The Maiden Voyage of the Amistad
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The Maiden Voyage of the Amistad

Via a four-month bare-bones consumer campaign, spanning the launch and multi-city maiden voyage of the new state-financed Amistad, the heroic story of the original Amistad and the compelling story of the new freedom schooner captured the media's attention

Paul Holmes

 

The small State of Connecticut and its Agency delivered a small wooden boat to the world in a big way.  Via a four-month bare-bones consumer campaign, spanning the launch and multi-city maiden voyage of the new state-financed Amistad in OpSail 2000 and OpSail 2000 CT, the heroic story of the original Amistad and the equally compelling story of the new freedom schooner Amistad, captured the media's attention in a huge way.  Now the new Amistad is incontrovertibly thought of as a Connecticut ship, forever linking Connecticut history to the State’s cultural tourism mission. 

THE CHALLENGE

The Agency's challenge:  To justify the State's substantial investment in the ship's construction by establishing her as an icon for Connecticut within the four months from the time of her launch to her maiden voyage debut in OpSail 2000.   

RESEARCH, PLANNING AND OBJECTIVES

The Connecticut Freedom Trail, created in September 1996, was an important first step in tying the State’s African-American heritage to historic sites to  impact tourism infrastructure. In December 1997—on the day the Steven Spielberg film Amistad was released— the Agency issued press and wire releases linking the film, the true-life events of the Amistad Incident, and the enlarged Connecticut Freedom Trail, with the forthcoming construction of a new schooner Amistad.  This freedom schooner would teach the lessons of history and bridge racial divisions in America and around the world. The Agency issued media updates on the construction progress to pave the way for the March 2000 launch and subsequent maiden voyage in the multi-port OpSail 2000.

The Agency's objective was economics-driven: to tie Connecticut’s past and present role in the Amistad story to tourism initiatives by positioning the ship's launch and maiden voyage as much more than that of a mere boat.   After all, the Connecticut Office of Tourism invested in the Amistad so she could become an international ambassador of social understanding and historical perspective -- under the Connecticut flag.  

The goals of PR campaign were twofold:  To position the Amistad story as a Connecticut story, and to use the opportunity, with the whole world watching, to emphasize the Amistad's pivotal role in the Connecticut Freedom Trail.  Achieving these objectives could ensure the future ability to leverage publicity from the launch and maiden voyage in OpSail 2000 for years to come.  

STRATEGIC APPROACH

While Amistad America and Mystic Seaport (partners with the State of Connecticut in Amistad's construction) concerned themselves primarily with the day-of-launch, the Agency invested the State's financially-limited resources in the bigger, Connecticut-wide picture of launch activities scheduled from March to September: The ship’s ties to the Freedom Trail, the ship’s role in OpSail 2000 CT, her arrival at home port in New Haven in July and Connecticut port calls throughout Summer 2000.  This March to July window would provide an opportunity for broader and deeper media penetration. 

EXECUTION

For more than two years, ongoing news updates had been posted in the “Breaking News” section of www.ctbound.org.  In April and May 1999, “What’s New” and “Summer Family Fun” editor impact mailings invited visitors to view the construction of the Amistad.  And during July 1999, 30 top national magazines were pitched the story. In March 2000, a release announced all the details of the launch, Spring-Summer Freedom Trail activities, Amistad port visitation schedules and events, and Amistad’s role in OpSail 2000 CT.  The information was posted on the State's Web site, and listserv alerts were sent to media and regular site visitors.  One-on-one pitching and follow-up supported the outreach.

RESULTS

The campaign created widespread media and public awareness that Amistad was constructed at Mystic Seaport, that she is berthed in New Haven, and that numerous Connecticut tourism sites relate to her story.  Between March and May 2000, media impressions totaled approximately 119 million (see itemized list of coverage) including People, an AP  wire story and several New York Times features.  During the Amistad’s participation in OpSail 2000 and OpSail 2000 CT, wherein she sailed directly behind the barque Eagle in leading the procession of tall ships, a similar level of media attention was delivered in 119 newspaper articles and 54 TV broadcasts, as well as radio and Internet coverage.  Print impressions totaled over 235 million, and TV and radio audience reached almost 20 million.  The Amistad and Connecticut will remain intrinsically connected.

Summary of Amistad Launch Coverage, March–May, 2000:

People, May 22, 2000 (c. 33,364,252): "Noble Voyage" by Patrick Rogers is a three-page color feature on Capt. Bill Pinkney and the Amistad.
Offshore: New England's Boating Magazine, June 2000 (c. 40,000): "Amistad Floats Free."

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