The Independent Weekly
- The Hills Weekender
- Channel 10 news
- ABC television news
- ABC television Arts on Sunday
- ABC Classic FM (Interview with Margaret Throsby)
- ABC news website
- Entropy Magazine (Adelaide University)
The front page coverage in The Advertiser’s Saturday Review was a major success. With official circulation figures putting readership of the Saturday tabloid at 770,000, it guaranteed huge awareness. Furthermore, all major stories ran with at least one photograph.
The ADT’s official attendance figures show 5,291 people saw the seven shows. As well, an audience survey conducted by the ADT found 60% of the audience was aged 35 or younger and 15% were first time dance performance patrons.
Comparing results against the initial goals and objectives, the media campaign in support of the ADT’s Devolution must be considered a considerable success.
OBJECTIVE Secure wide-spread positive coverage in targeted media.
Result - Not only was the coverage extensive, it was all positive and described Devolution in the terms we had included in the media material.
Score - 80%
OBJECTIVE Ensure the media coverage appears well before the launch date to maximise the opportunity to purchase tickets.
Result - All the major stories secured by Michels Warren occurred in early to mid-February, well ahead of the world premier on 3 March.
· Advertiser Review – Feb 18
· Sydney Morning Herald – Feb 14
· The Age – Feb 6
Score - 80%
OBJECTIVE Maximise the use of visuals to provide people with a clear understanding of the work’s power and excitement.
Result - Photographs or video footage accompanied all the coverage we are aware of.
Score - 100%
The overall results when compared to the strategy’s two goals are clear, with the client extremely happy with the results.
GOAL Maximise the audience for Devolution during the 2006 Festival
Result - 5,291 people saw the seven shows
Score - 90%
GOAL An increased proportion of younger people in the audience.
Result - Sixty percent of the audience was aged 35 or younger
Score - 100%