Space Needle Revitalization Campaign
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Space Needle Revitalization Campaign

Midway through 1999, the Space Needle undertook a massive, 16-month-long, $20 million revitalization designed to turn the 1962 World’s Fair centerpiece into a tourist destination for the new Millennium.

Paul Holmes


Midway through 1999, the Space Needle undertook a massive, 16-month-long, $20 million revitalization designed to turn the 1962 World’s Fair centerpiece into a tourist destination for the new Millennium.  Representatives of the privately-owned structure came to DDB Seattle and asked the agency to help the Needle transform its image while construction crews transformed the tower itself.  A few months prior to hiring DDB, the Space Needle had commissioned The Bamford Group, a Seattle-based research firm, to conduct a survey of 3,000 guests (locals and tourists) to gauge their feelings about the Landmark.  Agency and Space Needle personnel also met with various local civic, business and arts leaders to assess their view of the Seattle icon.  DDB’s team also reviewed news coverage from 1998 and 1999 to better understand the media’s viewpoint, both locally and nationally.  All this gave the team a clear picture of the Space Needle’s existing image, which was helpful in developing a comprehensive strategic public relations plan to revitalize the Landmark.


The first step in planning this public relations campaign was to take the client through DDB’s ROI process where we looked at Relevance, Originality and Impact as well as Return on Investment.  From that session, DDB established a series of tests that all communications would face before being considered for the plan.  “Passing” tactics needed to register a “yes” answer to one or more of the following questions: 1) Does the communication clearly illustrate the revitalization message of the Space Needle brand?  2) Is the audience for the communication a priority and are we putting the right amount of effort behind it?  3) Will the communication help make the audience do what we want them to do – come to the Space Needle?  4) Will the medium help get the Space Needle’s message across and help us achieve our goals?  5) Is the communication based around the “Live the View” theme?  6) Does the communication showcase the Space Needle as “new?”


At the beginning of this project, the Space Needle set forth five long-term (2-3 year) goals.  They were: 1) Increase attendance 10% from a stabilized high (approximately 1.1 million total Observation Deck visitors annually); 2) Increase the average retail check per customer to $5; 3) Increase the price of admission to $11 per person; 4) Increase the perceived value of admission from its current $6-$7 level; and 5) Increase the average restaurant dinner check per table from its current $45 level.  DDB counseled the Space Needle that a public relations campaign could not achieve all of these goals (i.e., increase admission price, dinner check, etc.), but that it could help impact several of them.  Knowing the corporation’s marketing goals, however, was important as it helped the agency define and evaluate its proposed public relations programs.


DDB determined that in order to achieve the Space Needle’s goals, the corporation would need to undertake a public relations campaign designed to accomplish the following objectives during its revitalization phase:

Help the Space Needle remain the #1 tourist destination in the Northwest (based on attendance figures), a task made more difficult by the then-pending opening of the much-hyped Experience Music Project.

Help the Space Needle maintain its average daily visitor traffic level (2,500/day) during the 16-month construction and remodeling process, when many people would assume the structure would be closed because of all the fencing, cranes, blocked entrances, etc.

Garner widespread (local and national) media attention about the revitalization effort and its elements (restaurant remodel, Observation Deck update), and show how this effort would bring added value to locals and tourists alike.


Four separate audiences were determined to be important to achieving the Space Needle’s objectives: 1) Puget Sound area residents; 2) People living within 1,000 miles of Seattle (San Francisco, Denver, etc.); 3) People living on the West Coast; and 4) National and international tourists.  Because of the Space Needle’s unique nature as a family-oriented attraction, no specific qualifying demographic criteria (education, income, etc.) were needed to determine this project’s audiences, except geographic location and the broad age category of Adults 18+.


Based on the research and planning exercises, and after closely looking at the goals, objectives and audiences for this project, DDB recommended the following strategies for the Space Needle’s revitalization campaign:

Build the Space Needle brand through a series of media and community events surrounding the revitalization.

Promote the Needle to its audiences through both conventional and highly-targeted communications vehicles.

Take advantage of both existing and newly-created marketing opportunities with partner/parallel organizations.

Showcase the commitment by Space Needle owners/management to make the Landmark an ever-changing and growing experience for everyone to see.


DDB executed this public relations campaign using a team comprised of a senior vice president overseeing strategy and executive level client contact; a senior account executive running the day-to-day account work, implementation of all programs and acting as the main client contact; an assistant account executive helping with execution; and various support staff and interns.  This structure made sure that resources were maximized to optimal effectiveness.


The following is a sampling of tactics DDB employed in executing the Space Needle’s revitalization campaign:

Utilize a series of media events to regularly update the public on the progress of the transformation.

            Over the course of the campaign, DDB directed seven media events, each around a benchmark in the revitalization, beginning with the Space Needle being named an Official City of Seattle Landmark.  Other events included the demolition of the Plaza Level, groundbreaking on the Pavilion, restaurant closing and Observation Deck refurbishment.  In addition to the media, local VIPs and civic dignitaries were invited to each event.  Washington State Governor Gary Locke, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, and King County Executive Ron Sims each participated in events, helping position the project as one of great importance to the region.

Host a spectacular “Grand Re-Opening” celebration to dazzle the community and attract national media attention upon completion of the renovations.

            When the Space Needle opened in 1962, the World’s Fair created a circus-like atmosphere.  DDB tapped into this bit of nostalgia to recreate that feeling for the “re-opening.”  Leveraging the agency’s relationship with another client, world-famous performance troupe Cirque du Soleil, DDB created an event in which Cirque performed for a crowd of World’s Fair pioneers, regional dignitaries, the general public and invited media from around the U.S.  News and photos of this event were distributed via BusinessWire and to targeted publications across the country.

Query travel/tourism publications about including the Needle in already-planned articles on Seattle.

Utilizing editorial calendars, DDB targeted already-planned stories on Seattle and approached their authors in advance about including the Space Needle in their coverage.  This tactic made valuable use of the agency’s time in that it did not have to pitch the broad idea for a story, focusing instead on one small element within the story.

Host an “Editors Tour” to give media direct access to the Space Needle CEO and a behind-the-scenes look at the revitalization effort, and showcase the Space Needle in relation to other Seattle icons.

DDB invited a small group of select newspaper travel writers/editors to visit the Space Needle for a CEO-guided tour of the revitalization project and a behind-the-scenes look at its progress.  The two-day event, which also included stops at Experience Music Project and the Pike Place Market, allowed the media to really delve into the project and create unique experience-based articles not possible by only reviewing a press kit, thereby reaching consumers with a more thorough Space Needle message.

Introduce a series of special events that accentuate the Space Needle’s new image and draw guests.

After the major construction work was complete, DDB unveiled a series of special events designed to draw people to the Needle to see the revitalization work for themselves.  Events included a jazz concert series on the O-DECK; and a month-long series of “Community Days”, in which residents of specific districts received special discounts.  These events were promoted with media relations efforts towards all applicable sources.


Goal: Help the Space Needle remain the #1 tourist destination in the Northwest.

Result: Based on attendance figures, the Needle was the #1 attraction in the Northwest for both 1999 and 2000.

Goal: Help the Needle maintain its average daily traffic level during the construction and remodeling process.

Result: The Space Needle recorded attendance figures of approximately 75,000 visitors per month (2,500/day), with some months topping pre-construction attendance totals.

Goal: Garner widespread (local and national) media attention about the revitalization effort and its elements.
Result:  Coverage of the Space Needle revitalization story appeared in more than 75 newspapers – including the front page of USA Today – from 22 different states and four countries, 87 magazines nationwide, 52 television stations in several states, countless Internet sites and a nationwide radio network.  Based solely on circulation and viewer/listerership numbers, the consumer impressions for this campaign totaled more than 250 million. 

View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus